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Watchmen

On the weekend, I went and saw Watchmen, a film that I decided suffered from both paying too much attention to the comic and deviating too much.

If you haven't heard about the film, Watchmen, it's the latest film by Zack Snyder, who gave us the truly awful 300 and the surprisingly enjoyable remake of Dawn of the Dead. Watchmen, the film version of the graphic novel of the same title, concerns itself with six superheroes in a post superhero world, and the deconstruction of their origins and motivations. The film, to a degree, aims to be the same, and while I enjoyed the graphic novel a lot when I read it, I have to be honest and admit that I neither hated it nor loved it as a film. At times it felt silly, but mostly, I was bored for the longest while, pausing only to rouse myself when the poorest choices of music were given to play in the film's soundtrack. The best example of this was Hallelujah while Dan and Laurie had sex on a owl ship. I'm not sure who thought that a facial shot of Malin Akerman as she came and with Hallelujah screamed by Leonard Cohen out was a good idea, but clearly I wasn't at the meeting, and clearly no other voice of reason was either.

In many ways, I thought the fault of the film was in using David Gibbons' panels too directly to guide it. in the graphic novel, Gibbons' art works well--he is, honestly, an excellent artist--but there seems to be an issue when using a comic panels as the base for films, and that is that it results in still, passive images on the screen. A similar issue took place in Sin City, a truly awful film based off Frank Miller's comics, which are of various levels of success. However, whether you're a fan of the original texts or not, there is, I find, a craftsmanship that is linked to graphic storytelling by the artists (and writer, who in Watchmen's case is Alan Moore), and the panels and use of voice overs are designed to take advantage of the way that you read these texts. It might sound a bit shaky when I explain this, but I'll try my best: in sequential art, the idea is to create the illusion of movement between the panels. Each panel itself is static, but what the best of its illustrators do is arrange them so that movement and life is implied within the gaps, and then connected by the reader's imagination. It has more akin to it with the way that the internal images within a reader's brain works when he or she is reading a novel. At least, this is my take on how it works--maybe somewhere along the line some people will have different theories. Film, however, does not require this stimulation of the imagination to fill in the gaps. It's alive. It fills in the gaps itself. It has different requirements from the audience when they are watching it (the audience, for example, is not meant to pay attention to the music--it is suppose to aid the emotional context of a particular scene, but not draw attention to itself and break the scene, or so I argue). It seems to me, however, that when panels are lifted directly from a comic page and filmed, they emerge static and dull and Watchmen's great failing, I believe, is that for nearly all of its time on the screen, it is a static and dull film.

With bad music.

I can't express that last part enough, it seems.

My other fault with the film was actually the end, wherein the plot was restructured to take out the giant squid (aka, alien invasion). When I heard about this before going to the film, I was pretty cool with it. It's a big book, shit'll have to be chopped out, I told myself. However, the fix for it... it was just a little stupid and here, I'll admit, I couldn't stop thinking about the September 11th attacks, so maybe I was just pushed in the wrong direction by my head. But, as was seen by that attack, no amount of damage done to America would actually result in world peace, and I actually found it kind of laughable that such a concept could even be filmed these days. It seemed more accurate to me that, if the plan was believed, the Russians would laugh at the Americans, and then nuke the fuck out of them to teach them a lesson for having a god-like blue being that they used as a threat for all those years.

But, y'know, maybe I was just being too cynical at this point.

(crossposted)

Comments

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catsparx
Mar. 24th, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)
interesting theory on how the brain reads static frames and converts them to movement & etc. You might be right -- I'm often bothered about the fact that I have zippo interest in graphic novels yet love motion pictures and novels.

I liked Watchmen but didn't love it. Never read the original graphic novel. Hated the sex scene and the music. Was bored witless by Sin City, a fact that surprise me being that I'm a graphic designer & all. Felt ripped off about the giant squid. What story can't be improved by a giant squid from outer space, fer fuck's sake!!!
benpeek
Mar. 24th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)
yeah, you got screwed on the squid. i don't suppose you'll be rushing off to read it, but, y'know... giant squid.
catsparx
Mar. 24th, 2009 03:52 am (UTC)
Maybe I'll just look at the squiddy pictures
benpeek
Mar. 24th, 2009 09:30 am (UTC)
it is a particularly spectacular squid at the end.
girliejones
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
Yeah I felt the same about the movie and I wonder if it lacks something if you haven't previously loved the graphic novel. I agree with Ben that there were bits that were silly and also bits that were very very dull. I *did* feel it drag in parts and that it needed an edit.
ashamel
Mar. 24th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)
The damage wasn't just done to America, but a number of cities around the world. They said that, but didn't show it.

