Monday, March 16, 2009

Dr. Manhattan Lives! (spoiler alert!)

Alan Moore's Watchmen. One of the most amazing graphic novels so far. One of the three works that, in my opinion, changed superhero comix in the 80's (the other two being Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns). 

I wasn't into Watchmen when it first came out. My reading tastes were a little more pedestrian: bad guys were bad guys, good guys were good guys, etc. It took my rebellious brother to show me what was possible. When he finally got me into Watchmen, it took the top of my head off. Explosive revelations, iconic characters, an incredible mystery story and real human situations and emotion through the lens of the fantastic were all present. The collected series I bought for myself in the late 80's (12 issues in all; the complete story) is still one of my most prized possessions. 

Went to see the movie last night. Not horrible, definitely not great. I'm not entirely certain what I think about it yet. Let me run down the numbers for you:

Effects: Mostly ass-kicking, especially the action. But I thought the aging make-up just looked cheesy, and the full CGI - including Dr. Manhattan - was just a bit off.

Costumes: Sick. Off the hook. Worked great.

Overall Look & Feel: Wonderful. Did an amazing job of bringing the visual character of the story to life.

Acting: Mostly for s*&t.

Direction: Mostly for s*&t.

Story: Mostly for s*&t. There was just too much of it there in the comic; too much nuance and character building. To be fair, I don't think anyone could have put all that story into 2.75 hours, which Snyder tried to do. Evidently, at one point, Terry Gilliam was given the project. He cogitated, then said something to the effect of, "I can't make a movie of this for you. Give me a trilogy or a t.v. mini-series, and I can do this. But anything less than 8 hours simply won't do it."

I think it's possible the acting may have been better with better direction, but I'm not sure. The woman playing Laurie (the daughter Silk Specter) looked exactly like the drawings in the comic book. It was a bit eerie. I don't think she was hired for her acting strengths. 

Moore's probably pissed, if he's even looking. I like to imagine he's not. His name wasn't on it, as it wasn't on V for Vendetta. I almost hope that Promethea is never made into a single movie. It just wouldn't carry.

Now, the one thing I think they got completely right (except for weaknesses in the CGI) was Dr. Manhattan. I got shivers every time he was on the screen. His story arc, although hideously compressed (as were all the others), was the most compelling to me; his existential crisis was made real on the screen. 

Another thing I noticed was my very visceral reaction to all the viscera. There's a fair amount of violence in the comic, but the translation of it to film was kind of overwhelming to me. I've read the comic at least 7 times, but to see some of the action transcribed to the screen was shocking. I feel a bit pansyish about it, but then, I've always been known as such a tough guy. ;)

In that vein, one of the most disappointing aspects was the treatment of Rorschach. His utter eerieness was simply not achieved, certainly not by the actor who played him. There was just little sympathy for him. The nuances of his violence and his reasons for it were just plain lost in the shuffle. I feel sad for his character, not for all the reasons I've felt sad for him before (which he would abhor), but because those reasons were not brought to the screen. 

All in all, I think a C, C+ for effort. It just never came even close to the gut reaction the comic gave me in the 80's. And all the deaths at the end...just didn't seem at all real. Ozymandias was a joke, and the build up to the end, and the whole mystery aspect was...well, mostly for s*&t.

Better luck next time. And maybe spend a little less money, give it a little more time, and more heart. 


Clifford said...

Great review! But you know, I can't trust it (: You see, this was your "Shining", so you had too much skin in the game to come out of it with any type of objectivity. At least, that's what I assume, based on your comments on the comic...

I did the same with Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining. That, of all Kings novels, at the time, was my favorite. I stood in line, opening night, shivery with anticipation. And then, as the first reel unspooled, and the perfectly ominous music began, hope soared. Then, with the very first line that came out of Nicholson's mouth, my heart sank. Heresey! Vileness personified! Unjust unjustness! This can't be happening. But it was, Blanche, it see, in "reimagining" the book for the screen, Kubrick removed all the heart and soul -- the very core of the book. The chewy center. It was years later, before I could watch it again. Knowing that many folk loved it, and many considered it a classic, I wanted to see if I could separate the film from the book in my mind. I sat down to it, let it talk to me as if I were seeing a movie, pure and simple, without an antecedent. And you know what, I see what others see in it. It's still not the movie it could have been, but in it's own right, there are things to like and a couple of classic moments.

So five years from now, to the day, sit down and watch it again. And review it. I'll be interested in seeing how the two reviews dovetail. Heh.

syzygy13 said...

That comparison would interest me as well. ;)

Zenslinger said...

I've read Watchmen perhaps three times, including once a couple of years ago, when I still felt it was excellent, but thought it had not aged all that well. So that's where I'm coming from as a fan of the book: I know it fairly well but am not big-time fan.

I thought, on the whole, the adaptation was very good, mostly because, for me, it got the core of the story right as well as the feel. The only core element left out was a lot of the feel of the streets of Manhattan, mostly in terms of the newsstand. You can't hope to do more than that in less than 8 hours' screen time.

But speaking of screen time and story -- to me it's rather amazing how much they were able to get in about the previous generation of masked heroes.

The end did not have the impact it should have, true. I didn't mind that it was without tentacles, but it was without the amount of punch it should have had, partially because Ozymandias was just all right. didn't like Rorscach? I thought he was excellent. One online writer went as far as to say that he was better than in the book, and I almost agreed with that. Even the didn't-read-the-book members of the audiences (I saw it twice opening weekend) I was in could connect with him when they couldn't connect with anything else.

It seems from the way the film's performing that those who didn't read the book are lost on it. And yet it's harshest critics are those who, like Ian, feel like too much was left out. So, rock and a hard place here.

I don't know whether to think Synder is any good as a director or not. I disliked 300 (fun to look at, story completely uncompelling). I think he probably has some weaknesses getting the best acting performances. But overall, I think this was a good job by him.