Friday, March 20, 2009

The Splash Page: The Watchmen Movie Part II

[Since I finally saw Watchmen this week, Tim and I decided to arrive late to the party and discuss it. The first part of the discussion can be read on Tim's blog.]

Chad Nevett: Not really, because nothing in it suggests anything but genuine sincerity. It doesn't comment on the tradition of violence in superhero movies or movies in general -- it just continues it. It's not over-the-top enough to make a comment and it's similarily stylised to other modern action movies. Nite-Owl and the Silk Spectre kicking ass in the alley and prison looks like it would fit in fine with other contemporary action movies. There's the odd moment of extreme violence, but mostly just "cool" moves shot in a "cool" way and altered in post-production to look even more "cool." It wasn't realistic, so it can't comment in that way. And, Christ, those constant slo-mo/speed-up effects that Snyder loves so much... I knew they were going to be in the movie, but they still bugged me.

The only way that the violence could be a comment would be the superhuman manner in which all of the non-superhuman characters fight, which is something that happens in action movies all of the time. The regular human that can get his ass beaten for twenty minutes and keep getting up... except, again, there doesn't seem to be a comment here, more just another example of the same old, same old. If anything, it takes some of those feats to more extreme lengths, but does so sincerely. Rorschach doing odd gymnastic moves to break into Moloch's apartment, or jumping through a second floor window, and continuing along as if nothing bothers him. The same sort of stuff shows up in the new Bond movies or Crank. It bothers me here more than anything because, well, I can't separate the movie from the book. Sometimes, I can; others, I can't.

Does this movie disprove Terry Gilliam's claim that Watchmen is unfilmable? On their "House to Astonish" podcast this week, Al Kennedy and Paul O'Brien touched on this with Kennedy saying that, yes, in a technical sense, the movie was made, so it was filmable, but is that what Gilliam was talking about? Wasn't he really saying that it's impossible to make a film version of Watchmen that comes close to the original? It could always be made... if you don't care about the quality. People talk about how faithful the film is to the book, but since we (or, at least, I) think it couldn't replicate the tone and feel of the book, is it really faithful? Personally, I'd rather have a film that changes the plot in an effort to keep the meaning and feel of the book (like Robert Altman's adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye) than something like Watchmen, which takes the superficial plot points and puts them all in there, but gets the subtext and feel completely wrong.

Timothy Callahan: I do think this movie proves that Watchmen is filmable, not simply because it's actually on film now. It has proven the "filmability" of Watchmen because the movie is frustratingly close to a good movie. It misses a lot of the heart of the graphic novel, but with a better-directed Ozymandias, better old-age makeup and wigs, better pacing and less of the explosive superhero megaviolence, it could have worked, I think. It's almost as if so much work went into the preproduction and postproduction that the actual production, the stuff like acting and getting the physical details right on the day of shooting, was less important to Snyder. And that's where the movie fails -- in that accumulation of details that he just plainly got wrong for this to be a great movie.

I also think that doing this version parodoxically frees Watchmen from ever being faithfully filmed again, but I would expect a remake in 20 years or less. A remake that's made by the next generation of filmmakers who won't make the same mistakes Snyder made, but will almost certainly make their own mistakes. But I'm looking forward to that happening. Not the mistakes, but the remake made with more freedom. There's no need to do the deep focus, superficial attention to superficial detail style of adaptation in the inevitable Watchmen remake. Take the core of the story and spin it at 24 frames per second, I say. Come on, next generation of filmmakers! Start thinking about what you'll do when you get a chance! Reinterpret Watchmen and put your vision up on the screen.

By the way, I'd just like to go on record saying I love the fast-slow-fast approach to fight scenes. It's probably not the best use of it in Watchmen, but it does fit with the overall amped up Snyder style, but in general, that kind of playful approach to time unfolding in the middle of a fight scene absolutely works for me. Anyone who doesn't like it is just a grumpy old fogey. Take that, internet!

Changing the subject back to Ozymandias and Matthew Goode...

