Monday, March 09, 2009

The Watchmen

I’m a fan of graphic novels. I started getting into them about three years ago, and like anything I take a shine to, my involvement has been methodical and meticulous. I’ve researched which titles are considered classics, ruled out any that are likely to be offensive to my sensibilities (read: meant for boy’s eyes only), and read. One of my first was The Watchmen, by Alan Moore.

The Watchmen as a graphic novel is everything I had hoped the medium would do with its particular story-telling capabilities: use text and images to tell multiple storylines in each frame, and carry themes throughout the book in ways that are graceful and not hitting you over the head. I went to my local comic book guy and asked for more books that do this, and he wistfully replied that there aren’t any. (If you disagree with him, let me know your suggestions in the comments.)

So, I’ve been waiting for this movie. In part because I hoped it would be a good, true adaptation of the book. But also because I feared that it wouldn’t. And if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s de-construct a movie.

And the chances that I’d have a lot to de-construct with this movie were high, given that the director, Zack Snyder, also directed the movie 300. 300 is my least favorite movie of all time. It is the most sexist, racist, and homophobic film I have ever seen. And while I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the graphic novel from which it was adapted, friends who have read it have told me that the director made some serious changes to the source material—changes that resulted in the film being the hot mess it is.

So, I spent the last week re-reading The Watchmen, so as to be on top of my movie-reviewing game. It really is good.

Patrick and I went to see the movie last night. My impressions (there are some spoilers in here):

Loved the opening credit sequence. Dylan’s “Times, They Are A’Changing” was a perfect match. I loved the look of the first generation heroes, with their home-made costumes. Loved the photographic-look of the cinematography in this part.

The film was much more violent than I’d imagined it would be. Granted, when I read the book, I didn’t really pay much attention to the fighting. But in the director’s hands, the action was loud, bloody and graphic. I’ve looked back at the artwork in the book, and some of the movie’s scenes went way beyond what Gibbons had done (Rorschach attacking the child kidnapper, the arm scene in the jailhouse). Some people love that stuff, so I’m not really faulting the decision to go so gory in the movie.

I actually thought the treatment of the women in the movie was very balanced and true to the book. With one exception, though minor: in the movie, when Nite Owl and Rorschach re-team and go to the bar to shake down hoodlums for info on Adrian’s attempted assassination, Janey Slater (Dr. Manhattan’s ex-girlfriend) is named as an employee of Pyramid and as handing off the payment. This is not in the book at all, and I really can’t figure out why they would do this in the movie. I should say that I am very sensitive to this plot device, and one of my major beefs with 300 is that it starts out with what’s-his-face’s wife giving a nodded approval to throw that guy down the well, thus starting the war. Why get Janey tangled up in this?

I hated 80% of the soundtrack choices. They didn’t make any sense, and just seemed like cool songs that someone liked so much that they had to go in the movie. And the choice of that Leonard Cohen song for the love scene—the audience at my screeening laughed the whole scene.

They did have to cut out the whole space alien plot, which was fine. I wasn’t very upset that they had to pin it on Manhattan. In the end, the theme is the same—there is no black-and-white, moral compromises must be made, Rorschach can’t live in such a world.

Excellent job finding actors who looked like the comic characters.

I thought Dr. Manhattan was done well. Billy Crudup played it cool, aloof, which isn’t how I’d read it in the book but now that I think of it, I think is the right way to go. The guys sitting in front of me couldn’t get over his junk. It was pretty distracting!

As an over-narration, the journal entries were pretty heavy and hard to focus on.

The movie did feel long, with the scenes on Mars and Antarctica dragging forever.


Have you read the book? Seen the movie? What did you think?


Tim said...

I haven't seen it yet, for a couple reasons. As much as I liked the graphic novel, I find myself uncertain about the movie.
I'm sure I'll go see it at some time, but I'm not in a rush. It has been interesting to read differing reviews of the movie from people. The New York Times and the New Yorker both posted pretty negative reviews, but reviews I've read from people familiar with the novel are more positive. It really makes me wonder about what makes a good adaptation. I want to read more reviews, and re-read the book before I see it.

I thought 300 was awful, and so having Zack Snyder direct was an immediate turn off. I was also unnerved by the fact that previous adaptations of Alan Moore's work have been less than stellar -- remember "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"?

Also, I think I would miss the giant squid.

rosanne said...

The last graphic novel I read was "Lonely." Actually, it's the only graphic novel I've ever read ;-P

Upon reflection, however, I have to say that to not have read another is odd because I really enjoyed that one very much...Maybe, just maybe I'll read another on your recommendation.

Stacey said...

@ Rosanne: I'll look into Lonely--I always need suggestions!

Tim, I read the Times and the Boston Phoenix reviews, and agree that they were more negative than I felt about the film. I believe the Phoenix said that the perfect audience would be a college sophomore circa-1985 with a comic nerd as a roommate. Hmpf.