Monday, March 09, 2009

Who Watched the Watchmen? I Did!

"Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says 'Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.' Man bursts into tears. Says 'But Doctor… I am Pagliacci.'"

Rorschach's Journal, Chapter II of Watchmen

This should give you an idea what sort of comic book this is.

Watchmen Group Poster
Those idiots who has been telling people that Robert Downey Jr and Batman are appearing in this film need to be smacked hard.

Friday afternoon, March 6, 2009. Worldwide premier of the Watchmen movie. For the majority of moviegoers of Malaysia, a new superhero movie opened. For Shaki and I, it's the culmination of a dream long awaited, to put it in the corniest terms I know. Just the two of us, we went to the nearest cineplex as soon as we got out of our Ophthalmology exam to catch it. We've been waiting heckuva long time for this film to be made, to see what many have deemed
"unfilmable" - to see thousands and thousands of comic panels condensed into a two hour plus long picture and still preserve the essence of the story and its spirit. Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, has this to say about a live adaptation of his work; "...frankly, I didn't think it was filmable. I didn't design it to show off the similarities between cinema and comics, which are there, but in my opinion are fairly unremarkable. It was designed to show off the things that comics could do that cinema and literature couldn't."

Alan Moore has divorced himself from any Hollywood project of Watchmen, and had instructed that all resulting royalties the Watchmen film should be given to Dave Gibbons, the artist. Who can blame Moore really? Just look at The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V For Vendetta. If you don't see any problems with those two films, you've obviously not read the comics they were based on. Still, I don't see why he dislikes Zack "I-don't-change-a-single-damn-thing-from-the-source-material" Snyder (the director) so much. Then again, Moore isn't the most regular and level of men. Just look at his description in his Wikipedia article. It reads like it belongs on Uncyclopedia more;

"He is a vegetarian, an anarchist, a practicing magician and occultist, and he worships a Roman snake-deity named Glycon."

Alan Freaking Moore!
Meet Alan Moore.

Now, I've been reading reviews of the film on various blogs since yesterday and before I go right into one of my own, there are just a few things that need to be addressed. Chief of these is the ignorance of most people about the source material itself, the original limited 12 issue graphic novel (1986 - 1987). The funniest thing anyone said in these reviews are; "I hope there is a sequel". Yeah, funny. Funny like an aneurysm. Also, I've been reading about some interviews where reporters ask Zack Snyder and some of the actors about a possible sequel. It must have taken heckuva lot of willpower on their part just to hold back and not strangle these morons. For those interested, Zack said, and I quote;

"To continue is to either rehash the same idea again or you're going to try to fix the characters, which goes against everything the book stands for..."

I like the guy who played The Comedian, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's answer better;

"The fans would kill us if we tried to go and do something else. If we tried to do a prequel that wasn't written by Alan Moore, we'd get crucified. We couldn't walk down the street. Unless Warner Bros. wants all of their actors to get killed, I think it's a bad idea."

Watchmen (not THE Watchmen, okay, so say it right) was a DC Comics projected pitched by Moore which originally involved the Charlton Comics characters which DC purchased in 1985. Due to the nature of the story, Watchmen would eventually render most of those characters unusable for future publications, which DC didn't want because they paid good cash for them. The soul of Watchmen is a deconstructionist one, of the superhero genre no less - and in order to break your regular superheroes into realistic, human terms - Moore needed superheroes comic readers knew and recognise.

So, since the Charton Comics characters were off limits, Moore went ahead and created a line of original characters modeled after the Charlton ones. Rorschach was based off Mr. A and The Question, both are objectivist vigilantes created by Steve Ditko. Doctor Manhattan's inspiration was Captain Atom, Nite Owl II's was Blue Beetle and Ozymandias' was Thunderbolt.

I've also been reading how some brain-dead reviewers are talking about how Watchmen lacks originality, about how similar its backstory of the government outlawing vigilantes is to The Incredibles. This is why I always do sufficient research when I'm writing on any subject. It's so I don't get called brain-dead by people like me.

Now, I shall review the film, sans spoilers. Yes, this is a very long post. I hope you like reading.

The Story.

Watchmen Poster 2
A teaser poster for the film drawn by Dave Gibbons, the original artist himself.

