Monday, March 09, 2009

Should you watch the "Watchmen"? A conditional vote for yes

Before I get into any of that, I just wanted to say that it's simply nice to see that Andrés Galarraga, a k a the Big Cat, is still alive and looking very healthy. He was always easily one of my favorite Major League Baseball players, and was diagnosed with cancer way back in 2000, so it was just great to see him on the bench managing the Venezuelan team in the World Baseball Classic (and thank God for baseball of any kind!)

OK, enough of that. Here today, as it has been for much of the past month, it's all about Zack Snyder's "Watchmen." And now, after having sat on this since about 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon and let it stew around in my mind, I'm ready to call it at least a qualified success (despite its rather underwhelming $55 million opening.)

The main complaint I've heard about Snyder's work is that he stuck way too close to the comic book script and really just made a paint-by-numbers version for the big screen, but I don't really buy it. With "300" he certainly took all of Frank Miller's palate and tone to tell the tale of the battle of Thermopylae, but given the revered nature of what he was working with here and the big input of "Watchmen" co-creator Dave Gibbons on the set, I thought he really put his own pop sensibility on this story. AND PLEASE, BE WARNED, I WILL BE UNABLE TO DO THIS WITHOUT MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILERS, SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FLICK YET OR JUST DON'T WANT TO KNOW, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

It starts out right away with the deliriously entertaining opening credits, set to the tune of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changing." I laughed out loud when Silhouette stole that V-J Day kiss and reeled from the sucker punch of her murder only seconds later. For me at least, this spell lasted throughout the flick, even as the other facet of Snyder's style, the need to spatter as much blood as David Cronenberg at his bloodiest, came to the fore.

And it's certainly true that one of the many directors who have circled this project through the years, Terry Gilliam, probably would have taken more chances with this, but I'd have to imagine that's exactly why he and others failed to follow through on it to the finish. Just as the "Watchmen" comic book was all about the good and bad consequences of compromise, so is the movie itself, and it comes down mostly on the good side of things in my book.

What transferred my love of the comic most directly to the big screen is that the movie handled two of my favorite sequences just about perfectly. The first is Dr. Manhattan's TV interview and subsequent trip to Mars. Snyder doesn't have the space to play all the time games that Moore did in the comic, but he still manages to make it hit hard when Janey Slater pulls off that wig and makes the desolate Mars scape the ultimate spot for Dr. Manhattan's intentional isolation. It certainly helps that, as he tells the hero's tale, Billy Crudup manages to capture all the soul hidden behind that vacant stare (even as he does, be warned, dangle his blue wang-dang-doodle quite a bit.)

The second thing it nailed just about perfectly was also driven by spot-on performances by Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and - to a lesser extent - the always-welcome Danny Woodburn as the diminutive Big Figure. Haley just simmers with all the right snarling rage once he's unmasked as Walter Kovacs, and I just had to smile the first time that Woodburn (a k a Kramer's tiny co-conspirator Mickey Abbott on "Seinfeld") came around the corner to confront him in his cell.

So then, what didn't work? Well, for me, it was mainly one scene Snyder left in but botched and two that he almost entirely left out (and in the second case just should have altogether.)

The first, and the single worst scene of the entire movie, was the almost completely passion-free love scene between Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Specter II (Malin Ackerman.) Given the amount of skin it shows (and yes, as the Comedian might say, it certainly does prove in Ms. Ackerman's case that those are some good genes), it's a curiously joyless affair, made all the worse by the attachment of a version of Leonard Cohen's great song "Hallelujah" to it. Just an all-around travesty.

And the most glaring omission would have to be the death of Hollis Mason, a moving moment in the comic book that's replaced in the flick by a random encounter between Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II and a street gang. But the most grating of all was the inclusion of the newsstand owner and comic book reader for just a split second before they are obliterated. The two of them offer a running commentary on the end of the world that drives a good portion of Moore's tale, so to waste them in such a way on screen was just a total spit in the face.

So, given all that, what tipped the scales to make this one at least a conditional winner in my book? Well, Alan Moore fans can squawk all they want, but for me it was the ending (AND ONCE AGAIN, IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT, PLEASE DO NOT READ ON AND THEN TRY TO BLAME ME LATER.)

