Last summer as I sat in the movie theater eagerly awaiting THE DARK KNIGHT… the trailers sequenced by on the screen. One of those clips previewed was THE WATCHMEN. I think I’d heard about THE WATCHMEN before… it rang a bell… But, for the most part, I saw this preview with fresh eyes and no knowledge of the contents of the graphic novel that the movie is based on.
It looked amazing! And, after the seeing the trailer, there was plenty of buzz about THE WATCHMEN amongst my friends and the people at the Center for Creative Media Studios.
When the movie was released last week… there were several folks I knew who wanted to run out and see the movie at 12-midnight Thurs Night-Fri Morning… the very first screening available. I’m used to that kind of thing. I mean… I remember standing in line (overnight!) for Star Wars and Indiana Jones debuts, and I’ve hit a few of those 12 midnight first release screenings myself.
No late night movie-going for me this time though … instead, I bought my tickets through Fandango and headed out for a mid-afternoon matinee.
I admit, I entered the theater NOT an enthusiastic fan of THE WATCHMEN. I didn’t follow the comic series when it was released… I hadn’t read the compiled graphic novel… and I didn’t know anything about the guys who had created the story. What I did know came from research online: Time magazine says THE WATCHMEN is one of the top 100 novels of all time… Wikipedia gave a decent synopsis of the premise… Different trailer variations were available… Behind the scenes clips about the production were fascinating… and, write-ups from WATCHMEN aficionados expressing concerns about whether the movie would be faithful to the graphic novel (expressed at Lord of the Rings level) were in the blogesphere.
I also looked up reviews… most were favorable.
With that… my wife and I set off to the theater to check out this nearly 3-hour piece of eye candy.
Here are 4 – Major things that have been in/on my head/heart since seeing the film:
1) The craft of Film-Making
THE WATCHMEN looks amazing! The 3D special effects are very impressive(special note: Rorschach’s mask is absolutely mind-blowing… constantly moving ink blots!!) The transformation/interpretation from comic book art to film is especially good. Zach Snyder and his team bring the same visual sensibility to this movie as (Extreme Close-Up movement, perspective and effects… essentially almost total creation and control of shots in a 3D environment) as they did in their previous work. The score is good. The 60’s-70’s songs used in a story set in an alternate reality 1985 is a little odd… but never-the-less bring back memories of the Nixon era and the cold war. The script is ok, and I’m told nearly 100% faithful to the graphic novel. The acting is just…ok. The main titles are some of the best I’ve seen… one of my favorite parts of the whole movie. So from a technical “making of a movie” standpoint: THE WATCHMEN delivers like a blockbuster should.
A brief synopsis of THE WATCHMEN is:
“Watchmen takes place in an alternate history United States where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, helping the United States to win the Vietnam War. The country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most costumed superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the personal development and struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government sponsored superhero pulls them out of retirement and eventually leads them to confront a plot by one of their own to stave off nuclear war by killing millions of people.” – Wikipedia
My own take is that THE WATCHMEN is semi-John Lennon. In other words if you took the lyrics of “IMAGINE” (no religion/God – eliminating the need for war – a move toward a global mentality instead of country boundaries – people living in peace) and added killing millions of people to achieve that (which Lennon wouldn’t have wanted) that almost explains the fantasy setting crafted by comic book creator Alan Moore.
One major critique that I have is: since seeing the film, I’ve talked to several people who had read the graphic novel… and seems that one of the things that attracted readers to the story may have been left of the cutting room floor, due to the TRT (total running time) of the movie. The idea that we could get inside the mind of “super-heroes” and see them as 3-dimensional people who struggle with everyday life, the weight of possessing super powers, and vices sounds incredibly intriguing. But, the film doesn’t really deliver on that. There is back-story given on each of the characters, but it would appear not nearly to the degree that one gets by reading the graphic novel. What that leaves the viewer who hasn’t read the comic with is only part of the story. I didn’t feel particularly invested in any of the characters and really didn’t get the struggling with super powers thing. I got the environment. I got the plot/setting. I tracked what the characters were doing. But, I really didn’t know them or feel invested in them. I bet there is a ton more on the cutting room floor that would have addressed this. I do know that those who had read the graphic novel were able to fill in the gaps that I experienced.
I did find this fascinating: There really was no GOOD GUY or BAD GUY! The classic white hat/black hat – Protagonist/Antagonist lines were very blurred. Interesting from a story tellers standpoint to be sure.
One last thing… Knowing that this imaginary world was created by a man who purportedly: “…is a practicing magician who worships a Roman snake deity named Glycon which he acknowledges to be a “complete hoax…” makes for an interesting twist. (Yes… some of the worlds greatest artists have huge quirks. I just find this one particularly amusing)
There are sexual situations and nudity in several situations in the movie. (Not to mention we see ALL of blue Dr. Manhattan… and I do mean ALL throughout the movie. (I pity the person who had to do that CG work)
One of the scenes in particular involves two of the super beings getting aroused while using their powers to crack some street-gang heads. In the end, there is intense intimacy, chemistry and connection displayed. And, if you are so inclined to skip movies that contain this kind of thing or practice the “turn your head/close your eyes at the right moment” technique … this scene is very hard to avoid. It’s not a quick nude shot that you can turn your head from… it’s a minutes long, woven into the story line moment.
Clearly, the sexuality of the super beings is an intentional part of the characters that the story tellers want us to know about.
Frankly… I think I was supposed to feel how Dr. Manhattan had become so disconnected from his humanity that being naked meant nothing to him. Instead, I probably missed some key dialog from him during the scenes where I cringed saying to myself, “Yup… there it is!” And, I don’t think I learned much more about the super beings by knowing they were engaged in sexual activity. I don’t need to know that Superman takes off his blue suit.
I do know that all of this stuff was in the graphic novel. I get that. I just don’t know that it made much of a difference in the 3-hour journey I observed… nor that any of this stuff helped me get the main story. (See the synopsis above in paragraph 2)
4) Violence – Gore
From people exploding to compound fractures occurring in graphic detail right before our eyes to buzz saws severing appendages… THE WATCHMEN provides some bloody memorable violent sequences. Definite warning to those of you who get queezy.
Know this: I am NOT a casual film-goer. I am the most annoying guy to watch a movie with. I run a constant commentary on what it took to make the movie the entire time I’m smacking on popcorn and sour fish. Be aware of this the next time I invite you out to go the movies. If you’re a producer/director/writer/DP/Editor or anything of that ilk… we’ll have a great time. If not… I apologize in advance.
That said… I respect what it took to make this film. Tons of pressure from the studio and WATCHMEN fans.
In the end though… I just didn’t connect with this movie. There were great things to admire about making it. But, I couldn’t get past the weakness of character development and being subjected to the outlandish gore and the sexual content. This is definitely not a super-hero flick for the kids. And I would add, in this economy, would this be the movie I would spend money on if I could do it again? Probably not. (Unlike THE DARK KNIGHT… where I wanted to see it again and on IMAX).
Yes… this is just one man’s opinion. And , yes, in this country we have the freedom to make and see what we want. And, yes, I would fight to defend that right… even when I’m outraged by messages from White Supremacists or movies that bash Christians. And, no, I’m not outraged about THE WATCHMEN. I just wouldn’t choose to spend my $$$$$ on it if I had to do it over.
As a final thought: Who knew this would be the year of Nixon?? (First: Frost-Nixon… then he gets elected to 5 –Terms as President by re-writing the constitution according to THE WATCHMEN.)
That’s a WRAP!