Sunday, November 29, 2009

Watching Watchmen

I waited months to see Watchmen because of the negative reviews I read on its theatrical release. I wanted the furor to die down.

When the movie was released I read that it was too long, too much back story, exposition, talking. As I watched the DVD of Watchmen I thought, "Too long, too much back story, exposition and talking." Guess I should have paid more attention to the reviews.

I read the graphic novel when it came out in the 1980s and I remember being impressed by what seemed new and inventive. Writer Alan Moore (who had his name taken off the movie) and Dave Gibbons, the illustrator, had produced an epic. Not only that, but the characters were one-and-done...they appeared in that novel and they weren't used again. I liked that because too much of one thing becomes boring.

The strongest point of the graphic novel was the flawed character Rorschach, whose story was the most interesting.

The weakest point of the graphic novel was the ending, which was too much like an episode of The Outer Limits twenty years earlier. The movie changed that ending but in a bizarre bit of business a postscript showed a television playing the Outer Limits intro. Was it a nod to what I had noticed or just coincidence?

The high point of the graphic novel was halfway through when the psychotic Rorschach is put in prison. In the graphic novel it seemed reasonable to me, but in the movie it seemed glaringly strange he'd be put in with the general population, since as one character put it, "Fifty percent of the people are in here because of you." The New Mexico prison riot of 1980, with prison informants cut apart by acetylene torches wielded by other inmates, was the inspiration for the scene.

What the movie also reminded me of is that comics exist in their own cartoony world and don't always translate into live action movies. The costumes for the most part look silly, especially Silk Spectre, who wears high-heeled boots. It looks great in the comics but in the film you wonder how much her feet hurt chasing down villains.

The costumes are well done, but when put in juxtaposition with the real life eye of the camera they come off as stagy and odd. At least Rorschach, who wears a trenchcoat and fedora, with a full head mask that is a moving Rorschach blot, looks more real than someone like Night Owl, whose costume is so elaborate it must take him two hours to put on. On the other hand the only affectation the Comedian has, besides body armor, firepower and his cigar, is a pasted-on mask, which would fool exactly nobody.

The music was pretentious. "The Times They Are A'Changing" by Bob Dylan is not about superheroes being banned, it's about a major shift in the social order. Using "Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel is a puzzler, but the outright howler is having "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen as the soundtrack to a softcore sex scene.

The last thing I want to mention is that often the dialogue spoken by the characters sounds like it should be in speech balloons over their heads. It's pure comic book at times, not speech that would be spoken aloud by normal (or abnormal, or even supernormal) human beings.

I give Watchmen two-and-a-half stars. It cost a lot to make and I see the money on the screen, but it didn't need all of what it showed. It could have been edited down to make it leaner and faster paced. As it was, by the ending I was bored.

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