Monday, March 09, 2009

So I Watched The Watchmen...

Spoilers ahead so beware.

Overall I was pretty happy with the movie. I had some minor problems with it, but I like how Joe framed it (you ought to read what Joe had to say) as about as good a companion piece to the book as could probably be expected.

I'm really looking forward to Snyder's longer cut that he'll release later this year - not because I'm a geek who desperately needs to see the pieces left on the cutting room floor, but because I think there were a few integral emotional notes in the story that were skipped over that would make it a better film, once included.

Mainly what I think it was missing was the sense of humanity and doom that comes from the conversations at the news-stand. As the film stands now, every character with more than a couple of lines is (or was) a superhero (or is Richard Nixon, who I frankly could've used a little less of), and there's not enough connection to what, to who, they're trying to save the world for. The scenes at the news-stand in the comic offer more than just colorful commentary and a connection to the Black Freighter story; they really underline the way real people are feeling helpless in the world of the story.

There were two times I actually teared up during the film; the second was when Rorschach takes off his mask at the end, and the first was when New York City explodes and the newsstand vendor and his comic-reading friend hug each other just as the explosion comes at them... now the only reason I was tearing up at that is because I knew who those characters were because I'm familiar with the book - if we'd actually been introduced to some humans, to them, I think the devestation of that moment would've been more effective.

Still, speaking of the change to the ending, I really really liked it and thought it worked really well. Sure I love the damn squid too, but what works on the page would probably not have translated, and even beyond that I thought it was an effective, The Day The Earth Stood Still touch, making Dr. Manhattan the Angry God watching over us, ready to strike at any time... perhaps I'm a big ol' cynic, but I find people's fear of being reprimanded by incineration a more believable impetus to brotherly love and cooperation than I do as a reaction to a an unknown quantity they can't fathom driving them to Utopia. People tend to need the teacher standing over their shoulder with a ruler set to knuckle-snapping.

As for the performances, like everyone else I thought the main trio of Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, and Billy Crudup were phenomonal. Haley was especially fantastic. And I'm gonna come out swinging for Malin Akerman - the problem she faced was her character was whittled down to nothing. In the book, Laurie's a bit.... shrewish, but they softened her character a lot in the screenplay. And then there's the not smoking issue, which Joe addressed well... and that was such a defining characteristic for that character, and so integral to showing both her indecision and the stress she's under... well they erased most of what made Laurie interesting. I wish they'd found some other habit if the studio was gonna be so stupid about the smoking, something to show her waffling nervousness, something to give the character a little more depth. Then Akerman would've had something more to play. But as it was, I don't think Akerman deserves the vitriol that's been aimed squarely at her; with what she had to work with I found her perfectly fine. As for Matthew Good as Ozymandias, I still do think he was miscast, and there was just such a physical disconnect with what the character ought to be that he had some trouble overcoming it. Again, I didn't think he was awful, but I did find him to be the weakest link. And finally, Carla Gugino rocks.

There were long stretches of the film where I really felt Snyder got it right. Where I sat there amazed that I was actually seeing Watchmen as a real moving picture, with the characters and stories I knew actually being played out in front of me. Like I said above, I did actually tear up a couple of times, and Snyder and his actors definitely did find an emotional resonance that I missed from certain things on the page. I don't want to say that Zach Snyder is "misunderstood" as a filmmaker because really he hasn't made a perfect or even a Great Movie yet (although I have thoroughly enjoyed all three of his films), but I do think that a lot of mainstream-ier critics (A.O Scott and Anthony Lane I'm talking to you) just don't get him. I especially scoff at Scott's total misinterpretation of the tone Snyder went for in the sex scene between Dan and Laurie in the Owl Ship - it is supposed to be cheesy and you're supposed to laugh at it. It's riffing on those through-gauzy-curtain sex scenes from the 80s (think Top Gun), when the movie is set. Have you lost your sense of humor someplace up your own asses, guys? Is that why your head is up there?

But that Snyder mostly harnessed this massive beast into something relatively effective (and again, I hold out hopes that the longer version will add some needed humanity), against very very stacked odds, is very impressive indeed.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand how you can say Patrick Wilson was phenomenal.
He was half Woody Allen in Anything Else, half Woody Harrelson in Transsiberian. If I were to choose actors in a non-actors movie I'd go for Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Anyway, not a movie that could be proud of its performances.

Jason Adams said...

Aww, I thought Wilson nailed Dan Dreiberg. Dreiberg is a nebbishy dork and I loved the way Wilson transformed himself into that. Because PW is not a nebbishy dork at all in the real world. But beyond that I thought he gave a fine performance. Not as outstanding as Haley's or as rich as Crudup's voice-work, but effective all the same.