To me, it kept all of Moore's big ideas about compromise vs. absolutism intact while just improving on the overall story. Sure, it would have been fun to see the giant squid appear, but would you really want to add another 45 minutes to the flick while Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) explained just how he managed to cook that up? As it is, having the attacks instead mirror the energy of Dr. Manhattan just perfectly amplifies the God vs. man angle, and makes that fact that it's the good Dr. who finally has to encounter Rorschach all the more compelling.

In the end, I'm glad that in this case Snyder's compromises won out over Moore's absolutism so this movie could be made in the first place, and with my Grand/Amstar Cinemas Mystery Shopper pass in hand I'll probably go see it again this coming weekend (since there seems to just be nothing of any merit at all opening.) And in a rather tangential closing, here's a clip of the only performance of "Hallelujah" that can even come close to rivaling Jeff Buckley's, by the singer/songwriter Allison Crowe. Enjoy, have a perfectly passable Monday, and please let me know if you think I'm just all wrong about Snyder's flick. Peace out.


Cullen said...

Well, I agree with you on the conditional yes, but I don't have the same problems with the movie you did.

the almost completely passion-free love scene between Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Specter II (Malin Ackerman.)

I actually thought it was a poignant moment. The silence with the ringing of Hallelujah going on in the background underscored both everything going on in the movie and everything going on in within the characters. Perhaps that's more an observation borne of an intimate knowledge of the comic, but I thought it worked very well in the movie.

It serves as an example how two people can walk away from the same thing with two different impressions.

And the most glaring omission would have to be the death of Hollis Mason

Yes, God yes. I was pissed they left this out. It really would have driven home the dystopian state of the world.

that's replaced in the flick by a random encounter between Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II and a street gang

It's not random. It was in the graphic novel. It was what "got the juices flowing" again in SSII and NOII.

But the most grating of all was the inclusion of the newsstand owner and comic book reader for just a split second before they are obliterated.

And that's a reaction by someone who has an intimate knowledge of the comics. I don't think it even blipped on most movie-goer's radar screens. Plus, I think it'll play a lot better when the extended director's cut comes out. We'll hope.

For me, the problems came during the last 20 minutes of the film. The first 2 hours were almost flawless (the most obvious "almost" being the exclusion of Hollis Mason's murder). What bothered me is that the last 20 minutes, while VERY true to the comic except for being squidless (and I didn't have a problem with that) is that it felt rushed and overly Hollywood-esque. The dialog that was shortened up didn't come across as well as Moore's writing. The absolute worst moment was the death of Rorschach and the bloody remains. That bit of cheese could have been left out. I was bothered that Snyder felt he had to resort to that kind of pandering.

Otherwise I was very pleased and plan to go see it again in IMAX when I'm in Vegas later this week.

(Jesus, that was a long comment. Sorry.)

Reel Fanatic said...

No need at all to apologize for a long comment, Cullen, because all your points are well made ... You're right that that the gang fight was in the comic, but I guess it just bothered me since it came so close to the omission of Hollis' demise .. and that ink blot for the remains of Rorschach was indeed a horrible example of pandering, but I thought the rest of the way the ending was handled was done so well that it almost made up for it .. and definitely go see it in Imax, because the trip to Mars, in particular, but also other scenes are just amazing in that format, which until now I thought was only for watching rocket ships take off at the Air & Space Museum

Adrian said...

I live in a rural area - and the movie won't be here for several more weeks, so, I cannot comment on your review perspective. It is not tangential, actually, that you bring up Allison Crowe (whom I serve as manager). Her CD version of Hallelujah was originally in The Watchmen. Snyder ultimately concluded it's "too beautiful" for the particular scene - as he explains more fully to Crave Online: “What about the Leonard Cohen song?”

Zack Snyder: “There are two Leonard Cohen's because there is a Leonard Cohen on the end titles as well. Hallelujah, that love scene, I originally had the Allison Crowe version of that song, a version I've always loved, but in the end was just too romantic. Everybody thought that I meant it. They thought the love scene was serious, not that it isn't serious but her version was too sexy. So I was like yeah, I've got to go back to the Leonard Cohen. For me it is incredibly ironic, even with that version of the song it is incredibly ironic. I don't care what version of Hallelujah is on, that love scene it is ridiculous, but in a great way. With Leonard Cohen it is like you can't miss it now, can you? I'm sure some people will but that is fine.”

