quis custodiet ipsos custodies? (AKA the massive Watchmen post)

so recently i went out a saw a film in accordance with my usual routine: on a random day in the middle of the week, i head out early (or, as i am talking about a time around noon, early for people like myself) in order to avoid having to share the theater with legions of unwashed children who, frankly, should really get themselves some jobs. on this occasion, i happened to see the recently-released film Watchmen. this update is the story of this event.

tonight the Comedian died
Watchmen: will the film shatter our hopes and dreams like this window?

now, this movie’s been a long time in the making, what with the many attempts to do so and all the directors claiming it’s “unfilmable” (and by “many,” i mean “at least Terry Gilliam”) and the fact that nerds like myself were incredibly concerned about the source material. for comparison, it might help to think of the rabid, purist Watchmen fans as rabid, purist Lord of the Rings fans, with the slight difference that those of us amongst the former have actually see naked girls once or twice in our lives. but all that being said, the concept is probably not that unfamiliar: a highly-regarded series of comics (which can be pictured as a book, if that helps) that happens to be long and dense and operate on several levels trying to be made into a good film.

and frankly, that’s bad enough, but there’s more: this was written by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore. Alan Moore’s written a couple of comics that i love wholeheartedly, and the last one of those that was made into a film was the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (yes, i know V For Vendetta’s in the middle there, but i never really loved that comic and the film, meh, i can really do without). and League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which is a wonderfully dense and clever comic was something just messy and terrible in film form. even making allowances for various elements of it (for example, i can understand adding an American character as well as a new character who becomes a villain), it was still a crushing disappointment to fans of the series. and you know those people don’t want to make any allowances anyway.

still, Zack Snyder seemed to have really thrown himself into this project and everything i’d heard from people that had seen it was mainly “this film is very, very good” and “wow, Dr. Manhattan’s genitals are EVERYWHERE in this thing.” the latter being true to the source material, i decided this was a good sign and went to check this film out. and now i have comments! oh, yeah, and spoilers.

two quick things i want to mention before we talk about the film. i swear i’ll keep this brief.

01. how much does it suck to have a song you really like ruined by events you associate it with? i realized as i was driving to the theater listening to Warren Zevon records that while i really, really like the song “Carmelita,” the fact that i was listening to it during some unpleasant events really makes it depressing for me. and that sucks, because i love that song.

02. okay, so when i go out, i like to wear ridiculous t-shirts. here’s a picture of the one i was wearing today:


now, i LOVE this shirt. i love Zombie, it’s a great flick, and the shirt cracks me up because it makes the same declaration that the film’s poster did (“we are going to eat you!”) that captivated me so much as a child. whatever, it’s my shirt and i like it and no one seems to notice it. until i went to buy a ticket to this movie and the ticket seller just STARES at it. i’m saying “i’d like one for the Watchmen” … and he just stares at it. i put my money into his hand and he makes change … while staring at the shirt. and then he hands me my ticket the same way. and then he stares at me, still saying nothing, while i thank him and leave. summation: this is the greatest of all my t-shirts.

Minutemen, 1940
oh, don’t panic because it’s a black-and-white photo, we’re in the realm of flashbacks there

plot: the main point to make here about the plot is that Snyder has really stuck to the source material, so nothing much changes here: if you know the plot, you know the plot. for some people, this makes it less exciting; for me, i didn’t enjoy it any less knowing exactly where it was going the entire time. and the changes tend to be acceptable or mild: the ending’s changed, mainly to make the film flow better, but it’s entirely reasonable and doesn’t actually change much; and things like the Black Freighter and other little subplots (the newsstand operator, the psychiatrist, people related to the original ending, the background of the older heroes) are dropped without much effect and, such as in the case of the Black Freighter, may have been filmed for the DVD release.

