Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Watchmen

One thing that surprised me about the list of this year's movies is that Watchmen was only the second movie I saw. I'm surprised because it came out in March. And as of the beginning of December, I've been to over 30. It means I've been on quite a pace since then.

I read the first 40 pages or so of the graphic novel probably 15 years ago. Then again probably 13. And on and on until I finally went through it six or seven years ago. I don't want to give the wrong impression, however. It isn't bad. In fact, it's pretty amazing. It often tops many lists of the best comics or graphic novels ever. While I have a few favorites that I would argue in its place (Preacher or Strangers in Paradise, for example), I can't argue its quality.

Interestingly enough, when I was in middle school I had a Watchmen button. That's the Comedian's smiley face button with the splot of blood. I really like that iconic image. I liked it enough to wear the silly button even though I had no idea what the comic was about.

The difficulty I had going through it was the density. There's so much to absorb. Every page, nay - every panel, is rich with plot and character. Before the movie was made, you wouldn't have to search comic book or movie message boards for long to find another person stating that a Watchmen movie would work best as an HBO type miniseries. It's that density that made me and so many others agree.

However, I should point out that I only read it through once. I don't know the story really well, and whatever parts they skipped over and changed, I can't tell you specifically other than the giant squid. But I had a good sense of the tone of the comic, so that set up my expectations.

So given that, how does a two and a half hour movie work? Looking back, it did pretty well. But still, I was left wanting more. I didn't feel as satisfied with the sum of the parts as I did with the comic. I wonder if someone completely unfamiliar with the comic would feel that same sense. But again, given that it had to be released in one theatrical sitting, they did a good job with what they had.

I'm going to write a bit more about movie length tomorrow, so I'll save a few comments about the length of this until then. I'll just mention that I know that there are extended versions now available, adding about an hour of content. If you saw that and thought it made a big difference, let me know as I'm mildly interested to check it out someday. I just don't need another hour of big blue dong.

Casting was a huge key for Watchmen. I thought they nailed casting both Jackie Earle Haley (rumored to be Sinestro in Green Lantern?) as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian. Patrick Wilson was interesting as Night Owl. But I remember not really buying Matthew Goode as Ozymandias. In this case, I don't really know if he played the character differently from the comic or if I just didn't dig the character. If I really cared enough, I would have reread the comic and rewatched the movie before writing this. But eh, what are you going to do?

My biggest gripe about Watchmen is the same complaint I had about director Zack Snyder's other recent big release, 300. It's the slow motion. I understand why he did it. He wants to capture those comic book images. He wants us to stop for a moment and say, "Hey! This looks exactly like that one panel in the comic book." OK, but for me it disrupts the flow of the story.

I had the same problem in the first Spider-Man. You might remember the final fight with The Green Goblin. Spidey does this super twisty jump to avoid some of Gobby's razor bat thingies. It was in slow motion. It was a big "look at this special effect!" moment that I felt pulled me away from the fast paced fight scene.

300 was the same, except over and over. And over. And over. now I enjoy looking at still images. It's called going to a museum. Shoot - spent probably 5-10 minutes each piece staring at some of Munch's work this summer in Oslo (by the way, his work is some that you need to see the originals to appreciate. I always thought it was just cool, but The Scream is intense and Madonna is alive). But I don't want to see stills or slow-mos of oiled up Spartans. I want to see them kicking ass. Luckily, they did plenty of that. But I was too bored with a movie that should have been solid ass kicking.

So, of course, I felt the same about the slow-mo stuff in Watchmen. The difference between 300 and Watchmen is that Watchmen has a lot more story. It's that denseness that I mentioned earlier. That means less opportunity for slow-mo. It didn't come up as often, but every time it did I was pulled out. In a movie as long as this, you can't do that too the viewer. At least it wasn't also shot with a handheld cam, though that's a rant for another movie blog...

Overall, I think Watchmen worked. The complaints I have a rather nitpicky. A movie based on this comic could have been a complete disaster, and it wasn't. Watchmen came pretty close to hitting my top 10 list, and in a year in which I had seen my usual number, it likely would have made it.

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