by Doug Smith
Welcome back! It’s the fifth and final day of the Bad Genious gang’s dissection of the Watchmen movie. We’ve got lots of ground to cover today, as we talk about everything from the film’s use of music, to a game of “What If?” with the directors who were attached to the film over the years, to a final discussion of Dr. Manhattan’s …. ummmm…. weapon of mass destruction.
So, you know the drill by now….SPOILER WARNINGS ON!
Let’s start today with a last-minute review from the Professor of Panelology. Hit it, Brandon!
Brandon: Okay… I finally saw the film and I can now participate in everyone’s conversation they had a week ago. If Dr. Manhattan was right about time, it shouldn’t matter. My thoughts…
- Damn, that was impressive.
- The opening sequence was killer.
- I believe just about everything worked for me. I thought this was a superior comic book adaptation film. I thought it was even better than Dark Knight.
- The change in the ending was much more believable than that of the comic itself. Much like the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist, the film version of Watchmen paid homage to the book and improved upon it by altering the ending. The Dr. Manhattan plot definitely looks better on screen than a giant squid would.
- The cast was perfect, even Ozymandias. In the initial photos release, I thought he looked too baby-faced. Hell, I thought everything looked too bright and colorful in those shots. But everything turned out well.
- I liked the fact the pirate ship stuff wasn’t in the movie. That was always my least favorite part of the comic.
- I dug the soundtrack. There wasn’t anything too adventuresome on it, but it wasn’t distracting or totally obvious.
Rory: Some of the musical choices were just awkward and distracting from the story.
Ye Olde Editor: At this point, I threw a couple of pillows on the table and told Rory and Brandon to settle it “Cinemax After Dark”-style, but they wouldn’t bite.
And now, back to Rory!
Rory: One of the distracting choices was “99 Luftballoons”. The other time it bothered me was when "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" was playing softly during Veidt's assassination. I kept thinking "Is that Tears for Fears? No, wait, maybe, YES!", and missing the dialogue.
Tim: Boy do they use a LOT of classic tunes in the soundtrack. Hendrix's version of “All Along the Watchtower”. “The Times they are a Changing”. The licensing rights for that alone...
Dan: The music was a mixed bag. It worked wonderfully in some places, was over the top in others and some was just out of left field.
Doug: I thought the “Hallelujah” scene was terrible. The only real stinker in the movie.
Spindle: “Hallelujah” was not the right song for that scene, but that's the only place they went wrong with the music. Also, I found it ironic that Jackson (my son) was hiding his eyes during that scene.
Jon Quixote: I had the opposite take. Not counting the opening credits, I liked “Hallelujah” in that scene (I liked everything about that scene) and was unimpressed by most of the other music.
I kinda liked “99 Luftballoons”, but nothing really happened when they used it. I think I liked the idea of the movie being scored with cheesy 80's pop.
Even “Unforgettable”... well, I liked it like I liked “Hallelujah”. I think stylistically it worked very well (as opposed to the others I mentioned).
But “Sounds of Silence”, “All Along The Watchtower”, I dunno. Maybe I didn't get it. It was nice, but didn't really seem particularly inspired or on point. It just seemed big.
Doug: The use of “All Along The Watchtower” is straight out of the comic. The issue that scene comes from is titled "Two Riders Were Approaching" and the ending quote of the issue are those lyrics. I thought Snyder nailed that scene.
Jon Quixote: Maybe the whole thing could have been scored with tracks entirely from 1985. Like when the Comedian's TV flashed on MTV before the guy broke in. You could have had “Can't Fight This Feeling”. “Alive and Kicking” instead of “All Along The Watchtower”.
“Careless Whisper” or “Heaven” during the “Hallelujah” scene.
Spindle: Never mind. “Hallelujah” was fine. (Laughs)
Tim: I think the music was mostly rather good. Even “Hallelujah” could have been fine; it just went on a bit long.
The all-from-1985 thing is an interesting idea, but one of those things that I suspect film geeks would have loved, and everyone else would have wondered why were were getting all this electro-pop. I think it was a better idea to go for the timeless pieces.
I'm very glad they *didn't* go for a kewl set of modern bands.
Matt: I didn't care for some of the music choices as well.
Ye Olde Editor: Matt thinks that Queen’s soundtrack to ‘Flash Gordon’ is the greatest soundtrack ever, so his opinion is highly suspect. But we still love him.
Mark: I've been thinking about "Hallelujah”. When I first saw the movie, it didn't bother me. I thought it was silly and added some comedy at a good spot. Now, I like it even better after listening to the words, about King David, The Battle King and his adultery and all that. Good choice. Perhaps it does make the scene more humorous than it was in the book, but there's nothing wrong with that.
