Bad Movie Night: Watchmen
Over the weekend I caught Watchmen with the wife and a few friends (including the gentlemen behind Soulkerfuffle and LastBestAngryMan). Ever since viewing the stunning trailer and reading the acclaimed source material I had been very excited to see what could be done in the film version. Upon leaving the theater, having a few beers and several rounds of discussions, seeing Watchmen felt more like I had been on a really terrible date with an extremely attractive person.
What do I mean? Well, true beauty is far more than skin deep. Watchman's gorgeous outter skin includes stunning visuals and several strong performances, but for a movie that really wants that brass ring (and not just a ride on the carousel), it's what's on the inside that counts. Unfortunately this film is plagued by a few aspects that are either truly awful or leave the audience (both those who read the graphic novel and those who haven't) utterly confused.
LastBestAngryMan wrote a great review in which he broke the movie down into good, bad, and confusing aspects. I will attempt to do the same, however I'm going to try to limit my comments to three of each: good, bad, and What the Hell? I'm also going to add an "Eh" catagory to list three things that riled a lot of people which I didn't mind and/or care about as much.
Let's start with three good things about Watchmen:
1. Like LBAM I was really impressed with the way many of the characters were portrayed by the actors. Three real standouts were Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg / Night Owl, Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs / Rorschach, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Edward Blake / The Comedian. I felt that Wilson successfully captured the abject Schlubbery of the "dysfunctional" Dreiberg, Haley was a very gritty Rorschach, and Morgan was a deplorable human being (aka successfully illustrating to The Comedian to the audience). Casting Director scores points for these guys.
Don't worry, that same Casting Director will lose points in a few paragraphs, but I digress...
2. It sure was a pretty movie, and I felt for the most part Zack Snyder was successful in visually translating the graphic novel to the screen - Watchmen was simultaneously georgeous and gritty. 90% of the costumes were spot on and I was impressed how each decade had an authentic look and feel.
3. As someone who read the book, I really liked the easter egg exposition, especially the opening sequence, which I agree with LBAM could be one of the best in film history (save for the song choice, but more on that later). Throughout the movie you get a lot of pertinent information about the alternative history as well as the story's current events through little TV clips, newspaper headlines, pictures, signs, etc... Well played, Mr. Snyder.
I did like that he had the word "Squid" on one of Ozymandias' doomsday counters as well. Again, well played.
Now for the Bad:
1. I think about a week before the final cut of Watchmen, one of the computer animators found somewhere in his notes that they needed a large, genetically engineered Lynx. "Oh shit" he thought to himself, because he only had $5 left in his CGI budget. That day he went without a Big Mac extra value meal and Bubastis was born.
The outcome: Bad Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi Channel movie.
2. Super Ninja Anime Action Sequences!!! This disappointed me because half of the time the heroes fought like competantly trained martial artists and the other half they were doing Chinese opera troop wire tricks. Towards the end I was expecting Night Owl to run up a wall and flip kick three guys while yelling "you think you are the guy, but I'm the guy with training in dragon. You shall honor the floor with your presence."
Yes, I realize Adrian Veidt catches (more like blocks with his hand) a bullet mid-air in the comic book, but he's supposed to be the absolute pinnacle of human perfection - and the bullet still damages his hand.
Movie could have been an hour and a half long if the slow motion fight scenes were shot in real time.
3. The ending went off the rails. I'm sorry but by the credits I was literally wringing my hands at the screen. And I'm not even talking about the lack of calamari either - in my opinion that didn't matter as long as it was, well, done in some kind of character-believable manner. Instead we got a healthy dose of Croutching Bubastis, Hidden Manhattan chop-sockey fighting, Silk Spectre with a gun no explanation explanation why she has it, Adrian Veidt acting like Dr. Claw, and Night Owl going off like Luke Skywalker at the end of Empire (and shooting lazorzcanninz to boot).
What the Hell?
1. Ozymoyeras. No really, Ozymandias looked and was built like Jamie Moyer. Now, I realize that in his 40s Jamie Moyer is an incredible athelete, however he could not pick up over his head and toss a highly trained, formidible 250+ lb man out a plate glass window. The "now you see it, now you don't" accent was also very confusing. Isn't there something to be said for consistency? The above mentioned casting director lost all cred with this one.
"I am going to teleport a psychic squid into right field"
2. This book was written in the 80s and did not have to be made relevant in 2009. Sorry, but all references to an oil-dependant energy crisis and having "big corporate America" as a confrontational bad guy was kinda lacking. Yes, I realize that in the real world there was an energy crisis in the 80s, but in the book, one of the main concepts was that Dr. Manhattan had already solved the U.S. dependance on oil. And he did it without Adrian Veidt's help.
3. While the actual movie score was beautiful and well-written, the songs selected for the soundtrack were poor choices at best. I really don't think they fit the decades with which they were placed - seemed more appropriate for Full Metal Jacket than a comic book movie set in the 80s. As per LBAM, all they needed was Buffalo Springfield.
And things I didn't care about as much as some people:
1. Watchmen is a dark, gritty book and movie - I wasn't disturbed by the over-the-top violence. Trained martial artists and experienced fighters can break joints and limbs given the right opportunity and there is blood when people get shot and/or stabbed. The movie was rated "R" so I went in expecting it. That said, I don't really remember Laurie and Dan killing gang members outright in the alley and the Silk Specter did not carry a gun in the book (until the end when it is clearly explained why). Rorschach and The Comedian were the graphic novel's notable exceptions because these characters weren't vigilantes who "brought 'em in" - they preferred a pine box.
2. Sans Calamari. I know I said I didn't like how the ending went off the rails towards the end, however the fact that there wasn't a genetically-altered squid as opposed to some other "MacGuffin" didn't bother me. Hell, even the ending that was written could have worked if it wasn't just so clumsily "bull-in-a-China-shop" and paid more attention to details (as per conversations with LBAM and Soulkerfuffle, one second after Moscow got hit with a "Dr. Manhattan blast," 51,000 Russian nukes would have been caterwauling towards DC).
3. A lot of people were upset that Archemides, Night Owl's technologically advanced ship, had chain guns instead of fire supression systems and noise emitters, however I didn't mind. That is a matter of personal taste which I realize is in complete contradiction to most of what I've already said. It just think chain guns are cool. Of course they don't really work with the character, but they're awesome anyway. I want a chain gun so I can mount it on my wife's car. That would rock.
All in all, I can't say I despise Watchmen. In the same sense, however, it is still a little disappointing - I was expecting more, even though many people (including Alan Moore) have gone on record as saying it was unfilmable. I think everyone, from cast to crew, did the best they could to create something mass-marketably accessable from something that was designed not to translate that way.
So back to the original comparison, Watchmen was a bad date with an attractive person - fun to look at but impossible to truly enjoy on any kind of sustainable level. That is, of course, unless you're good at turning off your ears so you can just enjoy the eye candy.
Overall Score: five over Dragon Wars (ten over being the best, equal to Dragon Wars being horrendous beyond belief).