A Week of Watching THE WATCHMEN! Day One

by Doug Smith

Being a gang of lifelong comic book fans, it should go without saying that the Bad Genious team loves to go to movies based on comic books, and then get together and talk about them. The good, the bad, the ugly, the hairball that was Catwoman. We were there for Iron Man, we were there for The Dark Knight, and we were there…well, we might be there for The Spirit when it hits DVD.

So we were all quite excited about the long-awaited film version of Watchmen. (Well, all of us except for Devin, but I’m sure we’ll hear from him later.) I volunteered to edit our thoughts and comments together into a roundtable.

It turns out that I’m a very, very stupid man. So stupid, you could call me the Anti-Ozymandias.

We had a lot to say. A LOT. So much, in fact, that this will be just the first of five installments in which the BG roundtable discusses Watchmen.

So, with SPOILER WARNINGS ON, let’s get right into it!

The first person to turn in a review was our long-lost buddy, Mark “Not The Inker” Farmer:

Mark: Wow. They did it. It naturally lost a little presented in a different medium but it gained something with sound and music choices. Reworked ending was better for the film with the same result. Nice job. It wasn't the comic, but it was a good movie. The themes and emotions are conveyed pretty well, albeit with a little bubble gum flavored coating here and there. Still dark overall though.

Ye Olde Editor: The next person to chime in was this long-winded bastard:

Doug: What works best? Anything involving Dr. Manhattan. Of all the back stories presented, I thought his worked the best in the film. The special effects involving him were excellent throughout. And while some of the dialogue from the comic doesn't translate well to film (always a problem with pulpier dialogue), Dr. Manhattan's really shines. His dialogue was far and away the most poetic in the books, so it translates very well here.

What doesn't work? One word: Hallelujah.

The biggest change from the comic, for me, wasn't the removal of the squid at the end of the film (we’ll talk about that in more depth later). It was the removal (except for some quick cameos) of the people from the newsstand. I thought they were the human face of the sacrifice Ozymandias demanded, and knowing them in the comic really left an impact when the plan comes to its horrible fruition. There's a big human element lost in the film because they're really not present. I wish Snyder had found a way to retain them.

I thought Jackie Earl Haley was great as Rorschach. Carla Gugino was perfectly cast as the original Silk Spectre. Matthew Goode was OK as Ozymandias, but a little too weasily early on, tipping the audience to the real "villain" of the movie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was also very good as the Comedian, but I also felt that Laurie's true parentage was hinted at way too early. That was a shock in the comic, but not in the film.

Patrick Wilson (who reminded me way too much of Chevy Chase early on) and Malin Akerman are both pretty good as Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II, respectively. But their characters are still the least interesting of the six main "Watchmen", just as they were in the comic. I wonder...these are the two second-generation heroes, and they're fairly dull. Is that just a coincidence, or was Alan Moore maybe commenting on a lack of imagination and creativity in the world of superhero comics, where it's easier to recycle an old concept than to create a new one?

Some small changes to the climactic scene in Antarctica didn't work for me, but that's a relatively minor complaint (especially compared to the "Hallelujah" scene).

The movie's pace gets bogged down during the first act with all of the flashbacks. While I admire Snyder's loyalty to the source material (and thought that using the funeral to launch all of the origin/backstory flashbacks was a smart idea), there probably should have been more flexibility in adapting the series into a film. If the rigid adherence to Moore's story showed any strain, it was here.

Hollis Mason (the original Nite Owl) really gets little screen time in the movie.

And one final thought: man, there's a lot of penis in this movie.

Ye Olde Editor: Next, we got our first comments from the other side of the Atlantic:

Tim: Man.

That is one LONG film. Make sure you have an aisle seat, no need to piss, or become a camel folks.

It does pretty much everything. I can't be sure, as I don't have the main comic here with me, but I think it does 90% of the scenes, almost verbatim (sans the pirates and a few supporting character subplots).

Is it good? I'm still trying to decide. It's such a literal translation in many ways, that if you like the comic you almost have to like it. And yet it does go on, and feels like (hearsay) it could have lost some time. I suspect it'll make for a fine DVD though.

Ozymandias isn't as - can the word be “sympathetic”? - as he was in the comic. The Comedian as Sally's father is done, but nothing really made of it. There are moments of sex and ultraviolence that justify the 18 (U.K.) rating easily. The heroes are a little bit too flashy for my tastes; I'd prefer if they really had been old and slower but I can live with that.

As a love letter to the comic I liked it. I think I like it as a film with significant flaws. I think I do anyway. I'm not convinced those without a grounding are going to like it. I know the ending threw some people in my cinema ("He fucking won?").

Jon Quixote: Man, so much of the book's greatness and reverence for it is in that ending, the mere fact that they retained it gives hope. I don't know if it's realized or if people agree with me, but I think that without that ending, we wouldn't be talking about the book, let alone seeing the movie, right now.

I mean, the movie can never be the full book, and I think lowered expectations are in order, the same way that you'll never get a GATSBY movie as good as the book. But the movie can be the mystery, the history and the Holy Shit! moment. Those are the best parts.