Doug: I still think the “Hallelujah” scene was terrible. People were laughing in the theater, and I just didn’t think it was the right tone for the scene. Maybe that's what Snyder was going for, but I would have rather had the scene get more into the freakiness of them getting aroused by the action and the costumes. It should have been more uncomfortable, not funny.
Dan: I think it was supposed to be funny. Yeah, there's the freak factor of the action/costumes getting them aroused, but it's the "I can get it up! Hallelujah" silliness too.
The General: I also agree that I felt there was a bit of humor intended in the “Hallelujah” scene.
Actually, in a lot of regards, I thought the music was one of the weaker parts of the movie. I mean, a lot of the music used just seemed too, umm, obvious. Pretty much all the songs used were "big hits"... music we've seen in probably 100 movies before. I mean, half the soundtrack is probably also on the Forrest Gump soundtrack too. Some of the songs worked within the context to the scene, but I think I wish they'd dug a little deeper and picked music a little more unique.
One of the things that I did actually appreciate was the score at some points. There were one or two points where I was sort of like "what is this Vangelis-sounding music they are playing?" But, then I realized that it really reminded me of the score to Blade Runner... an ‘80s movie with a striking vision of the future. And, after that really enjoyed it.
Jon Quixote: Sex is funny. And that scene was supposed to be funny. I mean, freaky, erotic, but funny. Even in the comic, the whole thing is punctuated with the flamethrower going off.
I just loved that whole scene. But unlike Dan and Liana, I love the Nite Owl II/Silk Spectre II stuff to begin with. I think it's the whole heartbeat of the story. I never really bought the whole Dr. Manhattan "Oh. DNA. You're a miracle." stuff too greatly. But Dreiberg cringing when he's in the dark with Laurie and she starts talking about Jon... that seemed to me to be the most real of anything in the book.
The General: I agree with Jon; while I like Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach, I agree that Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are the heart of the story. To me, most of the "man on the street" characters never really held any emotional weight, so while they show what the average person might be thinking and saying, its Nite Owl and Silk Spectre who are actually the ones you relate to.
Doug: And I'm the exact opposite on everything you just said.
The General: I just don't see how you can put any emotional weight behind the various man on the street characters, with the possible exception of Rorschach’s psychiatrist. He's really the only character I feel you get inside his head on an emotional level.
His wife is a sketch of a character at best, coming off as just shrill and sexually fickle.
The newspaper stand owner maybe has a little emotional weight to him, but is mainly a mechanism for reading headlines and helping play up the paranoia about nuclear war. The kid hardly speaks beyond grouching about his comic book.
The lesbian couple might be interesting, except I feel Moore's done that character too many times in too many of his books, and now it just seems oddly fetishistic on his behalf.
The various knot-top punks are cartoons. And the cops really only serve to move the murder storyline forward, there's no real personality there beyond "typical detective."
See, I think they all do a good job of fleshing out and making the world seem complex and lived in... but there's very little actual emotional meat there.
Jon Quixote: I actually like the lesbian, and really feel something when she starts crying, but other than that I'd agree.
But I think the Nite Owl/Spectre stuff serves a completely different purpose intentionally, that the "men on the street" could never fill no matter how well they were drawn. Because they're not really part of the plot or the central universe of the comic. They're not superheroes. Watchmen needed some superheroes that were only kinda fucked up.
Doug: I do agree with Jon's last statement. But I also think Watchmen needed to show the impact of "playing God" on the population at large, which is why I think the newsstand characters are important.
Spindle: Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are the heroes that are easiest for me to relate to because they have some very human issues. So they're really only as screwed up as any average person is. I really liked the way Nite Owl was acted too, very down to earth, very human.
My favorite exchange was between Nite Owl and The Comedian, because I feel like it really resonates right now, sort of gave me the chills:
Nite Owl: “What's happened to America? What's happened to the American dream?”
The Comedian: “It came true. You're lookin' at it.”
John's favorite quote (he actually giggled and gets a kick out of it every time it's mentioned):
Rorschach: “None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me.”
Jon Quixote: It's probably the line I remember most from the entire book, although as I was rereading Watchmen over the last few days (with the movie in the middle), I was surprised to note that it's not actually "said" by Rorschach on panel. It's the shrink quoting him later.
The General: When I recently reread Watchmen, I remember thinking to myself: This line is going to be in the movie, and it's going to be great.
And it is and was.
Jon Quixote: "Ain't had this much fun since Woodward & Bernstein!"
As over the top as that was, I liked the way Right-Wing paranoia seeped through into all the characters, just in varying degrees. For me the most telling scene was when Dreiberg is talking about hating Nixon and then says "But hey, it was him or the Commies, right?" Just the sort of off-the-cuff comment that said a lot about what was going on inside his head. Yeah, Comedian and Rorschach are over the top right-wing, but even our schlumpy introspective everyman hero still has a "better dead than red" template. That says more about the inherent political brutality of superheroes than an hour of Comedian shooting protestors.