I have no quibbles about the story in the movie, which is excellent. That's because the story in the graphic novel is excellent, and the movie departed little (if at all) from it. One dark, rainy New York night, The Comedian, Edward Blake, one of the few costumed heroes employed by the goverment after masked vigilantism was outlawed by the State, was murdered in his apartment, and thrown out to spatter on the streets below. Rorschach, a wanted man by the police for continuing his vigilante work against the law, investigated the Blake's death and set out to warn four of his retired colleagues - Dan Dreiburg (the second Nite Owl), Laurie Juspeczyk (the second Silk Spectre) and Jon Osterman (Doctor Manhattan), who is the only character in both the film and the graphic novel to actually possess superpowers.

The most significant altercation to the original plot has to be the climax, of which I will not reveal here. But I can tell you that when it was first announced the change, lots and lots and LOTS of fans were outraged. I was a little pissed myself too when I first heard about it, and wondered if Zack Snyder and his screenwriter have lost their fucking minds.

Now that I have seen the new ending, I shall humbly admit that I was wrong. Quite amazingly, I actually like the movie's reimagining of that event better than I like the graphic novel's take! The movie managed to preserve every thematic significance of that event while cutting off the one and only part in the original story which I consider unbelieveable, incongruent and unnatural (Shaki simply called that part "stupid").

What I'm not happy about is that they have hurried through Walter Kovacs' psychotherapy session and snipped off a bit of his backstory, like why he started fighting crime as the vigilante Rorschach in the first place, and how he got his mask with its ever changing oily black blots on white. I hope to see that in the extended DVD version, along with the chilling Nietzsche quote at the end of Chapter VI used to describe Rorschach,

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.
And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

I also hope to see the story within a story, Tales of the Black Freighter, in the DVD. It's going to be fully animated if I'm not mistaken.

You can see the poster for the Tales of the Black Freighter in this shot, and the kid reading it.

The Characters.

The actors chosen to play the masked adventurers (note that I did not use the term Watchmen - because they've never called themselves that - the word refers to the latin phrase, "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" which means, "who watches the watchmen") were mostly spot on, particularly Rorschach. Some might think Jackie Earle Haley's put-on gruff voice to be little too similar to BatBale's laughable effort in the Nolan Batman movies, but I beg to differ. I think Haley nailed Rorschach's "dreadful monotone" perfectly, with quite a big bonus helping of drippy contempt. And his physical acting was simply flawless. Rorschach is my absolute favourite character from the comic (and my favourite comic book character after the Joker), so I have had great expectations for his debut on the big screen - and I must say I was very impressed. Jude Law wanted this role initially (the actor is a big fan of the comics and the character, and even has a Rorschach tattoo on him). I certainly wouldn't have minded that after seeing Law perform in Road to Perdition as the psycho photographer.

Rorschach Break In
Rorschach breaking into The Comedian's apartment.

Same scene live. Why the fuck is there a police tape strung across the window? Were they expecting people to come in from there?

Alternatively, Jude Law would have been a better Ozymandias. My least favourite screen version of the Watchmen characters has to be Adrian Veidt A.K.A. Ozymandias. Matthew Goode's Ozy struck me as whiny, weak and needs to put on a few pounds. Ozymandias in the graphic novel was buff, confident and exudes charisma like a skunk exudes stink. Still, I thought how he alternates between German and American accents when speaking in private and publicly was a nice touch. And I get that his suit is suppose to be a parody of BatNipple Clooney's Batsuit in the Batman and Robin movie; but why spoil the character's appearance for a cheap shot?

Patrick Wilson was another perfect casting choice. He embodied out-of-costume Nite Owl II, Dan Dreiberg, to the last feather. I can't get over how similar he is to the mental vision I've always had of the same character. My only complaint is that he was a bit too thin. Nite Owl should have flab aplenty so we can groan at his sex scenes with... never mind.

