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.