Doug: So, it seems like our general consensus on the film is "Enjoyed it, Snyder didn't fuck it up, admirable adaptation".
There were some other big-name directors attached to this project over the years. Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) tried to make it twice. Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) and Paul Greengrass (the last two Bourne movies) also took shots.
What do you think their films would have been like? The first two directors above are definitely what I would call "visionary" directors. I think they would have made better films but not been nearly as faithful to the material. I don't really have a strong enough feel for Greengrass's work, but I remember hearing the script he was attached to took a LOT of liberties with the source material.
Jon Quixote: I think one of the reasons Watchmen: the movie is so much lesser than its source is that Watchmen: the graphic novel is so audacious and brilliant on so many levels - it's not just the content, it's the delivery. The mirror imaging of the panels. The metafictional commentary on comic book history.
The movie simply struggles to recreate the Watchmen storyline and political analogy, abandoning all else. That's why it could never be as good or as brilliant or as audacious. Its audacity is in its uncompromising desire to pack as much of the plot and adult content into a major movie as possible. But it's not really metatexutal about its own medium (the only thing I could think of there is the "Ride of the Valkyries" scene with Manhattan in Vietnam). It's not visionary in its approach to structure or storytelling (at least, not that I could discern).
Maybe, just maybe, a guy like Gilliam could adapt not just the plot of Watchmen to the screen but its daring and innovation. The movie could become about superhero MOVIES the same way the comic is about superhero COMICS.
But almost certainly it wouldn't work. It's just not really appropriate.
Yassir: I completely agree with Herr Quixote.
Watchmen the comic utilized its medium unlike any other superhero comic; the film was never going to do that.
Tim: I think Gilliam would have done something interesting with the material, but I don't think he would have been anywhere near as faithful. So it's a question of whether you want something faithful to the spirit of the book, or the material therein.
On the whole having seen it I'm mostly happy that it went a faithful-to-the-material route. It gets a bit of the spirit, and doesn't alienate people who loved the book by tacking close to it. I think it's basically right that the movie attempts to reflect the book's glory.
The more I think about it though, the more I think that the best way to bring it to screen really would have been a 12-part huge budget HBO style mini-series. Still, we got what we got, and I'm willing to take and enjoy that, flaws notwithstanding.
Mark: If Terry Gilliam had made it, there would have been a lot more pipes that didn't go to anything in the Owl Cave (and in all the other sets too)!
Devin: Aronofsky would have been an interesting version to see. I think he'd work more to recreate the feel than the actual visual look. His camera would probably not have been a comic panel come to life, but instead convey the same ideas that the panels were supposed to. But that's all in "What If..." Land.
Ye Olde Editor:And now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room…the big, blue elephant. We’ve already touched on it (stop giggling, Dan!) a couple of times, but…what was everybody’s reaction to Dr. Manhattan’s lack of modesty?
Spindle: Seriously. There's not that much penis. It's like four scenes where it's front and center, not that big a deal. Or maybe I'm just unaffected by it because I've had so much figure drawing?
Or because Harvey Keitel has desensitized me to the full frontal penis in movies?
Doug: Or because it's a CGI penis instead of a real penis?
Seriously...do you think that the fact that it was a special effect made it a little more "acceptable"?
The General: In an odd way, I think it does make a difference to a lot of people. And, I think the fact that the character is some otherworldly, glowing blue guy makes a difference too. If you think about it, if there was a move where just a standard, non-Harvey Keitel male spent the whole movie walking around naked, we probably would have heard a lot more gossip and fuss about it.
Personally, I honestly don't see the big deal, I just like mentioning it because its fun to type "glowing blue penis." I mean, how often does life give you the opportunity to throw that into the middle of a conversation? Gotta grab that glowing blue penis and run with it!
Doug: Plus, the penis was never sexual, in any way. Did we see the penis during the "multiple Manhattans" bedroom scene? I don't think so, although we saw it right after Laurie got out of bed and found Jon working in the lab at the same time. But, again, not in a sexual context.
By the way, it just dawned on me that all of this time, we could have been talking about "Jon's blue penis". I guess it really IS cold up there in Canada.
Jon Quixote: Sure didn't look like Dr. Manhattan was all that cold!
And with that blast from the Great White North, we will close the curtain on A Week of Watching the Watchmen. Maybe one day soon Devin will bless us with his "In Defense of the Squid" argument, but until then, that's it for our Watchmen discussion. Thanks for joining us! We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed gabbing about it.
by Doug Smith