You, too, enjoy your day!

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Adrian ... I think the scene would have been improved with Ms. Crowe's version of the song, which is indeed just a beautiful interpretation, but it was still just way too silly to work on screen for me

Mercurie said...

Wow. It seems we almost agree on everything about the film! My favourite sequences involved Rorschach--his capture at the hands of the police and his subsequent experience in prison. I have to say Danny Woodburn made a perfect Big Figure! And Dr. Manhattan's press conference packed a punch even on the big screen. That was something as else.

As to the love scene aboard Archimedes, I think it was not only the worst scene in the movie, but should've been left on the cutting room floor or reshot entirely. I think it was made all the worse by the choice of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Mind you, I love the song, but it simply did not fit here at all!

And I agree about the ending. I think in some respects it was even more fitting than that of the graphic novel, for precisely the reasons you give.

Adrian said...

Thanks, and thanks for your kind appreciation RF of Allison's version of the song.

I'm curious to see the movie myself, and, until that's possible, reading these comments and reactions is giving me plenty of food for thought!

Bob said...

I'm pleasantly surprised how civil everyone is being about a movie that's clearly so divisive. Everyone's defending their points well, which considering what a "fan boy" movie this is is just shocking. But in a good way. :)
You already know what I thought but I enjoyed reading your take on things. It seems the one thing everyone can agree to loving is the performance of Jackie Earle Haley. Just fantastic.

Shoshana said...

I have not read the graphic novel, so I went just for the review. I also didn't like Silk Spectre, but for totally different reasons. Her suit has wrinkles. I mean, seriously. Why can't they make her sexy suit tight without creases? It's like she borrowed her grandma's outfit.

Maybe it's supposed to be that way from the graphic novel, in which case I'm completely off.

I did pay for 12 dollas in IMAX. After your review, I'm going to read the novel just so I can look back to the movie and perhaps enjoy it more.

Shoshana said...

Now that I've listened to the other would have been great if they used that song.

The one used in the movie was just too grand, you start picturing Gerard Butler slaughter tons of soldiers instead of smooth naked butts. That wasn't a good song for the scene. It took me out of the movie...and have to work my way back in after that.

Maybe for the DVD version, they can change the song. It would certainly make that love scene more meaningful instead of gratuitous.

Reel Fanatic said...

I have yet to meet anyone who's read the comic book who didn't thoroughly enjoy it, Shoshana, so here's hoping you do too ... It probably knows going in that the ending will just make you scratch your head!

Adrian said...

Re Hollis Mason - from the same interview quoted from earlier:

Crave Online: Is the director’s cut going to be more definitively Watchmen?

Zack Snyder: I’m proud of the cut that is in theaters. I had to cut out Hollis’ death and that is a big deal to me. There is other stuff I left off that is on the director’s cut that I’m like, “Yeah that’s cool, but I feel like it works in the movie.” Hollis’ death was the big thing for me.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm definitely gonna buy the director's cut of this one, Adrian, for that and a lot more .. There's so much going on in the novel that I won't mind if his final product comes close to four hours, but I won't watch it all in one sitting!

Cullen said...

Just got back from seeing a second time. You were right about the IMAX, the larger-than-life size of the IMAX screen and HD sharpness just adds so much more to the movie.
his movie is made for multiple viewings. I really tried to keep an eye out for all the background stuff, but the overwhelming nature of the IMAX format kept my attention to the fore, mainly.

Oddly, the movie went more quickly this time. I think during the first viewing, I was studying it, just waiting to see what the left out, what the left in, etc. This time I was able to just sit back and watch.

- Ozy's accent was more annoying this time
- The sex scene was more annoying this time
- Dan seeing Rorschach's death was less annoying this time
- I'd heard a lot of complaints about Malin Akerman's acting and really paid close attention and I just don't see what her detractors do.

Reel Fanatic said...

I thought she was just fine (in many definitions of the word) too, Cullen ... The only one I really had any problem with with Mr. Goode as Ozymandias

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