Saturday, March 07, 2009


Okay, by the time I post this it will be tomorrow compared to when I started it. Now I know what it feels like to perceive time like Dr. Manhattan does!

"Watchmen" is a tremendous film. I confess that I have a bit of bias, having read the graphic novel (without hyperbole) at least 50 times. In my own defense, however, that bias is not always a good thing. It helped me to really dislike "The Dark Knight," even though my favorite comic book character is Batman. My familiarity with the source material actually enriched the experience of seeing this film.

This morning, my friends Eric and Rob and I set out from South Bend to Indianapolis to see the film we've been waiting 26 years to see. Why drive three hours to the south end of Indianapolis? Because that's where the IMAX theater is, and this film deserves no less. Zack Snyder made me the film I've been waiting for. It was faithful to the comic, as much as one could expect and still bring in typical American moviegoers outside of the comic's already established fanbase. There were changes to be sure, but there were so many details taken directly from the comic that the respect for the material Snyder has was more than evident. The majority of the best lines were delivered verbatim from the comic. There was only one line that made me cringe. The Comedian, confronting Moloch in the latter's apartement, calls the aging former villain, "my archenemy." I'm now convinced that "archenemy" is a word that should never be spoken aloud. Rorschach's noirish narration, taken from his journal, is surprisingly convincing given the background of the character, as seen through flashbacks. None of the other characters would have been able to deliver those lines believably. But once you share in Rorschach's nightmarish childhood, you can see almost empathize with his sociopathy. This wasn't the case in "Sin City." I actually remember laughing at some of Frank Miller's noir-inspired monologues with the cartoonish Marv providing the narration.

I have heard and read many times that this story should have been made into a 12-part HBO miniseries because of the length of the story. That's nonsense. Comic book storytelling and pacing do not express time uniformly at one hour per issue. The first several pages of issue #12 of Watchmen, for example are simply full page splashes that show one extended scene of destruction that would take at most 30 seconds to convey on screen. That's one advantage that comics have as a medium: Time perception is variable because our imaginations fill in the spaces between panels. Video has to do that through the cutting of scenes along with the use of dissolves and wipes, which is much less variable.

One disadvantage of the comics medium that was put to full use in this movie was the sound. In the IMAX theater, the Owlship's jets felt real. The rush of air created by Dr. Manhanttan's teleportation was simulated by the movement of the air created by the theater's powerful speakers. Each blow in the excellent and extremely violent fight scenes were shared viscerally by the audience because we could actually feel a slight impact when an arm or a nose was broken. Alan Moore has said that he designed this story to take advantage of the unique way that only comics can convey one. Zack Snyder's film exercises the same muscles cinematically. I never really fully imagined Rorschach's mask blots moving, but when I saw it on the screen it made him seem five times as creepy, and for Rorschach that's very appropriate. And by the way, Jackie Earle Haley was nominated for a best supporting Oscar in 2007. The Academy needs to get over their comic book movie bias (Heath Ledger's posthumous award notwithstanding) and give it to him this time. He made Rorschach come to life.

Another interesting aspect of having sound in this very familiar story is hearing for the first time the pronunciation of some of the words that I had only seen in print. Moloch, for example, was pronounced "MAH luck." I had thought it would be pronounced "MOE lock." At one point I got worried when a reporter interviewing Adrian Veidt (pronounced "vite," by the way) called him "ozzy man DAY us." For the rest of the film, however, Ozymandias was pronounced the way I always thought it would be, "ozzy MAN dee us." My only regret is that they didn't tackle the Silk Specter's last name, "Juspeczyk." All we got was the pseudonym, "Jupiter." And at last, now we know that Rorschach's signature "Hurm" is pronounced like a short grunt instead sounding like the familiar form of Herman.

The attention paid to the costumes in this movie was clearly meticulous. The Minute Men costumes of the 1940s are as suitably silly as the modern characters' costumes are reflective of our recent times. Yes, Nite Owl's suit borrows elements from previous Batman movie costumes. Yes, Ozymandias' rubber nipples are very much like those in Joel Schumacher's Batman film debacles. Yes, the Comedian's huge shoulder pads harken back to Stallone's "Judge Dredd" suit. Do you sense the connection here? Just as the Watchmen comic deconstructed superhero comics for all time, the Watchmen movie does the same to superhero movies. There's even a little juxtapositive line near the end of the film when Ozymandias says, "I'm not a comic book villain." The corresponding line in the comics is "I'm not a Republic serial villain." It's another parallel that viewers of the movie who are unfamiliar with the graphic novel are going to miss on one level, but I very much appreciate the irony.

The sets were nothing short of brilliant. Nite Owl's dusty lair was perfect. Hollis Mason's garage had a sign outside of it that was the spitting image of the one in the comic; I went back to check a few minutes ago to be sure, and it was indeed spot-on. The Gunga Diner looks like it should. I was really missing the electric cars that move through the streets of the comic's version of Manhattan, but the airships were present, giving the city the sense of otherness that a parallel world requires to set it apart.

I can't speak for the vast majority of people who are going to see this movie without first having studied the graphic novel in detail. I don't even want to try to see things from their perspective at this point. I selfishly devoured this movie and will see it again tomorrow if I am able. I will buy the DVD and Blu-Ray and a Blu-Ray player and an HDTV on which to watch them when it is released for home viewing. I don't care if this film makes money. I don't care if the public likes it or not. I don't want a sequel and I don't want to play a video game that extends the story. I want to sit back, reflect, and enjoy this movie for what it is, and that's a great piece of film that honors the greatest graphic story of all.

Oh, look. It's after midnight. Hurm.


Michael O'Connell said...

It didn't stink. Imagine that? Letting out a twenty-two year held breath now. Whew!

KC Ryan said...

No, it did NOT stink.

It was freaking GREAT!

Make Iron Man run home to his momma!

:) KC