Morgan was good, I totally spaced on mentioning him.

Joe Reid said...

This is the second or third time I've heard a Woody Allen comparison for Dan and I totally, completely do not get it.

And my Jeffrey Dean Morgan hatred combined with some writing issues made Comedian kind of a non-entity for me.

Anonymous said...

I actually kind of agreed with AO Scott re the sex scene. Whatever Snyder's intentions might have been (and I can sort of see what he was trying to do parodying the Top Gun-esque style of scene) it definitely missed the mark for me and the music choice was almost TOO ridiculous to be taken seriously.

Overall I thought the movie was ok but not a classic by any means. There were some definite highlights (Haley ESPECIALLY his scenes in the jail, the opening fight sequence, Crudup's voicework) but I thought that it was rather sterile and lacking in emotional depth.

PIPER said...


I too enjoyed it. And I know it had it's flaws. I admit that the movie was so caught up in the humanity of the heroes that it forgot to capture... well.. humanity. But I certainly got the doomsday aspect of it. As a matter of fact, the doomsday aspect hit me a lot harder on screen than it did in the book.

And I'm right there with you defending Malin. I couldn't keep my eyes off her. Of course my defense of her has nothing to do with her acting. Maybe if she knows I'm defending her, she might entertain a little sack time with me.

Oh and by the way. I remember a while back (and I know that you just posted about this subject) that you had stated that early reports were that Dr. Manhattan would be taking to the big screen without his genitals. So imagine my surprise when his junk was staring right back at me. Damn.

Jim said...

I thought it was the best comic book adaptation yet. My biggest gripe is the pop music just overpowered most of the scenes. I started to cringe halfway through when a new song was cuing up. Also, the ending kinda puttered out for me too. I totally agree with you about the news stand guys.

Glenn Dunks said...

Yeah, I wasn't particularly fussed by it. I don't dislike it enough to go out swinging at it, but didn't like enough to swing for it.

I will say this though in relation to what you wrote: One thing I was puzzled by was the lack of actual superhero-ness. Like... apart from the apartment fire there was nothing. So while I was are they could fight (the alley way scene for instance) I wasn't at all aware of the world's need for them, ya know? And I wasn't sure why the people turned against them in the first place.

Glenn Dunks said...

Oh, and I didn't feel at all as if this group of people were at all a team of superheroes. Maybe it was like that in the book, but I just didn't get a sense of group with these people. Apart from moments where they mention specific things that happened in the past, I got no feeling that any of these people used to work together for anything.

Pfangirl said...

Excellent review, JA. I had much the same feeling about the film, although I thought the sex scene was hot (for the record I loved the one in 300 as well) and my main gripe with Malin was that I kept seeing her as the nightmare bride in Ben Stiller's The Heartbreak Kid.

I absolutely adored the middle portion of the film devoted to Dr Manhattan and his backstory. It was at that point that everything just clicked for me and I went "Oh shit, I'm actually watching Watchmen!"

Kamikaze Camel, most of the time these heroes do work alone (with the exception of the Nite Owl/Rorschach team). The meeting depicted in the film is one of the few times they all attempt to join forces and it's a disaster.

As for superheroics, seeing as Dr Manhattan is the only one with any powers, it makes sense that these costumed vigilantes only handle things like muggers and assorted rescues.

Jason Adams said...

Glenn, like Pffangirl said, they never much did work together except for Rorschach and Nite Owl; in the book, basically, Alan Moore hates superheroes, and it's about showing us what sort of people would actually choose to be heroes, to put on costumes and beat other people up vigilante-style, what they're different quirks and pathologies would be to lead them to that place. These are not sane people. They're selfish, they're vain, they're fucked up, every last one of them. The scene where Laurie and Dan rescue the people from the fire isn't even about the people getting rescued, it's about the two of them getting off on feeling powerful. So it's actually an important part of the story, the fact that we don't really see these heroes being heroic, or working together. People turned against them because people don't like to feel inferior, and heroes made them feel inferior. Plus the heroes were as corrupt as anybody else.

MJenks said...

Good write up. I didn't realize the studio had cut Laurie's smoking (though I guessed that when she fired Archies flamethrower by accident).

I also liked the ending better than the one in the book. The feeling of being terrified by a greater power fits in not only with the current mindset, but also is more in line with human nature. Also, it fits in with the theme of the book and the reason for the Keene act (which I wish they had talked about more in the movie).

I also thought Wilson was great making the switch between Dreiberg and Nite Owl. As for Woody Allen, I don't see it. Young Chevy Chase, yeah, but not Woody Allen.