Harry Watches The WATCHMEN And Can Remain Silent Not One More Second!
I have watched the WATCHMEN.
WATCHMEN wasn’t something I discovered because my father handed it to me. It wasn’t because he took me to buy it. I found WATCHMEN all on my own.
After creating AICN, for the past 13 years we’ve been tracking WATCHMEN, and many times it looked as though it was going to happen. Then even when this thing did happen, it looked like another force was going to keep it from coming out.
AICN is also famous for essentially screaming “We’re mad as Hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” when Joel Schumacher and Warner Brothers sodomized everything we held dear about BATMAN with BATMAN AND ROBIN.
Recently in Talkbacks people have been screaming about “The Squid”, NITE OWL’s belly and slow motion fighting.
There are many more changes than that.
I love Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original masterpiece. I cling to every psychiatric session that Rorschach goes to in prison. I love how looking into Rorschach drags that therapist into the pit. Disrupts his home life.
I love the Squid, not because it’s a brilliant device, but because it’s bugnuts insane. Because nobody could conceive of it as being the brilliant concoction of the most brilliant man on Earth.
I love the entire book that is about Manhattan’s perception of time. And I love that he understands and perceives the universe as someone for whom String Theory isn’t a theory, but a tapestry that he can see. A practical fabric of life that is there for him at all times.
I love that when I first discovered WATCHMEN, I had to wait between issues. That it was a part of that Sophmore High School Experience. That I got my driver’s license and had to drive 2 hours round trip to get the next issue, and that only my friends in my high school read those issues and shared that experience with me. That it wasn’t a single session. That it wasn’t a trade paperback experience, but something that I waited and wondered where it was all going. That I got aggravated that it wasn’t necessarily telling me the story I could have possibly conceived or made up at that age. That my friends and I sat around talking about it. Condemning & Condoning Ozymandias. That it introduced me to Alexander The Great.
I love that as I’ve run this site… I’ve been able to revisit the material continually and discover not only little things about that story that my brain wasn’t picking up on at the initial readings and even subsequent readings. And I love that in the future I will revisit that book, that material and discover ever more. There is a reason TIME MAGAZINE put it as one of the 100 greatest works. It is deeply textured and nuanced in a way that very few comic books have ever been.
And never forget. This was a comic book, long before it became the high brow GRAPHIC NOVEL. An elitest term meant to divorce itself from its comic roots.
SO – Now we come to a feature film adaptation by Zack Snyder of WATCHMEN.
This is a completely different experience. For the first time in my 22-23 year relationship with the characters and universe of WATCHMEN, there is something entirely new to dissect, talk about, argue about, get enraged over, get drunk over, fight over and to fucking love!
I’d love to sit down with Zack Snyder and talk about the process of adaptation. The concept of turning a 12 chapter story into a 3 act film. The first act centers around the death of the Comedian. It begins with that incident. Then the film introduces you to all the other characters via the notification of Edward Blake’s death. We’re introduced to these characters in so much as how they knew Blake and The Comedian.
We see Manhattan in Vietnam. We see the pregnant Vietnamese fight. We see Blake tell Jon that he’s losing touch, because he could have stopped it.
We see Nite Owl and The Comedian putting down the riots.
We see Ozymandias and The Comedian’s ‘discussion’ at the initial attempt at the forming of the Crimebusters.
We see The younger Comedian with the first Silk Spectre. And that whole lovely relationship.
Through it all, we see Rorschach’s twisted sick view of society. We lose a bit of his respect he held for the Comedian – and a touch of the disdain others had for him. Just a touch, but it is softened ever so slightly – maybe not so much through the actions of Snyder and the filmmakers, but simply because Jeffery Dean Morgan is so great as this character. At times he reminds me of Mickey Rourke’s turn in THE WRESTLER. There’s a sadness, a madness & a genius all at play here. Morgan is basically a completely new actor to me, since I don’t really watch GREY’S ANATOMY or SUPERNATURAL… but this is a breakthrough role for him. Don’t worry – he’s still the unforgivable cock that he was in the book, but honestly… I liked his character more than I did in the book.
