Friday, March 6, 2009

The Watchmen: A Review

Second day of physical therapy: done!

When I told my students I was going to have to start P.T., they got really excited. It seems like nearly every one of my fiction students has had to go through P.T. for one thing or another and they all said the same thing: "They do this cool thing at the end where they put these shock things on you and a cold pad and they just leave you for, like, ten minutes. It's awesome!" Some of them went so far as to say that they lied and said the buzzing of the stimulator pad wasn't up high enough so their therapist would make it stronger. 

I trust my fiction class. They are bright, talented, engaged human beings and I thoroughly enjoy each and every one of them. We have bonded over the last few months and so I believed them when they got so excited about the buzzing strips and cold pad...but let me tell you right now: I hate it. I hate how it makes my leg muscles contract unwillingly. I hate how my leg gets numb from the cold pad and I really hate how it feels as though the buzz pad is buzzing its way through my skin and injecting it's buzziness directly into my muscles. I hate it. I didn't have the heart to tell them the other day how much I disliked it. I thought I'd give it another go: maybe it was just first time gone awry, ya know? But, no. I hate it. Still.

Another thing I kind of hate is the movie the Watchmen, only I'm not as certain about the depths of my hatred on this one. There were some, minor elements I liked. D and I saw previews for this film a year ago and, as intense superhero fans, we have been looking forward to it ever since. In recent months, D has been refining his superhero based course and as the movie release came closer, we grew worried when we heard that the rights to the film were not fully sorted out, meaning the film was in jeopardy of not being released! We waited, with baited breath, and were happy to hear the conflict was resolved and the film was coming out!  So when I heard that both of our major theaters were having multiple midnight showings the night it came out, Dustin and I knew we needed to be some of the first viewers.

Admittedly, I had not read the graphic novel as I've been a bit on the busy side, but D filled me in on the basic essential background pieces I needed, we met some friends at the theatre a half hour before midnight and, with popcorn in hand, we awaited the opening credits of the film.

First things first...this movie expects that you already know the basic premise. If I had known more about the background of the characters, I would not have been confused about who belonged to the first vs. the second generation. This wasn't the MOST essential missing link, but it would've saved Fi a lot of quick explaining.

Secondly, the acting was comical. Really. I burst out laughing a few times without meaning to and at totally inappropriate times because it was just THAT bad. The chick who played Laurie (Silk Spectre Gen. 2) was the worst, by far, plus she looked just like Xena: Warrior Princess. If you doubt me, look below for a comparison shot and doubt no more!

See what I'm talking about? Totally weird, right? Imagine trying to NOT think of Xena the Warrior Princess while watching the Watchmen!

Thirdly, gender roles! Good fucking GOD (you know it's serious when I drop the f-bomb!). I am not usually one for pouting about whether women have huge roles in movies. I mean, there are times when movies are made that have NO good male roles, so I think it's fair to keep that type of conversation out of a review if it's clearly not intended to be a carefully done character sketch on both genders. I do, however, take serious issue with the distortion of female roles when they were not intended to be presented as they are on screen. For example-removing half of a costume so the actress is more eye-candy than the character from the graphic novel, cheapening the effect of a sex scene when it is meant to reveal much more about both characters than it does on screen...etc. Perhaps one of the best examples of the poor portrayal of women in this film is simply Laurie herself. She literally goes from one man to the next, craving their attention and using them as "saviors" because she has somehow lost her ability to live independently despite the fact that she is a retired superhero. What??? Talk about wrong on so many levels! Other women were casually and meaninglessly beaten, nearly raped and murdered. These moments added nearly nothing to the plot unfolding on screen.

Fourthly, Roorschach's voice is utterly ridiculous. It's impossible to take him seriously when it's clear he's deliberately trying to make his voice raspy, intense and low, not to mention he leaves out essential words that, for those of us who speak proper English, are imperative to the meaning and completion of a sentence. I'm all for altering the English language when I write--last I heard they call that creative license, but c'mon! I have enough trouble with students getting their sentences straight than to promote it in a movie most of them were probably watching alongside me. It, again, only evoked laughter and disbelief from me.

