Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You're locked in here with me!

On Saturday morning, a slew of us got together bright and early at 9AM to take in Watchmen. While most of us had read (& loved) the source material (Adam, Sean, Keller, Katie, Perry), others were not quite finished (Erica), and one of us had not even read it at all (Jesse). So, buzzed on coffee, we had varying degrees of expectations going into the film. And being that I simply can't review a film without taking the Watchmen graphic novel into account, that is what I'm going to do - and so, spoilers ensue --

Still, I sit here staring at the screen with so many thoughts about the movie, but with no idea where to begin. I'll start with a succinct summary: I enjoyed watching it, and it was impressive to a degree (not wholly), but it had one major dealbreaker.

I was extremely excited when I sat down in the IMAX, with great seats. The opening sequence of The Comedian's murder reeled me in, and the credits were fantastic. Seriously, some really tremendous work in those credits with the montage of the history of the Minutemen and Watchmen and the parallel and skewed universe these "superheroes" exist in. My excitement was bubbling.

Zac Snyder, fanboy that he is, really didn't stray much from the novel. It was practically the drawings come to life - which, was interesting, but, as someone who read it, it kind of distracted me for all the visual recognitions being conjured in my head. It was so close to the book, that I didn't gain anything new. Which is fine, I can settle for a serious fanboy adaptation, because it's incredibly spot-on, and I'll admire it only because I probably would have wanted to do the same thing and not mire the inherent awesomeness of the novel. And so many directors translating from comic books have tried to do it before - bravo, Snyder, for getting it almost right.

Almost. Somewhere between the written page and film, something was lost. I don't kow if it was because the brevity of the dropped storyline (being released on DVD later this month) really did affect the whole, or maybe Snyder's stylistic choices weren't necessarily right for many of the sequences. Let me just say - this movie would have perhaps been only two hours long (instead of 2:40) if he had given up some of the slo-mo. But again: neither were dealbreakers.

Here's what was: the music. It distracted me, and took all the needed seriousness out of every scene. The music did the opposite of what I think it intended to do - I think the musical supervisor chose certain songs for their recognition and iconic status. But it didn't help anything - instead, I was cringing most of the time (perhaps only the opening credits' Bob Dylan-set montage was music well-chosen). The worst, obvious to anybody who saw the movie, was obviously playing of "Hallelujah" during a sex scene. From "99 Luftballoons," to "The Sounds of Silence" during The Comedian's funeral - ugh!!!!!!!!!!!! I don't think I've ever been so disgusted or disappointed with music choice - because I've never been so distracted to think about it too much! The thing is, we all relate to these songs because they're so iconic, and in this alternate America, it doesn't pull my senses in to relate to it - it simply makes me shake my head because I'm thinking of Blondie's feathered hair or @&#%#*$^ Forrest Gump. And the choices weren't just limited to these giant pop songs; there was also a score thrown in every now and then, and holy crap, when they decided to set Dr. Manhattan's emergence over Vietnam to "Ride of the Valkyries" ?!?!?! REALLY, MUSICAL SUPERVISOR? REALLY? Horrendous. Like I said - dealbreaker.

Okay, I have to step back from the ranting, raving Jessica - I know, I know. I'll get back to some of the good parts; because yes, though the music choices were mish-mashed and quite awful, I'm still able to recognize all the great things about the movie.

Like some of those actors! Seriously, Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach was spot on. And I believe he needed to be: Rorschach is one of the best characters in literature (I'm serious). Snyder knew this - if he had to get ANYTHING right in the movie, it had to be him. And hiring Haley was a smart choice. He brings to the screen all the raspy condescension and disgust that Rorschach embodies. A note - some people were saying his voice was very Christian-Bale-as-Batman - but Rorschach's speech bubbles were wavery, so I always had this growly voice in my head, Batman or no Batman. Just because last year's best comic book movie had a raspy voice, doesn't mean Rorschach shouldn't. And let's be honest, Haley did it better. Also, regardless of whether he was wearing his mask or not - Haley delivered.

Patrick Wilson, with all his nerdiness and flab, perfectly captured Nite Owl II - sex scene or no sex scene. Billy Crudup's detached Dr. Manhattan, the grizzly near-inhumanity of The Comedian by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and even Matthew Goode turned his not-like-the-book look into something believable as Veidt. Silk Spectre II was one-note, as Malin Ackerman tends to be in her roles. She fit the look, though. The original Silk Spectre (her mother), played by Carla Gugino, was well-done, but her on-screen presence always felt brief.