Yeah, the music was bad.
benpeek
Mar. 24th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)
oh, really? i must have completely skipped that on the cities thing (wonder why).
shadowsandice
Mar. 24th, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)
It was every so briefly hinted at when scrolling past the detonator screens before New York went off, listing cities like Hong Kong and Moscow. That was the extent of it.

I had more issue with "everybody wants to rule the world" when Adrian was doing his corporate smackdown, myself.
ashamel
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:20 am (UTC)
I thought Veidt actually said that, including Paris as well. I don't remember it being unclear -- but if it was, it would certainly confuse matters.
benpeek
Mar. 24th, 2009 09:27 am (UTC)
really? it was listed there? i just thought it was cities expressing sorrow for new york...
ataxi
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:02 am (UTC)
Don't agree it was too long.
Agree about the squid.
Particularly agree regarding the soundtrack (awful, although partly drawn from the original GN), and the goofball "humour" of the sex scene.
It was just as bad on violence as it was on sex.
Overall, it should've been more self-serious: the slightly comical nature of the characters, situations and concepts comes through anyway.
Not one for the light touch, Snyder.
You only talk about the plot, visual direction etc. and not about the themes. I think the thematic content is where Watchmen does in fact come through the crowd of comic book films. It's actually trying to talk about something. The nearest the competition gets is something like the racism parable of X-Men.
angriest
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
I actually think it was either too long or too short, depending on which direction they chose to push the film. As it stands it's somewhere in the middle and lacks either sufficient pace or sufficient depth.
ataxi
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:36 am (UTC)
If they should've compressed anything, it should've been the start. Any longer and a miniseries would've been the appropriate delivery mechanism. The one off 2-6 part miniseries is a better dramatic medium for literary adaptations than either feature length cinema or a full blown TV series.
benpeek
Mar. 24th, 2009 09:30 am (UTC)
i have to be honest, i never really gelled with the themes. i saw a bit about arms races and even the change in comics, but i think i just didn't gel enough to go beyond seeing a bit at the start.
robinpen
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
I think your squid criticism was a good point.
angriest
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
My biggest criticism of removing the squid is that it simply shows a total cowardice on behalf of the studio, the producers, the writers and the director. It's the same reason I resented the makers of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer turning Galactus from a huge purple dude into a growling space cloud.
ataxi
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:37 am (UTC)
It's ridiculous when you consider the whole "blue guy with penis" dominating scenes issue, which was really quite a daring artistic decision in a way (at least, my friends and relatives who don't read comics cite Dr Manhattan's "look and feel" as an aesthetic problem for them).
ashamel
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
I don't see it as an act of cowardice, but a fairly elegant way to remove yet another complicated subplot.

As for the length in general, I am looking forward to the extended version, as it has at least the potential to solve a fair few of the problems I had with the movie.
angriest
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC)
See, I didn't find it very elegant at all, and certainly not very inspired or original. Plus, as Ben notes above, it doesn't exactly make it feel like the whole world would grind to a halt and declare international peace as a result.
benpeek
Mar. 24th, 2009 09:22 am (UTC)
i actually didn't see the removal of the squid as cowardice. something had to be removed to make it a film that would last on time. personally, if you were going to take something out, that would be my choice--i just don't think how they put together the end was a way to replace the missing squid, tho.
artbroken
Mar. 24th, 2009 04:59 am (UTC)
I think of it less in terms of the 'illusion of movement', and more that so much of the comic's story, tone and depth is embedded in its structure and use of the nine-panel grid. More than anything else, Watchmen was a triumph of storytelling technique, and that technique holds up even if other elements have started to look dated.

The film, on the other hand, is structured like every other film and tells its story in the same way. What it needed to do was to find its own distinctive storytelling mode, rather than ape the text's or use the usual methods, and it didn't manage that.

Mind you, the use of intertextual material like viral marketing and DVD extras to communicate other parts of the story/setting is really interesting, and makes me wonder how you could go further with that.

But, y'know, maybe I was just being too cynical at this point.

Ben Peek, cynical? Say it ain't so, Joe.
benpeek
Mar. 24th, 2009 09:26 am (UTC)
joe? joe, are you there?

;)

i suppose the problem with the viral marketing now is that i just don't really care to go out and find it.

i do, however, agree that the structure of the watchmen comic has allowed it to skip feeling quite dated. one of the things that did strike me while i was watching the film was how dated it did seem, actually.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Mar. 25th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
yeah, it did rather prove that it wasn't going to be a good film, didn't it?

(unfilmable i'll skip, since they filmed it, yo)
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