If any character is given the short shift in the film, it is Ozymandias. We get a very truncated version of his story here. A very light touch on his Alexander obsession. You don’t get his obsession with Alexander fully. Or that he gave away his parents’ fortune to rebuild himself anew.
But while we’re talking about what’s gone, what isn’t here… Honestly, if I have a complaint it is that the film feels brief to me. Two hours and 40 minutes and it went by like a blink for me. I easily would have patiently sat for another 2 hours, but that’s me.
Just two days before seeing this film, I sat and watched the 5 and a half hour barely animated comic of the WATCHMEN which has every word, every scene and frame explored. While the animation reminded me of the late sixties MARVEL SUPER HEROES animation… The power of this story held me for every second.
But. This is a different animal. This is a movie. One that got cheers from my audience. That had wildly enthusiastic lovers – and those that dismissed it entirely.
How someone can watch this film and come away thinking it is entirely about slow motion fighting is BEYOND me.
If for some reason you hate Zack Snyder’s filmic style – I’m betting right now you’ll despise this film and overlook everything else that is so incredibly dead on.
What is right?
Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan. He never once felt silly or weird. He was beautiful, otherworldly, human and a god on earth. When Manhattan spoke I was stunned. It was absolutely NOT the voice I ever heard in my mind. I always imagined the voice of a God. I don’t know. Perhaps, Orson Welles. Instead, the voice is of someone that has seen things that he hasn’t the capacity to dumb down to a normal perspective of us. He sounds like a scientist. Someone that is absolutely no longer one of us, but was once one of us.
Malin Akerman’s Laurie Jupiter. She’s bored and a bit bitter. She isn’t constantly whining about her mother nearly as much as she did in the book – and frankly I’m a bit glad. Watching that would be a bit much I think. But she feels like someone who can no longer relate or tolerate her lover. And frankly, that’s the soul of her character. She’s a woman in transition. She is transitioning from being what her mother wanted her to be. She’s moving from being Jon’s anchor to human reality, from whatever he sees.
Jackie Earle Haley IS RORSCHACH. Now the sad thing is… no matter what Zack could have done, we never would have had nearly enough Rorschach. Seriously. I have never been satisfied with the amount of Rorschach that exists. His monologues from Journal entries. Everything about him. The audience loved everything that Rorschach does. Be it with the mask, without the mask, empowered, allegedly helpless, grownup or as a child. Rorschach is a brilliant character. He’s Travis Bickle with a mask. He is the hardest version of BATMAN and less gaudy than JUDGE DREDD. Rorschach is the ID of those wishing vengeance and retribution. He is great. Truly great.
Patrick Wilson’s Dan Dreiberg/NITE OWL. I’m a big Dan Dreiberg fan. I always imagined that Dan and Walter was BATMAN divided into two characters. That Dan was the genius, rich industrialist turned adventurer. And that Rorschach was his Mr Hyde. He’s all the darkness of Batman without that anchor. He’s the driven detective. He’s what criminals fear, but with Nite Owl – he has resources and together they grounded one another. Here – I think there’s a slight reimagining of Dan / Nite Owl. He has given up the cowl. He no longer patrols the nights. He hangs out with Hollis Mason, because at his heart – he’s the hero that WANTED to be a hero. There’s no pain or anguish that drives him. He did it because he dreamt of being a hero. He is a genius. He has the determination to learn to be an incredible fighter. But when the Keene Act occurs – he’s too much of a boy scout to “Break the Law” – he wants to uphold the law. But during his flaccid existence – he hasn’t completely gone to pot. He still maintains himself. He isn’t a hardened badass physique, but he seems soft – not as a fatty, but he isn’t happy in his life. He doesn’t know what to do if he isn’t a hero. He doesn’t know how to live without being a hero. He wallows in the memories. But those days have never left his mind. I love the character. YES, he still has trouble getting it up. Yes, the costumes help. And you better believe they fuck in Archie. But more importantly, you see that when he puts that costume back on, he pops back to life. And he loves it. That’s the soul of the character… and always was to me.