direction: Snyder actually broke out some sets and made this thing look good. it’s very much a Zack Snyder film – main example: it’s got that constantly-cutting-between-fast-motion-and-slow-motion-during-fights thing going on all the time – but Snyder really devotes himself to the project. if you think extensive accuracy weighs it down, whatever, but i think it’s a good thing and the film is shot well. and there’s a lot of little touches and allusions to things in the comic that didn’t quite make the film in detail: Hooded Justice (i mean, he’s in there, but i’m not sure they ever NAME him) and the older heroes and the Nostalgia/Millenium ads spring to mind. now, i’m sure i’ll find some stuff to nitpick later… but we’ll get to that.

music: i just wanted to make a special mention of this, because i really enjoyed the soundtrack. part of this was the nice use of popular music (i particularly enjoyed “All Along The Watchtower,” but then, i ALWAYS like when movies use that song), but here we’re taking a moment to praise Tyler Bates, he of the nice 300 soundtrack who comes along here and does another stellar job. i suppose i can’t give him credit for the nice “Requiem” piece that plays late in the film, though, as i understand that’s lifted from Mozart. but Mozart’s nice as well.

but what about the most important part, the cast?

that’s right, i’m taking any excuse i can to reuse this awesome Rorschach photo over and over

basically, there are three characters that really matter to me here: Rorschach, the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan (and in that order). everyone else, well, they should be good, but if those three could be done well, i would probably consider that enough of a victory and go home. for the sake of comparison, if the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Mr. Hyde had been the constantly swearing, human-disparaging, thermographic-visioning, revenge-based-rapist of the Invisible Man that he’d been in the comics… well, i’d have consider THAT film a success. but he wasn’t. anyway, how about some letter grades for no good reason?

Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley): i heard good things going in, and there was no disappointment – Haley was absolutely fantastic as Rorschach. i was saying the other day that he gets all the good lines in the comic, and he did in the film as well; granted, the post-dog-scene speech is quite truncated, but also long as the Pagliacci joke is in there, all can be forgiven. and it is, so there it is. i do miss the comic’s moment where he spares his former landlady abuse because of HER child (who’s very similar to himself) because it’s a neat little scene, but it’s an acceptable loss, and many other things i demanded be in the film (the Pagliacci joke and/or the Big Figure killing). and i have an issue with his… conclusion, but we’ll get to that. anyway, is it wrong of me to say he had some powerful, emotional moments in this film? A+

the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan): same as the above in terms of what i heard and, well, same as the above in the end result – Morgan delivers. actually, the weird part here is that several people have commented to me that Robert Downey Jr. did a good job. granted, there’s some resemblance there, and it’s not like it’s insulting to be mistaken for Downey in that Downey’s a very good actor in his own right (whereas being mistaken for, say, Colin Farrell would suck it hardcore). but while maybe i’m mistaken about this… the guy’s, what, 43? and he’s been around a while? and he’s STILL mistaken for someone else in his big-budget moment of glory? sad. A+

Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup): honestly, Manhattan’s a weird character because he’s supposed to be fairly detached, but it’s got to be done in a way that’s credible so that he doesn’t come off as some magical blue version of a nihilist from the Big Lebowski, and so it’s only right that the guy i consider the biggest star in the film (that would be Crudup, who i describe that way in cast someone wants to go to bat for the star power of Matt Frewer or something) gets the job. and it’s a good one, though, in fairness, Manhattan’s powered as much by effects as acting. he can’t get an A+ because i have to keep seeing his dick; granted, i truly appreciate that Snyder didn’t cave on this point, but still… that’s a lot of flagrant blue genitalia. A

Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson): i can basically sum up his film character with “the changes that were made were acceptable.” i know Snyder basically touched him (and Silk Spectre as well) up because they seemed the most dated in the way that would take people out of the film, and actually, it was all fairly reasonable because it boils down to “the costume looks more modern.” Wilson’s good – not too pudgy to beat up criminals, not so toned that he looks like he never retired – and he does a good job. i suppose i just never felt that strongly about the Nite Owl. still, he has much love for Rorschach, so it’s all good. B+

