Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Watchmen are ... Old.

I went and saw "The Watchmen" movie last night. It was an interesting experience.

First, to get my propers in.

I'm a middle age guy who's been reading comic books most of his life. I love the medium, I love adventure stories and I think people who can't deal with pictures in their story books are idiots. I'm a nerd, but I'm a literate nerd.

When "The Watchmen" came out, it was a series of 12 comic books that told one well written story. It had a beginning, built really well and had an OK ending. A serialized novel in the best tradition. Not bad.

But what made it ground breaking was the time it was printed. This was the mid 80s. Comic books had become banal. Before "The Watchmen" Batman fought "Cavity Creeps". After, "My Pretty Pony" had abortions. Actually, everyone had abortions and scabies and the heartbreak of psoriasis. Watchmen was first, but everyone followed.

That was 20 years ago. A lot has passed since then. The new cynicism of the 80s was replaced by the cartoon cynicism of Dennis Leary was replace by the parody of Steven Colbert. We're not really buying it anymore.

The "Dark Hero" is pretty much the norm in movies now a days. Even though they drew it from "The Watchmen" the clones made it to the silver screen first. As a move, "The Watchmen" is a copy of itself.


Some books can be translated almost directly into a move. "The Maltese Falcon" is an example. Take the book, have the actors read from it and you pretty much have a movie. Other books, like say, "The Bible" are going to require a bit of editing if you're going to pull in the popcorn crowd. Unfortunately for the director, "The Watchmen" falls into the second category.

While not particularly long by book standards, the novel spends a lot of time getting into the heads of half a dozen characters and taking the reader for a ride. That was one of the things the made the novel so good. People who enjoyed it don't talk about the plot, they talk about who they liked and disliked.

To invoke the same feeling, a director would need to film the graphic novel, giving plenty of time for each characters and make a 14 hour movie. Not many people will sit there eating Ju-Ju-Bes for 14 hours.

The second option is to forget the depth of the novel and concentrate on making a movie. Either make it more plot driven and trim back the character's emo, or trim back the number of characters. It's counter-intuitive, but to get closer to the feel of the novel they needed to deviate farther from it.

Unfortunately the director tried to have it both ways and it only sorta worked. They spent a lot of money for "sorta".

Details, From Good to Bad.

Patrick Wilson was perfect as Nite Owl. I was really impressed by his acting and how solid his whole performance was. Unfortunately, solid performances like that are often overlooked when they share a stage with a big blue CGI penis.

The rest of the cast was good. I though Jackie Earle Haley was very good as Walter Kovacs, and OK as Rorschach.

As for layout, a lot of the shots came right out of the comic book. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it don't. Either way it makes the fanbois (myself included) happy.

The special effects were lots of CGI. Wowie Zowie and all that rot.

Ozymandias was inane. I don't blame Matthew Goode, he had nothing to work with. Ozymandias was an embarrassingly bad character in the novel and the movie made him worse.

The most clueless decision made by the director was to give the caped vigilantes real super powers. They could do things like punch holes in bricks and jump so high that It looked like they could fly. Huh? The whole point of this was that people didn't have powers. They were just regular people. Regular people can't walk the streets dealing out justice. That's called assault.

There were a lot of little tweaks to the dialog that didn't seem to add anything. If you haven't read the novel you won't notice it, but that kind of stuff drives me crazy.


The Watchman movie isn't a bad movie. It's not a great movie either. It is out of it' time. What made the Watchmen special is long over, which is probably a good thing.

As an experiment, I've decided that I'm going to the comic shop and pick up a bound reprint of the comic books that I read 20 years ago. I want to see how much of what I remember was never in the novel, how much has been beaten to death by 2 decades of imitation, and how much doesn't work when read by a 48 year old man.

It's going to be interesting.

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