Friday, March 13, 2009

Custodes


After the whole Damn you, Alamo Drafthouse!/Glory to the Alamo Drafthouse exchange, I was excited to see Watchmen at the Alamo Village location. What did it say on their marquee?

Yeah. Never mind.

Forget it. Maybe "The Watchmen" is the right name for Zach Snyder's movie anyway.

Yeah, that's me starting my gripe about the fact that the Crimebusters segment is completely tanked in the movie. It tanked in that way that I suspect some studio executive had their finger in there, "Can't they call them The Watchmen? The movie's called Watchmen, don't they need to be called The Watchmen? And why does that group break up before they even begin? People are paying to see a Superhero team."

And viewed from that perspective, I kind of see how that section would be one that the moviemakers would be tempted to make a few strategic compromises on, so, assuming that's correct, so I'm just letting that gripe go, by and large.

I'm not certain I have a solid opinion on the movie. I left the theater sure that it was a moderate thumbs down, but I've since ruminated on it for a couple of days, and I'm less sure.

I was inspired by the Alamo Drafthouse pre-show video to go ahead and purchase Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic, which is an interested way to review the story. It's something like the comic book equivalent of an audiobook. I'm not entirely certain it's worth the $30 I paid for it, but it's more than worth the time I've invested in watching it.

It also came with a coupon for a ticket to see the movie, which I may now use and invest the time in reviewing with fresh eyes, so my disappointment with the movie should be measured against my continued fascination with it.

Mind you, it gets a couple of things really, really wrong.

I would have guessed that the hopeless miscasting of Malin Akerman as the 35-year-old woman of the world Laurie Juspeczyk was a career-ender, but then I was disagreed with by my friend Jo, whose opinion I respect, and who is usually pickier about performances of that nature, so perhaps it's not a universal principle. She certainly neither looks nor acts anything at all like the character as she existed on the page.

Matthew Goode is also awkward at best as Adrian Veidt, offering little of the intelligence and none of the arrogance that define the character.

The song choices, too, are more poor, missing the tonal subtlety demanded. Even "All Along the Watchtower", which is quoted in the source, comes across as trite and over-obvious, but the other choices even more so seem to punctuate with a sledge hammer.

But more than those stretches of opinion is just the awkwardness that's almost a necessity of translating the original comic book into a movie within the realm of a normal feature. Let's face it, Watchmen isn't considered the greatest (or among the greatest) work(s) in comic book history because it has the best plot. This would be among the qualities that it shares with Citizen Kane. Both are told out of linear sequence in order to provide a better perspective and both are framed around mysteries the answer to which is not in itself particularly interesting.

As such, I'm not entirely certain that any feature version was going to be intrinsically better than this structurally.

And one of the things that gets the most kudos is one that I remain somewhat ambivalent about is the Batman TV series-style four color literalism of the art design.

(Not to be taken as a knock of the "Batman" TV series, mind you. It's a glorious four-color realization of the Dick Sprang era of Batman comics!)

How does it work as an interpretation of the Dave Gibbons art? I'm not certain I can decide. On the page, the art manages a balance between realism and fantasy that suits the material perfectly. Somehow matching it exactly manages largely to bring the fantasy aspect to the fore. But then I'm not sure that's wrong.

Mind you, the story is about 1985. It concerns the issues of the day from 1985. There may not have been a way to make the movie feel immediate in the way the comic book did... or even does... so perhaps the fantasy aspect was the most appropriate element to highlight.

Alternately, Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are freakin' brilliant. In fact, it's arguably off that the two highlight performances are the two Fascist heroes, Rorschach and The Comedian.

Of course, Patrick Wilson and Billy Crudup more than acquit themselves as well, and probably in a movie without standouts such as those, they'd be getting plenty of attention. Wilson may even be close enough that he would if only he'd not spent so much of the movie playing against the automaton stylings of Ms. Akerman.

The movie also is smart enough to recognize the importance of the other "watch men", Dr. Manhattan, whose father was a watchmaker and examines the world from the perspective of pieces needing to be put in place, and Ozymandias who stares down at the world from his high window...

It demonstrates a solid understanding of the themes Alan Moore was developing and playing with.

And yet, are the balances right? The movie is certainly an examination of the Superhero genre, but is that really the primary thematic goal of the book? I'm not sure I think so.

If nothing else, the movie got me thinking, which is good...


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