Saturday, April 18, 2009
I love the 'Watchmen" movie. For me, it's definitely right up there with my favorite movies of recent years, stuff like "Kill Bill," "Grindhouse," "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," "Borat" and "Pride and Prejudice." I'm not going to quibble about whether it's getting a bad rap from critics who don't (and probably can't) understand it (we'll save that for later) or whether or not it's one of the best movies ever. Who cares that the nitwits at imdb.com have not seen fit to rate it high enough to get on their Top 250 films list? (The top film on that list is "The Shawshank Redemption." Whaa-?) I'm only saying that, for me, it's an awe-inspiring film. I've seen it four times and I hope to see it at least once more at the local bargain theater.
I was a big fan of the original comic book series from the time it first hit the comic book stores in 1986. I was 22 years old, and I had been an avid comic book collector for some years. I wasn't buying as many comic books at that point. More concerned with what I was going to do with the rest of my life, I was trying to get my act together.
However, "Watchmen" seemed like a worthy four-color distraction. I was obsessed with it. I would go to the comic book store the day the latest "Watchmen" was scheduled, just like when I was 10 or 11 years old and haunting the drugstore, making sad faces at the clerk and hoping they would unpack the comic books first.
Every time a new issue of "Watchmen" came out, I would read each issue repeatedly. Every time a new issue came out, I would start at the beginning and read all the way through. (There were 12 issues in all. I believe the term at the time was "maxi-series." Do they still use that?) I read them out aloud to my friends. (I recall one day when one of the guys acquired the latest issue of "The Dark Knight Returns" the same day I showed up with the latest "Watchmen" and we were all either reading comic books or waiting for somebody to finish reading something so the next guy could read it.) I started to write and draw a "Watchmen" parody. My friends and I would talk to each other as if we were Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan. I think I wrote a letter to my mother in the style of Rorschach's journal.
So, yeah, i was into it.
By the time it was over, I almost completely lost interest in comic books. Regular comic books seemed kind of pointless after "Watchmen." What else was there to say? ALam Moore had deconstructed super-hero comics and put them back together again so skillfully and with such artistry that there just didn't seem any reason to go on. (A year passed before I started buying comics again, but it was sporadic and fitful and I never bought as many new comics as I did before "Watchmen."
Twenty years (and more) passed. I still have those original "Watchmen" comic books I bought at the comic book store. I don't know how many times I've re-read them. Once a year? Twice a year?
Let's just say I've read it a few times.
And now there's a movie.
And what a movie it is!
I almost don't know where to begin in praising the "Watchmen" movie, so I'l just mention a few highlights. The filmmakers seem to have been using the original comic book for storyboards, so it was exciting to see some of my favorite scenes from the comic book brought to life. Like the Comedian's funeral. (That's the second issue, and it's one of my favorite comic books ever. I read it over and over, even more than the other issues. The film develops this issue more fully than any of the others, and it was a good choice.) Rorschach fighting the police in Moloch's apartment building. Nite Owl and SIlk Spectre making the decision to suit up and go into the night. The prison beak.
I also like the way that the film enhances some of the comic book scenes. With an actor, you get changing facial expressions, the sound of a voice, and an effect that is much more subtle than what you can get from a comic book. Several scenes that don't particularly stand out in the comic book have become my favorite parts of the movie. The best example is the talk between Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre on Mars. In the comic book (Issue #9), this scene doesn't quite work for me the way it is supposed to. Several panels are dialogue-heavy, and I don't quite buy into Dr. Manhattan's reasoning for saving Earth. I think he's just making up a bunch of sentimental gibberish because he doesn't want to admit to Silk Spectre (or himself?) that he really is just an old softie who is still very attached to his old, mortal self.
But in the movie, it works as intended. Billy Crudup is brilliant and very convincing. With his soft-spoken manner and his subtle facial changes, I find this to be a very effective scene, one of my favorites in the movie. My eyes get a little wet every time I see it. The whole scene sends tingles up my spine. (The other moment that makes me tear up a little is at the end, where the first Silk Spectre tells her daughter that she couldn't be mad at the Comedian because "he gave me you.")
I also get tingles from: The opening credits sequence; the use of music, whether it's based on Alan Moore's music choices or not (The soundtrack has "The Black Freighter" from "The Threepenny Opera," but it's not in the movie); the origin stories; Bubastis; Rorschach and Nite Owl busting up the bar and then flying to Antarctica; and almost everything else, to tell the truth.
There has been some silly criticism of the film. I can hardly deny that everyone has a right to their opinion, but I have seen so many uninformed opinions on "Watchmen" that I can't help but think that a lot of movie critics are trying - very hard - to find something wrong with "Watchmen." One reviewer said the source material is known for its graphic sex and violence, and I've been wondering what definition of "graphic sex and violence" is being used here. I also read that Snyder's musical cues are annoying and not very clever, a criticism presumably written by someone who didn't know - or care to find out - that the source material uses "musical cues" - in written form - and that Snyder uses some of the exact music that Moore tried to evoke in the comic book version. One reviewer chided the film for only appealing to fanboys. Another reviewer said the exact opposite, that it WOULDN'T appeal to fanboys because it changed the ending.
And so on and on it went. I think these people went to the wrong movie. Perhaps they should have sat through "Hotel for Dogs" again.
My favorite comments - and these came not from professional critics but from regular attendance-paying moviegoers (most of whom hadn't seen the movie yet) - were about Dr. Manhattan's penis. I lost track of the number of people who said to me something along the lines of: "My friend saw it and he/she thinks a lot of people will have problems with Dr. Manhattan's blue junk all the time." The first time I saw it, I thought Dr. Manhattan was going to be walking around with a big, erect, blue willy and there were going to be numerous gratuitous close-ups of the big blue johnson. As if the director were saying: "Oooo! Look how edgy we are! We got a big, blue cock in our movie!"
But no. There's a naked blue guy and he walks around you see his flaccid, turquoise wee-wee a few times.
Grow up, America!
I guess the average moviegoer can be excused for a bit of shellshock from effects of the blue penis. But the professional film critics? I just can't muster much sympathy for them. I don't get the idea that they read (or understood) the source material. All they know is movies and, really, they frequently don't offer up much evidence that they know much about that.