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26 March 2009 @ 10:04 pm
Hurm.  
I saw Watchmen in IMAX last night. Overall, I enjoyed it. As an adaptation, it didn't capture much of the nuance of the original, but it could hardly be expected to. It was a fairly shallow reading of the source material. However, plot-wise it was pretty faithful to the original, and overall it was an entertaining and well-made movie.

The opening fight in the Comedian's apartment was a bit overlong. But the movie swiftly go onto a better foot with the alternate-history montage showing the initial promise of the masked crimefighters and how things started to go very, very wrong. It was very effective.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan was dead on as the Comedian, reprehensible yet magnetic. He was one of the best things about the movie, and I didn't mind at all that his part took up a greater proportion of the movie than it does in the book.

Jackie Earle Haley did a good job as Rorschach, too, although his performance was more emotional than how I interpret the character when reading: I "hear" his voice as an affectless gravelly monotone, and he only shows visible emotion in two instances in the comic. He comes across as more sympathetic in the movie, while in the comic he's essentially a sociopath, a serial killer who happens to kill criminals.

I was pleasantly surprised Patrick Wilson's Dan Dreiberg. The previews and costume design made it looks like they were going to make Nite Owl II more of a conventional action hero type, but they actually kept him a bit of a pudgy, out-of-shape nebbish. I was less impressed by Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre II. Some of her line readings were a bit flat.

Dr. Manhattan was fair. He came off as more just soft-spoken than out of touch. Also, I think they could have stood to put him a little deeper into the uncanny valley; despite the CGI, he mainly looked like a guy with blue makeup.

Ozymandias bugged me a bit. He had an unplaceable accent for some reason, which I found distracting. Obviously they played up the hint that he may be homosexual (with the Village People/Studio 54 bit in the montage, and the "boys" folder later), while in the comic it's only Rorschach's suspicion, mentioned offhand once.

Some of my favorite parts of the comic didn't make it in, but I wasn't surprised. I love the newsstand/Black Freighter parts partly because of the clever use of the comics medium; it'd be impossible to film them in such a way that the narrative juxtaposition would come through effectively, and it was inevitable that the slice-of-life stuff would get cut in order to fit in the A plot. Also, the whole back-and-forth between Rorschach and the psychologist was cut down to a single interview and then the shrink cowering in his office during the prison riot. Again, that's a subplot that was easy to cut. Still, the loss of these scenes was detrimental: the explosion in New York loses much of its emotional impact if you haven't already spent some time getting to know the victims.

I didn't mind the change of mechanism in the ending. It may be true that the "alien squid" would have come across as too silly on screen, as some people claim, I'm not convinced (there have certainly been stranger things on screen that worked). However, it depends on a lot of subtle buildup throughout the comic for its impact, such as the missing writer and the Black Freighter. Switching the manufactured threat to Dr. Manhattan meant that it could follow directly from Jon's alienation and abandonment of Earth, streamlining the narrative. The only problem with the new ending is that the pacing seems off.

The changes to Rorschach's kidnapping case flashback were both necessary and weakening. Necessary because the whole bit about the handcuffed guy having to cut his own limb off with a hacksaw to escape a fiery death was lifted straight from the end of Mad Max (and, more recently, Saw resurrected the gag as the premise of the entire first movie of that series). However, having an obviously worked up (and breathing heavily) Rorschach just put a cleaver in his forehead has a very different dramatic impact from putting him in a deathtrap and then calmly waiting for him to burn to death. It makes it seem more like a "crime of passion" and thus more sympathetic, and does not illustrate as clearly the line of demarcation between what Walter Kovacs was and what Rorschach became.

The slow-motion Matrix-fu fighting was a bit out of place. And they went over the top with the gore: practically every fight scene had somebody's shattered bone sticking out of one or more of their limbs, shown in loving close-up. As bleak as the original is, it's only that grisly in a few places. It wasn't all that distracting, though.

Most of the music seemed appropriate. Playing "Hallelujah" during the Owlship sex scene, though, was pretty hilarious. And the My Chemical Romance cover of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" over the credits was just baffling. What's the point of a Dylan cover where you can't make out the lyrics?