And Billy Crudup's Doctor Manhattan gave me the willies the first time he spoke in that electric, reasoning voice of his. The presence was almost overwhelming for me, and even though I have imagined it to be deeper, more basso, I kinda like this better. I'm also glad that they kept him mostly nude, like in the graphic novel. It signaled to us fans that they aren't going to do a half-assed adaptation, making changes just because some of the stuff in the comic were offensive (like Doctor Manhattan's swinging beef rod and meatballs). It's very easy for some studio execs to insist on putting some pants on him, but they didn't. The nudity, in my opinion, is a crucial feature of Doctor Manhattan's characterisation. It shows his increasing detachment from the human race as the decades went by.

Apparently, God is a giant smurf. That symbol on his head signifies the hydrogen atom, by the way. They didn't show in the movie how he came around to putting it there.

The Comedian's actor, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Silk Spectre II's actress, Malin Akerman, were okay, I guess. I suspect she's chosen not for her acting chops but more for her resemblance to the character. The chin was unmistakable. Shaki said that they should have just went with the hottest chick they can hire.

Silk Spectre Chin
Note chin in graphic novel.

Same scene in movie, sans runny mascara.

The Cinematography.

The lavish use of chroma key have allowed most scenes from the comic books to be recreated at an astounding level of attention to detail and resemblance to the pages of a comic book, though the real set pieces weren't too shabby either. Snyder's signature bullet-time fights were applied generously in whatever little fight scenes there are (which is significantly more numerous than there is in the graphic novel) and the one at the very beginning where the Comedian were attacked and murdered was FUCKING SOLID. All the other fight scenes succeeding it never quite matched up to its intensity and sheer fuck-uppery of furniture and other such smash-able things set contrastingly to the soothing track, Unforgettable. In fact, I felt that it might have been a little too strong a start, making it hard for the rest of the film to live up to it.

Most epic kiss ever.

The montage of living stills set to Bob Dylan's The Times They Are a-Changing in the film's start was a stroke of genius as well. Aside from being an awesome visual appeal, it managed to convey a lot of historical in-jokes, backstory and plot details which definitely wouldn't fit in average feature length motion picture. This one's mostly for the fans, unfortunately. If you've never read Watchmen, most of it would just fly right over your head.

The headline article in the newspaper she's holding is actually a real, full article you can read in one of the issues of Watchmen.

What sucked was some of the computer generated stuff. Bubastis, Veidt's mutant lynx, looked especially fake in some scenes. It made me wonder why they didn't just stick some faux ears onto a tiger or something and run with that instead. Would have looked tonnes better. And it might just be me, but I think they overdid Doctor Manhattan's blue glow a little too.

But I must praise a scene near the end where Veidt stood amongst the ruins of his Antartic retreat, Karnak. Really brought to mind those lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem, Ozymandias, which Moore slipped in at the end of Volume XI,

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

If you know what that entire poem means, you'd see how it relates to this movie in light of Dreiberg's and Doctor Manhattan's parting words to Veidt. I thoroughly commend Snyder's ability to deliver so much gravitas in so simple, so short a shot.

The Summary.

It a good flick for the uninitiated, and an AWESOME flick for fans (though some rabid fans from the other polar end might disagree). The film did not dumb down the complex themes of the original graphic novel excessively and thus, might leave some of the more stupid viewers scratching their heads, but nobody gives a shit about them anyway. However, I'll agree with writer Alan Moore's contention that there are just some things a comic book could have conveyed better compared to a movie, like one of my favourite bits from Watchmen which they left out in the film; an excerpt of Hollis Mason's (the first Nite Owl), autobiography which made me understand why men would dress up in ridiculous costumes and fight crime. It punctuated Volume I with the poignant, somewhat tragic line,

"... And although I've never worn a set of false bosoms in my life, I've stood there dressed in something just as strange, with tears in my eyes while people died laughing."

Or maybe Alan Moore would have to eat his words after all. It was reported that Hollis Mason's autobiography,
Under the Hood, will be a feature in the DVD in the form of a documentary. I'm shitting my pants in anticipation here.

Last Word.

Rorschach, taking a rose from The Comedian's grave.

