10th March, 2009

Spaceship Sex with Leonard Cohen?

I had decided not to write about the Watchmen movie, partly because I’m the kind of Watchmen fan that many of you will dislike, in that I only read the original comics a few months ago.

Does that mean I love the story any less than you? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t really care, because I found myself giddy with anticipation for this film, and I know the details enough to care deeply about it. Anyway, I decided to blast through my thoughts on the film version to help me understand whether I actually liked it or not. As you’ll discover, I’m still not sure.

Walter KovacsFigure 1: Jackie Earle Haley plays Rorschach.

I did not read the comics in 1986

I’m not a comic book geek, and I’m not going to pretend I read the original 12 comics when I was thirteen years old. I didn’t, as I was not that “cool”. I loved the celluloid and tv-cartoon superheroes, and I did collect comics, but not Marvel, DC or anything “cool”. I collected Battle (Action Force), Warlord and other gritty war comics. I also had some odd Star Wars adaptations and bizarrely a lot of Hanna Barbera stuff. Darker, more interesting stuff like Watchmen was not on my radar, nor that of my friends, and I hadn’t even heard of it until two years ago.

My colleague Greg however knows his shit, and has not only introduced me to the incredible work of Joe Sacco, but also the cooler, grittier Batman comics, such as The Killing Joke, and Alan Moore classics like V For Vendetta, From Hell, and other comics or graphic novels that I only knew through hit and miss film adaptations.

Anyway, I finally purchased Watchmen last year, and read it within four days (another “no-no”, as most will tell me I should have read one chapter a month etc - yeah, whatever). I’d never encountered such a mesmerising, brooding, thoughtful, twisted comic that span my head around in so many directions, or held my gaze across panels that I’d revisit continuously throughout my time with the book. This epic comic lived up to all expectations. What a fantastic piece of work.

They’re gonna make a film of this?!

So, you can imagine my excitement as the massively-hyped movie trailers began to appear over the last six or seven months. Sure, my time with the Watchmen is more brief than that of many of you, but still, I found myself itching to see Zack Snyder‘s film of the unfilmable film. Deciding I couldn’t wait one more day, I booked tickets for the team to go see the earliest Nottingham showing, full of anticipation, a nervous Greg and an excitable Malarkey in tow.

In a nutshell…

I reckon the movie is two-thirds brilliant, one-third ill-judged, or even awful. I’m still not sure exactly what theose thirds are made up of. Its not as though the last third is naff, or if all the music is great etc. I guess I’m content to be quite lazy about my exact views until I watch it again and with less giddy excitement.

Rorschach: The Movie

When this film succeeds with its adaptation, it does it with incredible, unexpected brilliance. I’m not concerned that some think its a too literal translation of the comic, and its a joy to revel in Snyder’s meticulous attention to detail as he recreates key passages. You want to pause the film and just stare at it sometimes. My favourite set-pieces included the gathering of the Minutemen, Blake doing the deed in Dallas, and anything involving Rorschach.

MinutemenFigure 2: The Minutemen

Sometimes (but not always) the use of music is superb. Not everyone will agree, but the opening credits with Dylan’s The Times They are A-Changing, and Blake’s funeral soundtracked by Simon and Garfunkel made for scenes very reminiscent of their respective eras. I’m not sure why The Sound of Silence makes sense as an anthem of the Cold War, but it does to me.

The biggest success as far as I’m concerned is the way Rorschach has been brought to the screen. Everything, from the voice to the costume, to his short and stocky build, and especially (incredibly) when unmasked as Walter Kovacs, is a triumph. Whilst I wasn’t too keen on the chopping off of arms, most of Rorschach’s violence was, I suppose, justified, and (I admit) brilliantly brought to the big screen. Dogs gnawing at children’s bones though. Yikes. I could have done with a lot more Rorschach - maybe 2 hours and 30 minutes of his story alone would have been a more ambitious but achievable proposition.

I also enjoyed the back-story between the original Silk Spectre and The Comedian. Much of what makes Watchmen successful is the intertwining past of the latter-day masks with the original Minutemen, plus the influence of politics, the Keene Act and that mass of everything else going on. Must be a mind-fuck for anyone who hasn’t read the comics.

Niles Crane destroys New York

When it fails, it fails massively. Krudup’s Dr. Manhattan is way too soppy for my liking. He’s got a lot on his mind of course, but blimey, did he have to be that boring? It got worse when the Doc and Silk Spectre were fannying around on Mars. This is some of the most thought-provoking and engaging storytelling in the comics - but even in that medium it got a bit long-winded. With the film, I couldn’t wait to get off Mars. Stylistically it was brilliant, but would have benefitted from snappier editing, or just a basic overview of what they did up there.

Ozymandias is too important a character to be played by some long-lost relative of Niles Crane. I did not like him one bit. I suppose that’s the point with that character, but even so. I was also disappointed by the lack of reference to the Black Freighter storyline (though I knew that wouldn’t be there) and the doom-mongering news vendor, and the alternative ending removed the need to say anything about missing writers, islands and giant squid. To be fair, Snyder did an OK job with the apocalypse stuff. It made a lot more sense on film.

The utterly unforgiveable juxtaposition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and awkward, space-ship-based shiny sex still makes me feel like I’m an arse for even caring about this movie. One dreadful scene like that can leave a bad taste that no amount of real ale (you can drink in our local cinema) can wash away. This scene was the equivalent of the faux-Tarzan shit that marked the point where Indiana Jones #4 lost all integrity and became a Carry On film. Did the production team honestly sit back and view that scene and think “Wow, we’ve done something incredible there.”? Shite as a bag of dead mice.

The ComedianFigure 3: Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Go and see it anyway…

I could moan about much more, but I’ll leave it there. I heard somebody say that Watchmen would have been better if it’d been a 12-part HBO series, and that’s possibly true. It certainly needs more time, room to breath, and better opportunity for changes in pace. That said, whilst still probably an unfilmable story, this is a pretty remarkable stab at it. Many of course, would rather no “stab” had been made at all.

Like I said up top, I’m a recent convert to Alan Moore‘s stuff, so I dare say I’m not best qualified to declare the movie a triumph. That’s just as well, as it isn’t a triumph. What it is is a stunning, terrificly entertaining, deep and satisfying movie that does not tarnish the original comics. It does something new with them, but I’m still not sure what.

I’d argue that the original comics are still by far the best way of experiencing the story, but I’ll admit that I simply cannot wait to watch two-thirds of this movie all over again. At least one of those at the cinema with me, would rather saw their own leg off than watch it again, so I’ll let you decide,

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