Speaking of looks, I have to share this post-movie conversation we all had, because it was so funny -

Keller: So who was good?
Me: I think they did a really good job with The Comedian...
Keller [laughing]: OH! Jessica likes Robert Downey Jr! What a surprise!
[Everybody stares at Keller, then -]
Many people: That wasn't Robert Downey Jr.
Me: He was that dude in Weeds and Grey's Anatomy...he's always the dead dude...
Keller: What? Seriously?
Me: He looks like RDJ. Meets Javier Bardem. Jeffrey Dean Morgan! And he was engaged to Mary-Louise Parker, who was pregnant with Billy Crudup's baby when he left her for Claire Danes...and hm, they had scenes together...[trails off...]

Keller was seriously dumbfounded. Also, I don't know how I really store all this information, but it's there.

Back to the topic at hand! I did enjoy the movie - it didn't feel like two hours and forty minutes, even with all the slo-mo. It kept going, and I kept anticipating the next scene simply because I had read the book. There were some great scenes (though my favourite is still probably the credits, which apparently you can find online now). I thought the funeral scene with The Comedian flashbacks was great, the initial Dr. Manhattan-on-Mars scene (NO MUSIC THERE!), and Rorschach in prison for delivering that great line. There was also a lot of gore, and I definitely looked away a few times. I don't think it was unwarranted; the book itself is a bit gory, but I think the impact of seeing it "realized" makes it much more in-your-face. Plus, Snyder loves that stop-action, slo-mo, sped-up sequence during action scenes. So you get every detail. It didn't annoy me that much - at least he was consistent?

The ending, though different, wasn't too bad. I understand where it needed to be changed, but it seemed to stretch. There were too many snippets of endings; it felt a bit haphazard. Also, the ending in the novel is far bloodier than in the movie - surprising, I know. There was one part that I did like better than in the book. [Serious Spoiler!] When Dr. Manhattan vaporizes Rorschach, his blood and guts leave an imprint on the snow; this didn't happen in the novel - he simply vanishes. I liked that touch.

So, I could go on and on AND ON about this movie, but I will conclude here. Snyder did an accomplished job at bringing the comic to life; I'm not sure if anybody else's attempt would have been as good. It's too hard to translate every meaning the book gets across, in my opinion. The movie comes across with less impact, and becomes just a movie to those who haven't read all the insinuated commentary and layers of the book. Because the book is anything if just a book. And for just a movie, it was good. Not great, but good enough. Again, Watchmen almost gets it - I think I would have had a much higher opinion of the movie if the music hadn't sullied my experience.

What did you think?


  1. You confirm my suspicion that people who read the book would like the movie more than those who didn't. However, even though I didn't (read the book), I felt the absence of a story line as well, maybe you could fill me in there. I can't believe I didn't mention the awful rendition of one of my favorite songs, "Hallelujah" during the sex scene in my review (which I anxiously wait for you to tear apart ;)

  2. Emily!!

    The thing about the dropped off storyline is that it really does make sense for the big screen. You see two characters from it during the movie - the newspaper stand guy and the kid next to him at the end who embrace during the bomb? Those two are the framing of the other storyline, which is a comic book the kid is reading everyday by the news stand. Yes, Watchmen had a comic book within a comic book. It was called "The Black Freighter" and is a very dark and surreal and WEIRD story. It's seriously jarring while reading the novel, but in retrospect it really added this "weirdness" and disillusionment to the book that ties into the ending (the reason they changed it!). In the original end this giant alien squid thing appears over Manhattan, crushing buildings and people in a giant blood-bath, where the movie sends a bomb to vaporize people. Veidt created this "alien" to unite the world, by using the writer of "The Black Freighter" who had since disappeared with a bunch of scientists and Veidt had kidnapped...oh man, see how this would have been so complicated??? Haha...maybe one day in person I'll bring the book for a visual cue to clue you in! SO many more levels in the book than the movie...

    I actually liked your review - as I said in a comment to you! Seriously! Agree with you for the most part, as someone who's read the novel, and glad to read somebody who hadn't!

  3. I skimmed through this, since I havent seen the movie yet, but I know that ride of the valkyries actually had significance in the movie as it was the song Hollis Mason mentioned in his autobiography when he referred it to as the saddest song he knows.....
    woah I just went way past geeky.

  4. Chele - haha! Love geeky, of course! I remember that from the book - perhaps it was because I was at IMAX, and it was so bombastic, and to me, ill-placed. Maybe it was just me! :) Go see the movie! Can't wait to hear what you think of it!