I know it seems like I'm mostly pointing out problems, but really, I enjoyed it. As a movie, in its own right, it's entertaining and well-constructed. Better than I expected. I believed for a long time that Watchmen was essentially unfilmable: I still think the things that make it great rather than merely good don't translate to film, but we still got a pretty good flick out of it.

----

Before the movie, they showed a Kid Rock "music video" slash recruiting ad for the National Guard, and it was absolutely the most redneck damn thing I've seen in a long while. I'd assumed that Kid Rock must have died of a meth overdose or something by now, but no, apparently the talentless bastard is still breathing and allowed near microphones. The video switched between shots of the National Guard doing guard stuff (mostly patrolling somewhere in Western Asia, but also fighting a fire) and scenes of NASCAR racing with Dale Earnhardt Jr., punctuated with Kid Rock "performing". Somehow I don't think they were trying to say that people should join the National Guard to dominate Arab countries so we can have plenty of oil for NASCAR, but....

Also, one of the lines in the chorus is "Freedom makes us free". Seriously.
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russ: watchmengoulo on March 27th, 2009 08:16 am (UTC)
I agree with most of what you said about the film, and I'm glad I wasn't the only one surprised/bugged at the weird seemingly homophobic take on Ozymandias. I wasn't sure I'd seen the folder label "Boys" correctly. Now I know that apparently I did. I really wonder what they were thinking with that.

Of course the film couldn't be as rich and complex as the book. But it was indeed still a cool film that caused a lot of conversation and pondering afterward.
gwalla: comics code authoritygwalla on March 27th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
I think, like many adolescent male readers, the director fell into a bit of Rorschach hero-worship, and since Rorschach speculates at one point that Veidt may be homosexual, he took it as true. As I said, a shallow reading: unwillingness to compromise is mistaken for certitude.

Even with a lot of subtleties excised, it still ended up a smarter movie than most big blockbuster actioners. I'd say it's on par with The Dark Knight.
cholma: grin2cholma on March 27th, 2009 10:21 am (UTC)
"What's the point of a Dylan cover where you can't make out the lyrics?"

This makes me laugh since I can't usually understand a word Dylan says anyway.

As for Kid Rock, he's a huge supporter of the troops; he has been on several USO tours to Iraq & Afghanistan the past few years, putting on free concerts for them. And, yes, it's a paid commercial for the National Guard. Don't forget though, in order for Freedom to make us free you have to cough up your "Buck oh five"!
gwallagwalla on March 27th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
Kid rock's still a talentless hack, though. And what does NASCAR have to do with it?

Tautological lyric is tautological.
cholma: grin2cholma on March 27th, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
The National Guard is the sponsor of the Number 88 car (Dale Earnhardt Jr) for NASCAR. A rolling recruiting ad. All the services have a car sponsored I believe. I'm not a fan of racing, but apparently it's a huge deal for a large percentage of the population. (but that's also true for many sports I guess)
gwalla: lon chaneygwalla on March 27th, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
Ahhh, okay, that makes more sense now.

The song and video are still terrible, but at least it's not a total non sequitur! Thanks!

Edited at 2009-03-27 11:09 pm (UTC)
ShadesFoxshadesfox on March 28th, 2009 05:00 am (UTC)
One of the things that I actually kind of like about the new ending is that it makes things seem a bit more contained. Rather then a, "Then, out of the blue, fucking aliens!" feel it seemed to be more of a logical progression. Though I did miss a few of the little touches.

And on a note on the kid rock video, I saw it in Johnson City, TN, perhaps one of the most redneck parts of the country possible. People were giggling through out the whole thing. I think they choose the wrong movie to air that with...

Edited at 2009-03-28 05:01 am (UTC)
gwallagwalla on March 29th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
There is a build-up to the fake space squid in the book, but it's subtle (and mostly in the backup sections).
Gerald: Rorschach Joking_gerald on March 29th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
I just saw the movie for a second time yesterday. Instead of watching it to see how it was an adaptation, I watched it as a movie on its own.

It was much better on the second viewing, and I liked it the first time.