Saturday, March 7, 2009

Watchmen

When I first saw Dawn of the Dead in the theater at some silly Halloween function in town, I was startled about halfway into the film by a voice behind me. We all turned to see a young blonde woman with a look of sudden epiphany on her face say to the theater at large: "Oh! It's, like, about buying stuff and, like, junk!" We all chuckled at her and went back to the movie, but I do remember feeling some absurd pride at her ability to figure out that there was more going on screen than just antrhopophagic zombies lurching around a mall. If I ever see her again, I don't think I could resist the urge to walk up to her and stick a grade school style gold star on the tip of her nose and give her a pat on the head.

Yesterday afternoon, as I sat through Watchmen in the theater, a "gentleman" behind me uttered the phrase "Dude . . . I can see the blue guy's junk!" And as much as the girl years ago will forever embody how it feels to me to watch Dawn of the Dead, this high school truant boy will forever embody how it feels to me to watch Watchmen.

Snyder certainly knows what the graphic novel looks like as we are treated to repeated panel for panel replications of the original graphic novel: indeed, faithful to the point of a near mastabatory fantasy on the part of the director. We're constantly referred to how faihtfully he can replicate the look of the comic, but completely fail to even hint at its depth. The constant rephrain from the director is blatantly "Look! Just like in the comic book!" and, indeed, "Look! Dr. Manhattan's junk!"

Of course not everything's bad about the movie. Indeed, when it's not horribly fumbling what are, in my mind, the most crucial points of the original novel, it's doing a fabulous job at doing what it does well: looking like Watchmen.

While Billy Crudup simply does not have the gravitas to be Dr. Manhattan, he and his makeup artist do an excellent job in at least making him look the part, especially in his John Osterman phases. Jeffrey Dean Morgan simply IS the Comedian. He doesn't so much as inhabit the part as become it and manages it with perfectly, complete with the casual brutality so integral. Matthew Goode certainly cuts a dashing figure as Ozymandias and much the same can be said for Malin Ackerman as Laurie/Silk Specter II. Patrick Wilson manages to be NightOwl II pretty much alone on the screen as nobody else can actually play opposite him except Haley.

Haley deserves his own paragraph since, in a way that Morgan can only dream of, he manages to breath real life into Roarshach. We aren't treated to little visual clues of the character appearing multiple times in the same frame as in the graphic novel, but whenever the masked man is on screen, he dominates it entirely, to the point that when he is supposed to fade into the background the director is forced to cut him from the image entirely so that Goode can look regal as Ozymandias. Despite the total botch of his genesis (I'll not ruin what, exactly, does happen in the film, but suffice to say it changes the character irrevocably), Roarshach is easily the best thing about the film in its entirety.

I won't go through every little thing about the film as most of it is subjective in the extreme and is up to everyone to decide for themselves. However, I think one of the most universal failings of the movie is the soundtrack. Snyder has decided that a movie about the 80's simply wouldn't be any good without identifiably 80's songs. Taken on their own, the songs are great. Who doesn't get at least the tiniest thrill upon hearing "99 Luftbaloons"? But in context, they were so poorly handled that it was distracting. Said "99 Luftbaloons" backs up what would otherwise be a romantic and pleasant dinner date. Its addition seems determined to turn it into comedy. As for the love scene aboard Archie, my advice is to close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears, and just wait for it to be over. Snyder, you should have stuck with the Smashing Pumpkins song from your trailer. It was far superior.

A minor complaint, I'm not sure why Snyder felt the need to turn Nixon into a parody in this movie, but it was a disservice. Watching his lookalike on the big screen make jokes about the nuking of the entire east coast is jarring and detracts greatly from the layers of depth that were present in the original source material. Perhaps worse is the fact that, while in the original, Nixon backs off of actually ordering the launch, in the movie, he does so with an almost gleeful expression. Whether or not you like the actual Nixon, the character's portrayal in the movie is a letdown.

Perhaps they were right in that this was the unfilmable graphic novel.

Just one last note: it should go without saying to those of us who actually know what's in the story, but this is absolutely not a movie to bring a child to. There were several in the theater I was in, and all but one of them ran screaming from the theater within 30 minutes. Parents, please take the "R" rating seriously on this one.

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