Ozymandias (Matthew Goode): Ozymandias is just kind of… there in this film, though that probably has something to do with how the whole plot wraps up. stated another way, we follow Rorschach/Nite Owl/Manhattan/Silk Spectre through the plot and the others are where they need to be, and Ozymandias is where he needs to be. all that being said, Goode is, well, good, but the character seems lacking in comparison to the comics at the end – there’s no childish “I DID IT!” self-congratulation after his plans work out; the “bullet-catching” thing is played more as a body-armor thing than “something else i wasn’t sure would work”; and i dislike the change in his big line. yeah, it’s similar, but “i triggered it thirty-five minutes ago” has less punch than “i did it thirty-five minutes ago.” B

Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman): …and this would be the weak link in terms of acting. actually, i don’t think she’s as cringe-inducing as some think, because i attribute some of the issues to her character (who i never found that likable a character) and the way she’s scripted (we’ll get to that), but she’s definitely wooden and the weakest of the heroes. i was also going to call her a “bargain-rate Natalie Portman lookalike” in this film (i think it’s the hair color that does it), but then i thought people might not agree that they look similar, so i dropped it. and yet, here i am talking about it. weird. C-

the rest: basically, the minor characters aren’t as pronounced in this film because back stories and the like have been trimmed down. Matt Frewer looks the part of Moloch and handles the role well, but he should because he’s a solid character actor; Stephen McHattie was a good Nite Owl I, even if i always mistake him for Lance Hendricksen’s little brother; and Carla Gugino as Silk Spectre… well, let me just say that my colleague Smilez would demand i note she always brings two quality assets to the table, without fail. he was not disappointed in this aspect of the film. but everyone, no matter how small, essentially looks the part (case in point: the casting of the psychiatrist) and does the job.

the Comedian
what happened to the American dream? it came true. you’re lookin’ at it.

–same old complaint: you know what it is: that i refuse to believe 5’7.5″ Malin Ackerman could beat me up, let along the villains in this film. and we’re not talking about someone with super strength or genetic engineering or anything… just a normal woman who can APPARENTLY beat the shit out of men three times her size with ease. i know, i know, it’s the magic of cinema and all that. i just like to bitch about this topic.

–and while we’re on the topic of fights… here’s the thing: it’s not that i think the constant cutting between normal speed and slow-motion during fights looks bad, because it doesn’t. it’s more that when you do it all the time, it becomes an overused joke rather than a cool technique. that’s all i’m saying.

–Danny Woodburn as Big Figure: i demanded that his death be in this film, and it was, and in a fashion true to the comic. but there’s one small thing: casting Danny Woodburn – who played the ridiculous Mickey on Seinfeld – gives the character of Big Figure this randomly comical element that i’m not sure was intended. maybe it was? eh, either way, it’s there.

–Rorschach’s death: so here’s the thing: in the comics, he and Manhattan have their confrontation and everything while the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II are fucking inside Veidt’s facility, and that’s acceptable. but in the film, right after Rorschach gets his moment of finally, ultimately refusing to compromise in the face of armageddon (on a personal level, anyway), we have the Nite Owl crying and making it HIS moment. it’s not your moment, Nite Owl! you’ll finish out the story alive and rich and happy! fuck off and let Roschach’s death be about RORSCHACH!

Rorschach redux
good night, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

every so often, you get something you’ve been looking forward to for years and years: Pharoahe Monch’s sophomore album (which took eight years and finally came out as Desire), a sequel to Stephen King & Peter Straub’s the Talisman (which took seventeen years and finally came out as Black House), and that League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen film are examples that spring to mind. but these things are often very, very disappointing (Desire) or terribly shitty (Black House, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen). this, however, was not and i would recommend you all go see it so that you can tell me how distressing my taste in films is. or, failing that, just stare blankly at my shirt. it seems like the popular thing to do today.

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One Response to quis custodiet ipsos custodies? (AKA the massive Watchmen post)

  1. Duane Toole says:

    Speaking of tee shirts, you may remember that Thamaht, my first-born, used to have GIANT hair: a huge mane of red. It was rather like a huge Afro. (Unfortunately, now he wears it very short.)

    During his Giant Hair Period, he would wear a shirt which said, “Keep staring. I might do a trick.”

    I loved that shirt.

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