Carla Gugino’s SALLY JUPITER. First off… who doesn’t love Carla Gugino? Seriously? The Comedian / Silk Spectre 1 indiscretion is unbelievably tough. But as rough as it is, there is something in how Carla plays her that is never fully defeated. Sure it gets stopped as it does in the comic, but frankly… there’s something going on in this scene that I couldn’t see in the comic. I’m not saying she’s wanting this to happen, but there’s something there that makes you not so surprised that she and Blake would hook up later. There’s a kink at play that I can’t entirely dismiss.
Lastly, Zack’s style and direction absolutely worked for me. I love his stylized fighting as filmed. After watching shitty superhero fights for way too long, it did feel good to see these characters get it right. The violence, the sex and the weight of the material is intact, though truncated to a 2 hour and 40 minute running time.
What doesn’t work for me?
Frankly. The new ending. I just don’t like it as much as the ending of the books. As the movie nears its ending, it felt like it was rushing to an established conclusion. It’s more than the Squid. It’s that a Detective doesn’t warn Dreiberg, that we don’t get that Dreiberg had pre-existing alternate identities. That it makes MANHATTAN the big scary guillotine instead of alternate dimensional attacks. That you don’t really have Laurie’s sexual betrayal with Dan being the cause of Jon’s leaving, but that he must leave to be the scary thing. That essentially he becomes a Klaatu.
I always got that the localized event in New York felt small in a post-9-11 adaptation of this material, but honestly – having the Squid happen on the scale of this event – would have been fine.
NOW – does this ending change RUIN the film for me. No. But it will always be one of the reasons I’ll push people to reading the book. There’s just a reality to adaptations. You lose things.
Rorschach’s handcuffing the kidnapper/murderer to the big woodburning heater is still there. But giving him the hacksaw and setting the place on fire telling him to saw through his own arm is gone. Why? SAW. Rorschach does something different. I accept that loss.
The one thing that I never need to see in film as the big bad thing is a big city blowing up. What was done in the book is something we’ve never seen. Yes, it would require a bit more set up. Yes, it would require a delicious Ozy monologue – but I have complete faith that Zack and crew could make it look AMAZING, SAD & HORRIFIC.
I know when you folks read a conditional love review, you instantly begin to think. He doesn’t really love it, he’s being a chicken shit. No. This is a complicated film to wrap your head around with a single viewing. Just like when I first was reading the WATCHMEN in High School. I didn’t fully appreciate everything that was going on. Here, they touch on everything that was in the comics. It is all here, sometimes not explored as deeply as you may have liked, but it is there. The main elements are all fully explored. A lot of the subtext is there and the tone is absolutely there. Someone asked me if I felt the film sent up Superhero movies, like the books did comics and I have to say. Man, that’s something that I can’t say on a first viewing. I think its possible that its there, but I was so captured up trying to absorb everything coming at me, just enjoying that wonderful experience of seeing WATCHMEN for the very first time, that I didn’t care about that part yet.
I was questioning my brain that I was seeing what I was seeing, measuring the smile on my face and occasionally stealing glances at Yoko and Father Geek to see if they were loving it too.
Then, I came home… Put in Earbuds and began writing the majority of this review. Then quit to work on the DVD Column, somewhere in there I began a 2 hour geek out conversation with MR BEAKS where we both began wrestling with the film. Gleefully cackling that what we saw was what we saw. Arguing about perceptions and meanings of scenes. Then I tried to call Moriarty, but he’s an old married Dad that doesn’t stay up like he used to, so I started that WATCHMEN article and that dialogue with all of you, which I kept up all night long. THEN – around 9 am, Merrick e-mailed me about a film, and to thank me for getting him into WATCHMEN yesterday and I called him, and we geeked out about the movie till close to Noon.
And when I got out of bed, Quint and I started talking about WATCHMEN. And next… I can’t wait to get into with Yoko when she comes home from work and man. It’s just so exciting to be this wrapped up in a film that you can get wrapped up in chatting with friends all night into the next morning and into noon – then dream about – and wake up being giddy about – and then say fuck it. I need to share this with all of you. Because you know what?
I WATCHED THE FUCKING WATCHMEN AND FUCKING LOVED IT! It isn’t the perfect 5 hour wet dream that I always dreamt of, but I love it. I can’t wait to see the dialogue you all have with this film, with each other and with us here at AICN.
This was fucking awesome!