Sunday 8 March 2009


I don't even know where to start.

I thought it was great. I can start with that. Here's a recap of the conversation I had with my friend after leaving the theatre:

Me: Was it really different from the book?
Friend: They kept a lot of stuff. I mean there's some stuff that's not in there but I was surprised by how much they kept.
Me: I thought Rorschach was great.
Friend: Yeah, me too. Everyone looked so much like their character in the book.
Me: Ozymandias was driving me crazy. He looks so much like Lucas Black. I've been watching American Gothic recently.
Friend: That's funny because I've been watching Dilbert.

It's 1985 and the world is a somewhat different place from the one we know. Nixon is still in power, has been for quite some time, and the nuclear arms race is coming to a head. The doomsday clock has been set to five minutes to midnight as the Soviets start fortifying their borders with nukes. All the costumed heroes that fought crime over the past decades and helped America win its wars have retired or moved on. When one such retiree is killed, Rorschach begins hunting for The Comedian's killer. His quest eventually brings two other former heroes out of retirement, and while the trio search out the truth, World War III looms closer and closer.

Watchmen is a long movie. It clocks in around 2h45. So a lot happens, story-wise. Also, it's an R. A real R with a lot of action and violence and nudity. Male nudity. And though it's CG, it's still more penis than you normally see in any R rated film. Which brings me to one of my few complaints: why the CG?

I, personally, don't really understand the need to throw in a fancy CG effect when a perfectly good (if not better) physical effect will do the trick. Furthermore, in this particular case, I'm talking about a character. Dr. Manhattan, one of the main characters in this ensemble cast, is completely computer generated. I can't even begin to imagine why. No matter how advanced computer animation is, it can never replace a real-life effect or a flesh-and-blood actor. The subtle nuances of live actors and the tangible quality of physical effects cannot be reproduced though computer graphics, thus CG distances the audience from the reality of the world onscreen. That's not to say there isn't amazing CG out there and that all movies suffer from computer generated effects--my point is that I have a hard time justifying CG when there is no need for it, and, with the possible exception of LOTR, I have yet to see a live action film in which an entire character must absolutely be computer generated.

On the story side of things, though I walked into the movie knowing absolutely nothing about Watchmen, I had no problem understanding or keeping up with the plot until about the 3/4 of the way through. There's a point at which Dr. Manhattan turns his back on humanity and moves to Mars. His character has become disconnected from the people around him so he seeks out a place where he can be alone and at peace. Also, he's been accused of killing some of his old friends. And then, quite unexpectedly he decides the world is worth saving. Because he used to be in love? I'm sorry but no. Maybe it works in the book, but the book has backstory and characterization the film lacks (I'm guessing). Here the audience has been presented with a character that can see the future--his own future, specifically--and we're meant to accept that he is surprised to find out that he changes his mind? When Dr. Manhattan takes Silk Specter to Mars to have a conversation, pre-empting her own attempt to speak with him, he tells her she will cry in front of him in a few minutes' time. If he can see this, why can't he see himself returning to earth to help save the world? To the tabula rasa viewer, the whole scene reads like some desperate attempt to turn the tables, to find a way out of the corner into which the character and his involvement in this story have been painted.

And so we come to the main problem of film adaptations--faithfulness to the source while delivering a logical story. Though it pains everyone, compromises must be made, but that doesn't mean the film story has to suffer. Take The Shining, for example, the film version diverges from the book in a number of ways, yet the filmmakers were able to still deliver a logical and competent film version that retained the horror that existed in the original story.

It could be that I'm just nitpicking--I just didn't really like that particular scene. Everything that happened before and after it was brilliant. Watchmen, however, requires a lot of patience. Like I said, it's along movie with a lot of story and it asks a lot of its audience. Personally, I think it speaks volumes of the quality of source material. I can't really think of a better way of promoting the sophistication and intelligence of graphic novels than to force an audience to sit and think their way through a comic book movie.

1 comment:

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