I could go on, but let me leap forward.

Since I couldn't fathom that Laurie could really be such a vapid character, and because I didn't understand everything in the movie or how it could be SO bad, I borrowed Dustin's book version and read more than half of it within a day of watching the film. If you have ever heard someone say that "the book is way better than the movie," they haven't seen anything til they've read and watched this film.

We sat through nearly three hours of that sludge they called the Watchmen which was made by the creator of the incredibly aesthetically pleasing film "300" and yet only a few scenes of the Watchmen came close to grasping that kind of powerful artistic mastery. Perhaps it was there, but just got overlooked in my deeply concentrated attempt to find something likable about the film. I read more than half the book in less time it took me to watch the film. Part of this is because of transitions. In the book, in literature, white space or a clear leap from one visual scene to the next demonstrates time passing, shift in narration...etc. This is not so easily done in film. Sure, it can be done successfully, but imagine how dizzy an audience would feel if every few minutes we were being tossed from one moment and scene to another entirely different one. My confusion based on having not read the book would've been ten times worse if they'd had followed it around like that.

This is not to say the film didn't stay true to the book, because, in most ways, it did. It literally almost went panel for panel with the book...except the movie characters had to walk down the stairs instead of just going from kitchen to basement in the flip of a page. It took more time to set up scenes and to flip between characters in the film than it takes to see them in a book.

It didn't help that the same day we saw the movie, I discussed the difference between "plot" (defined, from our text, as underlying significance/importance to the series of events; the "stake" an audience has in the piece) and "story" (defined as: a chronological series of events) with my fiction students. (It lost much of its strong plot when it moved from paper to film.)

I commend the movie for trying. I do. I am even willing to grant that some of my issues with the film were due to my own ignorance in having not read the book and done my homework previously. I have to say, though, they really should've stuck more closely to the important details, the symbolic meaningful ones from the book because they were lost in translation. The book was trying to tell a story full of various underlying stories, themes and symbols than even a 2.40 hour long movie could possibly cover. It goes to show that literature really is more powerful than film in many ways. It really was no wonder, when we were leaving the theatre and Dustin confessed the creator of the graphic novel wouldn't allow his name to be used in the credits, why Allan Moore (graphic novel writer) made the choice to remain unattached to the film.

Anyhow, we might see it again when I finish the film. Or we might wait for it to go on dvd. If you see it, let me know what your impressions were! I'm interested in other opinions!


1 comment:

  1. I kept this post starred in my reader until I saw the movie.

    I too wanted to love - or at least like - this movie. Although I had Sin City flashbacks when I first saw the preview. I was not a fan of Sin City and admit it tainted me for future films based on graphic novels. Still, I'm not sure if I hated Watchmen. However there is plenty I did not like.

    I did not read the book before seeing the movie. I wanted to, but the libraries were all out.

    You're right - the acting was bad. I laughed out loud when I'm sure I wasn't supposed to do so. And at some point I started calling Laurie "Miss Lucy Goosey." Jesse says there was probably a lot about the love that had to be cut for time. Still - for a supposedly strong super hero type, she sure had trouble sleeping alone.

    I especially take issue with her outfit and her hair. I think the first sign that a woman is hard at work is a ponytail. Once simply cannot fight crime with three feet of hair trailing. One would also have trouble kicking ass in high heels. And I see no point in a garter. I mean really.

    I didn't like any of the characters, which was hard for me. I like to like super heroes. I even like super villains. I like any character who believes in a cause. And I'm not sure the Watchmen believed in anything. I think Roorschach used justice as an excuse. I think the reluctant leader wanted to be one of the cool kids. Laurie did what her mother made her do. The pretty boy was passing time with a crime fighting hobby. And Dr. Manhattan didn't really have anything else he could do.

    So, I liked the flawed heroes. I liked the production. I did not like the women as role models. I guess I'm neutral on the whole thing.

    Also - in the first scenes, there was a shot from inside the tv control room. They took the camera shot showing the woman pundit. And the "Preview" monitor did not change. That's inaccurate.