If this movie does what I think I will do, the face of superhero movies will be changed for good. We can be done with all that simple origin story of hero and his archvillain, and how he will go about stopping the bad guys. That shtick gets old. Watchmen was written for that very purpose - to shit on that line between good and evil, that black and white objectivist mentality that Rorschach is determined to defend (on a sidenote, Alan Moore is unhappy that Rorschach is so popular amongst the fandom, and can't understand why anyone would like a person with such stubborn, inflexible, impractical ideals). Well, I don't like Rorschach's republican philosophies of moral absolutism one bit, but it didn't stop me from recognising what a complex, tortured man he is trying to make sense of the meaningless chaos of the world. That's the reason why he's named after the Rorschach inkblot test. Making sense out of randomness. Moral pareidolia.

I can go on and on about the many themes and interpretations of the graphic novel and the other characters, all begging deeper analysis and understanding - but I think they don't really have a place in this review. What I do hope is that people would go ahead, pick up the comic books and read for themselves. Watchmen really is an amazing piece of fiction. It's not the only graphic novel on the Time Magazine's list of "The 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present" for nothing, you know. They should be studying this in high school literature classes in Malaysia, not John Steinbeck's stupid wallbanger "man finds wealth finds misery" novella. Man, I've read toilet graffiti that show more intelligence than The Pearl.

Last word of my last word; this movie kicks ass.

Watchmen Volume I cover
The cover of Volume I of Watchmen.

Related post:
Lesbians Making Out Snuck Past Malaysian Censors.
The Clown Prince of Crime and The Dark Knight Review (in similar fanboy format).

Watchmen fanboy,
k0k s3n w4i


bevE said...

dun understand

bevE said...

:D (oso stopped reading when u started review)

AP said...

hey for some reason i keep finding watchmen as a motion comic on bt is that normal? cant wait to get my hands on some graphic literature hahah
i think the movie is full of great stills but the action and dialogue sometimes suffer from too many close-ups and matrix moments, no? anyone expecting an action flick with blow by blow gratification would be rather disappointed

Cyril Dason said...

Nice review.. but its reallly long :D

but yeah.. very detailed :D

k0k s3n w4i said...

bevE: thanks for trying and failing then >_>

AP: Well, it was designed to invoke the feeling of reading the graphic novel. The matrix bullet time moments are Zackie boy's signature - so he's going to keep using them a lot. I didn't feel there were too much closeups though. A lot of fans were complaining about there being too much action :P Zack compromised.

Cyril Dason: I like to be thorough :)

AP said...

id think that it could do away with action altogether no problemo just leave the blood and gore lol even though it looked every bit like another X men on the outset but thats the joke isnt it.... indeed i spotted walkouts that day at the cinema, for us people unawares of the wonder that is watchmen its certainly rather divisive, my friend looked abit green about the gills abt halfway through

my brother actually told me i resembled rorschach in my erm, moral intensity..... rather discomfiting to know

Kavi said...

this ain't a review... it's a fuckin' thesis! And I loved it, even more than what I wrote!

Here's to Alan "Grumpy" Moore and Zack "Graphic Novel" Snyder!


Justin Tan said...

Never watch this movie in Malaysia. What's the point of watching a movie based on Watchmen and not seeing Dr. Manhattan's dick? :P

The movie is good imho but I don't really like how they tend to ignore some key points in the graphics novel, like the unmasking of Rorschach. No build up and then WHAM! he got his mask off.

bevE said...

T^T i'm glad u appreciate it *chuckles to self in my trademark crazy way*

eh i watched it last night! got back around like 4.30 am =_=

so sleepy today :(

and i sawwwwwwws his cooooo........ dong. i saaaaaaawwwwwws his coooooo......... dong. xD at one point in time it looked smaller.... maybe it was the angle of the thing. i meant camera okay. just realised that. and um.. I SAWS THE LESBIANS KISSING XD XD omg so huge how did they miss that? maybe they thought no one would see it. at first i thought it was a man's boob being sucked on then i saw the slight curvature -.- and also i haven't been getting much sleep past few days so fell asleep quite a few times :D

*still haven't read post*

bevE said...

also i forgot what else i wanted to say :(

k0k s3n w4i said...

Kavi: glad u liked it. cheers!

Justin Tan: I thought the unmasking was okay. maybe he shud have shot it in slo-mo :P i'm definitely going to be seeing dr manhattan's big blue dick, when it comes out on DVD!

bevE: u fell... asleep? then u wun understand the story one bit. they already condensed a 12 issue comic into a 2 hour + movie. did the sucking turn u on? :P