Tim: I don't think they sell the mystery as well as they could have. It's the same structure as the book, but on film that means that other things get in the way a bit at times.

Or perhaps I'm saying that because I know the outcome, and was looking at different stuff.

It was rather satisfying when he said "I'm not some sort of comic book villain you know..." and some people giggled since they thought it was a joke before the "I did it 35 minutes ago" moment.

Devin: My reservation there is pretty much aligned with this quote:

Dave Gibbons notes that, "[a]s it progressed, ‘Watchmen’ became much more about the telling than the tale itself. The main thrust of the story essentially hinges on what is called a macguffin, a gimmick ... So really the plot itself is of no great consequence ... it just really isn't the most interesting thing about ‘Watchmen’. As we actually came to tell the tale, that's where the real creativity came in."

Though, to be fair, this is said by the guy who did sell out and was in full support of the movie.

One of my friends who is a huge comic fan (we met in my freshmen year comic class) and who I tend to respect was REALLY psyched about the movie. She then texted me today, "Don't see it."

I called her and replied, "I don't know how to phrase this...but I think it begins with an 'I' and ends with 'told you so.'" She elaborated and pretty much said she liked how they did Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan a lot, but the rest really disappointed her.

I'll be seeing it, but doing what I did with Dark Knight (a few weekends later...buying a ticket for another film so i don't financially support it).

Tim: Man, it's going to be really awkward if you love it.

Doug: He's already decided he won't.

And, in Devin's defense, some of the things I've seen him say about the movie are valid. Perhaps this is a comic book that just should not have been adapted. I think a lot of what made Watchmen the comic so special is specific to the comic book medium.

Devin: I also decided I would hate Milk...which ended up being my pick for best or second best film of the year. Tropic Thunder I also went negatively into (decided to watch it just so i could weigh in on it) and absolutely loved it. Sometimes going in negatively can be good for the movie, as you get really blown away if it is NOT what you expected.

Also, if you think there are exceptional cases where nothing can surpass preconceived ideas, might I add that there are people who go into movies already deciding they love it. For all you could say about me and Dark Knight, there are a hundred people who already thought it was going to be the best movie ever when they entered the theater. Very few people enter the theater as a blank slate.

And Watchmen I only started really growing against (I always thought it was a bad idea, but began to reconcile myself to it as, "eh...it'll be mindlessly entertaining and at least it'll get some people to read the comics") when I started seeing more footage. I've seen about 5 minutes in clips, all of which were not even adequate in terms of quality. Granted, it's 5 minutes of 160, but it's still 5 minutes they decided to release to build hype.

Rory: I am trying to remain optimistic about the film. It won't be better than the comic, that is for sure. But, whatever it does, it WILL NOT detract from the original work, so I don't agree with the "they shouldn't have made it" sentiment. I think, best case scenario, the movie can provide new and alternative viewpoints to the characters and story, which could make you look back at the original comic and notice new things you never noticed before.

And, while I'm admittedly cutting it slack on a lot of nerdy issues (I know the costumes aren't all right, but whatever), I have to say, the biggest nerdy thing I'm complaining about it everyone calling it a graphic novel. It is not! It is a 12 issue mini-series! Not a graphic novel! If you are calling it a graphic novel, you must be the creator of Hi and Lois, because you are making me laugh.

Liana: Ow. This caused me physical pain.

Jon Quixote: It’s a Comic Book Guy quote.

Liana: Well in his voice and not Rory's it makes a lot more sense. But still, I read it in Rory's voice and it caused me pain. PAIN.

Rory: Ooffa, sorry for the pain. Just trying to point out the nerdiness of my complaint.

Liana: Okay. Nerd.

Ye Olde Editor: OK, LET’S GET THIS CRAZY TRAIN BACK ON TRACK! We’ve already mentioned the ending. Devin’s friend had this to say: “the ending didn't make sense (since it implicates America too much....which doesn't work logically as the 'us vs. them' of the comic's scheme does).” Your thoughts?

Mark: Hmmmmm, I don't see how it implicates America. I guess what happened is kind of spoilery though, so I won't say exactly what was different (but it did allow them to skip the island full of scientists creating alien space tentacles), but New York was still hit.

Jon Quixote: Well, endings don't work without structure and structure don't work without endings. So I'd agree with Gibbons in that it's about the telling, but I'm pretty sure that's strongly related to the plot. So sure, it's not so much about WHAT happens, but about HOW it's unveiled. Which is why the ending is such a kick in the nuts. It's actually kinda like, for example, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. "Hey, while you were flying to my Antarctic base for the final showdown, guess what happened."

It's a wonderfully structured story (and, in my mind, a definitive template for large-scope serial storytelling).
If my understanding is correct, and it's that instead of a Squid, it's some sort of Dr. Manhattan attack hoax that's perpetrated upon the world...

...well, execution aside, I think that's actually better than the original conceptually.