  5. "Unlike the other five principal actors, Haley had read the comic and was keen to pursue the role when he heard he had become a favorite candidate among fans. He and fourteen friends put together his audition, where he performed scenes from the comic." Man, he was an amazing Rorschach!


    I didn't get to tell you this Jessica, but two other big gripes were:

    a) Snyder overused Nite Owl a bit stealing the impact from a few of Rorschach's scenes, namely him being vaporized. Did we need him there to yell in rage? In the book it was an amazing confrontation between a godlike being and a man.

    b) While the ending wasn't horrible, they ruined one key part which kind of destroyed Adrian for me. He never doubted himself in the end like he did in the book, and "Nothing ever ends" being delivered by Silk Spectre didn't hold the weight of someone who sees the future like Dr. Manhattan.

    I'm still gonna watch the Directors Cut and see what happens.

    At least the movie has been made, we no longer have to worry about some filmmaker ruining it for the sake of making a name for himself. Snyder obviously loved the material.

  6. Adam - Yes, Haley was great! Did you know Simon Pegg was offered Rorschach?! And some other people, as well - according to the IMDB page. Pegg as Rorschach? Bah. Glad they went with Haley, who's more unknown, and to me, better at his simmering rage.

    1. I really HATED that Nite Owl was there! Wasn't he banging out Laurie while that went down? Ha. Yes, I liked Rorschach's death being true to the book, but also the added image, but not Nite Owl's reaction.

    2. These points are true - definitely flaws.

    Yes, let's watch the director's cut and The Black Freighter!! You're right that Snyder loved it - at least there's that.

  7. Hmmm. I actually really really loved the movie! It felt like an homage to the comic more than anything. This coming from someone who read Watchmen when they were 14, so I guess I didn't mind that most scenes were right out of the comic - because I've been waiting so long for a Watchmen film that it was just so cool to see those scenes come to life. I thought it was as perfect as it would ever get on film, but yeah - I think I'm just dazed by Watchmen, it reverts me back to 14 year old status because I get so excited about it. Hah, once a comic geek, always a comic geek! My parents actually read it when it first came out, we have a signed Alan Moore copy!

    a) Agreed on the sex scene. They started to play "Hallelujah" and I actually got up because I figured this was the one scene I would be ok with missing due to bathroom break.

    b) Looooved the cast, but Jackie, Patrick and Billy in particular. He really did look exactly like Walter Kovacs, it was crazy!

    c) Last I heard the director's cut is a half hour longer and is bloodier/more violent and will have the Black Freighter cut into the film, so I think that will be a much more cohesive movie. I felt like esp. with the ending it looked like he cut some stuff. I wanted that shot of the piles of bodies after the attack like in the comic!

  8. If you look back at the novel, there is a panel with blood after Manhattan vaporizes Rorschach. I loved that overhead view of the splatter as well, like an inkblot. It was clever. Overall, the movie was disappointing. It had great moments (Rorschach was undeniably PERFECT) and some really cringeworthy moments (Ride of the Valkyries was the worst), but it fell flat overall. I think the general sentiment is that it needed a score rather than a soundtrack. Good call.

  9. Mich - Haha, great bathroom break time! Glad you liked it - I did like it, but I think it would have been better realized without some of those music choices. It was interesting watching it on IMAX with a sold-out crowd - people were cheering when it started, when the credits were done, and when Rorschach first comes on screen and whatnot - but then the movie ended and nothing. I was like, wow, so even this diehard crowd doesn't knwo what to think of it! Ha. Stoked for the director's cut, for sure!

    Jessica - right, right, there is blood! But, it's like pinky blood dust. Ha. The inkblot was a great add. Bloodblot? :) Totally needed a score over soundtrack! Or at least eerier songs...I had such high hopes after that Smashing Pumpkins song was being played in the trailer last summer! So perfect for it!

  10. I'm sorry that the music sucked for you. I had never heard of Watchmen prior to your writing about it here, but I think I'm going to have to read it now.

    Also, that conversation that you had with Keller about RDJ and JDM? That's always me, with the who's who and who's having who's baby and stuff. I know way too much about people I don't know.:)

  11. Lyndsey - if you can take graphic novels, it's definitely the best one out there. no joke. and my brain stores way too much information about stupid crap like that!! ah well :)

  12. justin and i just went to see it last night. we both walked out wishing the other person would have made the other walk out early. AWFUL. not entertaining. not enlightening. not even amusing. honestly? worst movie ever made. both of us agree. UGH! i will be personally offended if any of my friends go pay money for that crap.