Here's something that my local comic shop owner said to me today when I mentioned how wrong Ozymandias was portrayed in the movie. I said that the whole point of Ozymandias -- in the comics -- is that he's supposed to be the peak of human perfection, and he's shown as a super-nice, friendly guy in the series up until the climax. He's not sinister. He's doing what he thinks is for the good of humanity, because he's the only one smart enough to know what's at stake. My LCS guy said, "yeah, but in America we can't ever show someone who's smart AND nice. Think about it." And, yeah, that kind of made me stop and look around at the way genius is portrayed in American popular culture, and it always seems to come with either selfishness, social awkwardness, or pure evil. Smart and nice IS hard to come by in the media, at least in recent times.

What do you make of that observation and how it explains Ozymandias being a sleazy dickhead in the Watchmen movie?

CN: The portrayal of Ozymandias is, actually, the thing I probably hated most. He was a smug douchebag here and, even after saving the world, still seemed like a smug douchebag. Like you said, in the comics, he was a great guy and that's where a lot of the power of seeing his plan comes from: this genuinely nice and caring person choosing to kill so many people to save the world. Some may love Rorschach, but Ozymandias is still my favourite character from Watchmen and, probably, my favourite superhero of all time, if only because he does save the world no matter the cost.

The idea that you can't be smart and nice in America rings true to me. There's a certain fear/hatred of intelligence in the US that I've picked up on. My favourite example of that is a bit that Bill Hicks had about reading a book in a waffle house one night after a show. The waitress comes over and asks "What're you readin' for?" This causes Hicks to pause, because he's never been asked what he was reading 'for.' He's been asked what he's reading, just not what for. (He then adds, to the audience, that he reads probably so he won't end up as a waffle house waitress.) Then, a trucker comes over, stands over him and goes, "Well, looks like we got ourselves a reader." Hicks was mystified as to how reading a book can cause such reactions and so am I. Whatever causes reactions like that, that's why Ozymandias has to be a smug douchebag. I honestly don't understand it.

Beyond that, I think it may also have to do with Ozymandias being the 'villain' of the story. Of course, he's really the hero, with the other characters revealed as small-minded saps who didn't realise that they were trying to stop him from saving the world. Okay, it's more complex than that, but that's how I like to read it. But, is that too nuanced and, well, smart for audiences? I don't think so, but the idea that it could be probably went into his characterisation as well. He's a murderer of innocents! He's inhuman! Yes, he saves the world, but the ends don't justify the means! That the Comedian is presented more sympathetically than Ozymandias is troubling, I will admit.

Or, maybe... maybe, Matthew Goode is just naturally a smug douchebag? I don't know, this my first experience seeing his work. Judging from the rest of the movie, it's obvious that Snyder can't direct actors and seemingly lets them just do what they will, so it's possible that Goode took the character in that direction himself without Snyder meaning him to. But, given Nite-Owl's extremely violent outburst against Ozymandias, I'd guess that Goode did as Snyder intended.

TC: Goode can definitely act. Check out The Lookout when you get a chance. He's a douchebag in that movie, but with a completely different kind of performance.

I think it's safe to say that we found Watchmen, as filtered through Zack Snyder, to be far from perfect, but how does it compare to other superhero movies? Is it even worth ranking it on the list of say Batman and Robin, Superman III, X-Men, and The Dark Knight? I think it's fun to make lists, and I know you do too. So, where do you think this movie belongs? Would it even make your Top 10? By the sound of it, I'm guessing...not so much.

CN: It probably would, only because I haven't seen a lot of superhero movies. I've avoided them in the past for various reasons. The primary one being that I have no interest in seeing another version of these origin stories that I've read twenty million different ways. Another being that I find superheroes look really dumb in real life. Any time I see an actor dressed as Batman walk around, it takes me right out of it, because it just looks ridiculous. But, for the sake of argument, with The Dark Knight and Iron Man at one end, and Batman and Robin at the other, I'd say that I would rank this around Batman Forever, which is towards the negative side, yeah, but has some enjoyable parts. I will say that I plan on getting the deluxe DVD of Watchmen if only to give it a second chance and see what Snyder's "true vision" is. I'm not expecting it to be better. At all. But, who knows, maybe I'll find more to like.

TC: I think the extended cut will be interesting, and I suspect that it may make some of the performances more consistent by placing them in a larger context. Still, there's no excuse for Ozymandias. None.

I'd rank Watchmen as #6 on my all-time comic book superhero movie list, right after X2 and right before Mystery Men. It seems to belong between those two, somehow.