Mark: I agree with that point. Seeing as how Dr. M was already established, and aliens weren't, I think it is a stronger ending.

Jon Quixote: I may have mentioned that before.

Doug: I don't believe you have, but I agree with you. And I'm pissed you beat me to the point.

No, there is no interdimensional squid laying waste to New York. Instead, Ozymandias makes it appear that Dr. Manhattan attacks the city as punishment for the human race standing on the brink of nuclear annihilation.

And I think this ending DOES work better. If we're being honest...the squid was such an out-there concept that it would never have worked in the movie. Too "what the f*ck?" for general audiences. It was kinda out of nowhere, even in the comic. We can accept it in comics because we have a higher disbelief-suspension level in that medium. In a movie, it would have been too much.

But now that the change has been made, I think it's a better choice. It makes more sense, and it keeps things more...."contained" is the word I'm coming up with. There's a nice symmetry to Dr. Manhattan being used as the major element of Ozymandias's plot. Instead of the world being united by an alien attack, we're united by the wrath of an angry god...a god that was created by humans. And, as Mark pointed out, it's an element that was already there in the story and wasn't introduced at the very end.

As far as implicating America...while it's true that Dr. Manhattan was presented as America's Ultimate Weapon throughout the story, focusing "his" attack on U.S. soil sends a message that he's above national boundaries...the whole world is on notice.

I know a lot of fans are going to hate the big change from the comic, but I really liked it.

Yassir: I don't agree that the ending was better. The changed ending works better for the film as it doesn't have all the nuance, subtleties and subtext of the comic. It makes sense, however.

BUT it had zero impact for me. It left me flat.

Overall though, I enjoyed the movie. I never expected it to be as great as the graphic novel, and it wasn't. But it was undoubtedly entertaining.

The General: I definitely agree with Doug about the change in the ending. In fact, driving home Sarah asked me how the comic ending was different from the movie one, and frankly just trying to explain the comic ending to her it became obvious why the comic ending wouldn't work in the movie. I mean, just try saying "he stole a bunch of comic creators to help genetically design a giant, psychic squid to teleport into the middle of New York to convince the world it is being invaded by creatures from another dimension" out loud. If, after saying that, you still think it would make a better ending for the movie, than honestly you want to watch a movie that would either be unwatchable or devolving into a campy parody.

I was thinking a bit now about what Yassir was saying about how the ending lacked impact to him. I think when I first read his comment I sort of just dismissed it. But, after thinking a bit about it, I think that I agree with it, at least partially.

I think that the idea of removing the giant octopus and replacing it with Dr. Manhattan makes sense and was a good idea overall. But, I do think that the way it was depicted sort of neutered the emotional impact a bit. In the comic, the devastation is pretty overwhelming, because of the amount of carnage shown. The six or so full page spreads just depicting the streets littered with bodies and running with blood are probably one of the most visually haunting parts of the entire series. Even after Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre arrive, they dwell there for several pages, talking about the dead and lingering over the bodies.

In comparison, the destruction of Manhattan, etc, in the movie is pretty light and sterile, especially given how bloody the movie is until that point. Even when Manhattan and the Silk Spectre arrive, you don't see a single body or anything. Just ruined buildings. Now, admittedly, a nuclear explosion will leave different damage than a giant psychic squid, but it all sort of seemed glossed over. Imagine, instead, if Snyder had led into that scene with, say, a silent minute-long pan down a destroyed street... maybe with at least the occasional charred skeleton. It would have been much more impactful.

So, while I ultimately think that cutting the giant octopus was a good idea, I still do agree that it could have been handled better.

Jon Quixote: It definitely could have punched harder, I very much agree.

Yassir: Yeah that's all I'm saying. I'm not bothered about the changes just the execution, and it's a real shame as it makes the film end on a whimper.

Spindle: Maybe they felt like given Manhattan's recent past, a bunch of bodies lying around the city would pack too much of an emotional wallop. Also, had they made the mistake of placing them anywhere below the 50's I think it would have almost been in bad taste. I personally wouldn't have liked it, but that's just me. Of course it wouldn't be the same for others who weren't here I guess.

Just venturing a guess for the lack of carnage.

Rory: Well, squid or no squid, I agree with Yassir's thoughts that the ending didn't have a strong "punch" to it. There was no "I did it!" - no real moment of pure, almost childlike joy from Ozy. And Dr. Manhattan didn't give him the "Nothing ever ends" line. So you don't really see him have the "oh shit, I hope I did the right thing" look, which I think would've also helped the ending.

Devin: So the more I think about the squid, the more I like it. I'm thinking of doing a blog entry in defense of the squid. Granted, I haven't seen the movie...but it won't be about the movie. It'll be about what the squid DOES, not what the movie doesn't do.

Ye Olde Editor: Now that we’ve got Devin started talking about squid, there will be no stopping him, so we’re going to call it a wrap for day one of our week with the Watchmen. Join us tomorrow for day two, and our first negative review of the movie!

1 comment:

Brandon said...

I definitely agree that the ending of the movie was a major improvement over that of the comic.