May 7, 2009

Watchmen: Graphic and Novel!

Meg's Journal. March 7th, 2009: Old popcorn in theater this evening, spilled soda on sticky floor. Watchmen is watched by me. I have seen its many hours. The scenes are extended slo-mo and the slo-mo is full of blood and when the credits finally roll, all the moviegoers will clamor. The accumulated hype of all the montages and monologues will foam up about their mouths and all the fanboys and critics will look up and shout "Frontal nudity!"...and I'll look down and whisper "Meh."

Yeah...guess who saw Watchmen.
Obligatory "Lower Manhattan" joke

Director Zack Snyder's latest venture adapts Alan Moore's nichely popular graphic novel of the same name to the silver screen. Boiled down, Watchmen follows a group of former superheroes (minus the superpowers) who find one of their own murdered. The threadbare heroes suspect further attacks on so-called "masks" but have bigger matters to worry about, namely, the escalation of a nuclear standoff between the U.S. and Russia.

Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn between the film and the graphic novel. Unlike standard novels adapted to film, graphic novels already visually interpret everything for the reader. So the movie becomes less about, "That's not how I imagined the Balrog!" and more a matter of: How faithfully is the story preserved, do the actors well-represent their characters, does the cinematography reflect the style of the art, and can the uninitiated viewer enjoy the film in and of itself? For the most part, Watchmen holds up on these counts, but the movie is only as good as its source; which is to say, the graphic novel's pedestal is debatable.

Visually, Watchmen is rather beautiful, in its own dreary, wow-that's-a-lot-of-blood kind of way. The opening credit sequence is perhaps the highlight of the film, providing richly colored, detailed tableaux that masterfully illustrate what would've otherwise been cumbersome exposition.

True to form, Snyder slathers on the slo-mo like it's going out of style, so much so that it becomes tedious and even dilutes the adrenaline of action scenes. I'd like to give Snyder the benefit of the doubt and say that utilizing slo-mo emulates the experience of reading a graphic novel by allowing the viewer to linger as they would on a comic panel...Nah. He's just really enamored with slo-mo.

Complementary to the hypnotizing visuals is an equally impressive soundtrack, from Jimi Hendrix to the Philip Glass Ensemble. In a way, the music borders on too remarkable, often interjecting and distracting from the substance of a scene. Much like-

♫ My backpack's got jets. I'm Boba the Fett. I bounty hunt for Jabba Hutt to finance my 'Vette♫

Hey, that's a good song! Waaait...knock it off, soundtrack! I'm trying to do a review here. Jeez.

Anyway. Alongside the ubiquitous smiley face, Rorschach is iconic of Watchmen: a fan-favorite atypical antihero. Not only does Jackie Earle Haley look the part, but also expertly breathes life into the integral character. Jackie delivers Rorschach's more memorable quotes with just the right emphasis, omitted articles and all. Rorschach's scenes with his therapist are somewhat truncated but even dyed-in-the-wool fans should be pleased with the performance. This is fortunate - the world can't take another fan uprising like "Jar Jar Binksgate." Jeffrey Dean Morgan also portrays the Comedian to a tee; his rakish countenance misled me to believe Robert Downey Jr. landed a role in Watchmen, but he still deserves props. Matthew Goode as Ozymandias is a bit too foppish and Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre is too I-can't-act-my-way-out-of-a-paper-bag, but the cast as a whole is fairly solid.

What remained on the cutting room floor-

♫ All right stop, collaborate, and listen, Ice is back with my brand new invention ♫

Dammit, soundtrack! See what I mean?

As I was saying. Many scenes of the 400-something-page graphic novel obviously didn't make it to the big screen, but the majority of edits were wisely chosen. Occasionally, dialogue seemed throwaway or offhanded to friends unfamiliar with the novel, and the revelation of the Comedian's relationship to a fellow mask came off as melodramatic without its developed back-story.

Ultimately, both incarnations of Watchmen have their own merits: it's not the end-all-be-all of comics as some would purport, but is a unique and refreshing alternative to the mainstream. Even comic non-enthusiasts may be inspired to pick up the graphic novel after viewing its film. As Moore would say, "There is something about the quality of comics that makes things possible that you couldn't do in any other medium. Things that we did in Watchmen on paper could be frankly horrible or sensationalist or unpleasant if you were to interpret them literally through the medium of cinema...It's not the same when you're being dragged through it at 24 frames per second."

**Medium with a refill (refill = 1/2 "star" on the scale, ha HA!)**

Spoiler Rant:

As for the oft-discussed Giant Squid ending, I absolutely prefer the movie's finale. Despite being a story about "super" heroes, Dr. Manhattan is the only character with actual superpowers. How he receives his abilities is about as far-fetched as a radioactive spider bite, but the story maintains a pseudo-scientific, non-magical explanation for its universe. Even Rorschach's shifting mask has no paranormal properties. Yet, I'm supposed to buy the idea that Ozy's DIY Catastrophic Calamari's destructive capabilities are thanks to a psychic? Sorry, but my Suspension of Disbelief Account has been overdrawn.

Yes, it really did take me two months to crank this out. Go me.

(Images courtesy of Warner Bros. and


Kaytee said...

Me first!
Meghan, as you sit on the other side of the cubie wall and listen to me giggling at your review, I hope you know how much I will miss this aspect of us...
Enough of that, then. Sooo happy that you mentioned your (our) confusion regarding RDJ being part of the film. Seriously, I would have gone to see it... if only. "I'm prepared to lose a few hours of sleep with you." Would have made it worth the extra refill of popcorn, huh?

Word Verification: atsful... your reviews always provide an atsful of laughs.

Kaytee said...

Oh. P.S. The deadline thing worked only reasonably well (you were still a week late), so next time if you don't meet it, I'm feeding Wilson to my dogs. :P

WV: pucepupe... that is not okay. Nobody wants to see pucepupe.

Jen said...

"Graphic and Novel" eh? The Hawkes family tradition of silly (yet truly clever) punning lives on.

Love the review. I enjoyed the movie as well, but you're right about the slow... motion... everything.

Jackie Earle Haley was great as Rorschach... perfect level of creepiness without being "Little Children" creepy **shudder**.

Sorry about the RDJ confusion! I bet that was a letdown. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is pretty good in everything I've seen him in, though... but he's still not Robert Downey Jr.

Movie Meg said...

Goodbye, Wall :( Even from afar, you can always read my seldom-updated blog.
Yes, RDJ is atsfully watchable (I'm still using that word the wrong way...)

An employee at a sub shop my coworkers and I go to all the time was absolutely convinced that RDJ was in Watchmen, and convinced me too until I consulted ol' reliable IMDB. Same guy tried to tell me Neil Patrick Harris was in Star Trek. Lies I tell you, lies!

I haven't seen "Little Children" but I can see him being uber creepy.

Anonymous said...

Too long since the last one...loved it, Old Pa