As we are well into the start of the second half of 2015, it’s kind of frightening to realize that fact. Still, no better time than now to examine the other reader selection now associated with this duo post series of ours. Determined way back at the start of the year, which is appropriate as we’ve reached the plateau of the summer movie season. A period now very much invested with the comic book superhero. The fun Ant Man being only the most recent in an ever-growing line of them, and contrasted today by Bubbawheat‘s book/movie pick.
That being Alan Moore’s Watchmen.
The paneled periodical ran in the latter half of the ’80s, and compiled into a seminal DC Comics graphic novel the same year the stock market crashed in 1987. Befitting, I think, as it dealt with anxieties of the Cold War, chiefly turning nuclear hot during the Reagan Administration, byway of deconstructing the “superhero” concept within the idealized genre. Heady stuff that expanded what readers thought the comic book could accomplish.
As is our custom, the Scientist Gone Wordy Rachel will look at that graphic novel, our first for this parallel post series, that retains a throng of fans along with being ‘gravity well’ criticism of the comic-book-slash-superhero industry that now rules our summers. I’ll review the Director’s Cut of the 2009 film adaptation, which some said would never happen, let alone be capable of doing the supreme work of Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins any justice.
The wordy one’s book review can be found here:
A brief synopsis of the film: Set in an alternative America where costumed superheroes exist, and even help win the Vietnam War (let alone get Richard Nixon re-elected, a few times), the Cold War’s tensions still threaten the world. One night in 1985, a former member of the “Watchmen” known as “The Comedian” sits alone in his apartment watching a news program discussing the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviets.
When a powerful assailant breaks into the room and proceeds to pummel him before tossing the retired hero to his death, the masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. On the run from the law, he’s determined to investigate his former crime-fighting legion. The dark conspiracy he finds links to their shared past and a catastrophic consequence for the future.
Their mission was to watch over humanity…but who is watching the Watchmen?
[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film could be revealed in this review]
“Justice is coming to all of us, no matter what the f*ck we do. You know, mankind’s been trying to kill each other off since the beginning of time. Now, we finally have the power to finish the job. Ain’t nothing gonna matter once those nukes start flying; we’ll all be dust. And Ozymandias here will be the smartest man on the cinder.”
* “The 67.7% overall decrease is one of the highest for a major comic book film.” ~ Wikipedia.
Distinctly I remember gathering myself up to take in director Zack Snyder’s Watchmen the weekend it was released in ’09; even if receiving, to put it mildly, “mixed” reviews from film critics and movie bloggers. While opening day did boffo business, the film saw a significant drop in attendance by its second weekend*. No doubt it’s almost three-hour length, more adult themes, were issues younger audiences weren’t into, in the post Iron Man year.
Primed as it were for the light-hearted and spectacular Marvel makes a mint at these days, which definitely wasn’t found here.
“Edward Blake, The Comedian, born 1918, buried in the rain. Murdered. Is that what happens to us? No time for friends? Only our enemies leave roses. Violent lives ending violently. Blake understood. Humans are savage in nature. No matter how much you try to dress it up, to disguise it. Blake saw society’s true face. Chose to be a parody of it, a joke.”
Admittedly, when I first saw the theatrical cut of Watchmen six years ago, I too was left with mixed feelings. Perhaps, similar to the author’s original work, which my colleague J.D. in his brilliant 2011 review of Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut covered, “The series was a critical and commercial success despite Moore and Gibbons’ intentions for it to act as an epitaph to the superhero genre and ended up revitalizing superhero comics and spawned numerous rip-offs. It wouldn’t take long for Hollywood to come calling.”
There’s no getting around the fact this was another visually stunning piece by Zack Snyder, he of 300 fame. Bringing the comic book panels to life on the big screen as he’d done with the source Frank Miller graphic novel previously, if only slightly less stylized than Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of his SIN CITY. Certainly, Snyder followed up with a similarly “noirish” quality to this costumed violence, albeit less classically heroic, and packaged as a mystery right along with his effort. For sure, Zack knows how to catch your eye, alright.
Still, I’d also have to agree with another friend’s judgment, Ruth of Flixchatter, with her decade assessment for the film in 2010: “I’m a sucker for superhero movies and am a fan of Zack Snyder’s style ever since 300, but Watchmen is not your typical superhero ‘good guys’ with savior-complex. Sure they wear costumes, but these ‘heroes’ are as flawed as they are vulnerable (well except for Dr. Manhattan with his god-like powers), and definitely not the kind of characters kids should aspire to.”
Again, Watchmen — no matter which version you screen1 — was all in keeping with the cynical attitudes, sexual motivations, and flawed, morally questionable heroes that remain the hallmarks of film noir. In this case, more like that of Mike Hammer from Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly than Richard Donner’s Superman…albeit within the context of a demythologizing superhero graphic novel and the fear and anxiety prevalent during the last throes of U.S.-Russia political hostility in the ’80s.
Sure, there were a number of changes made in this screen translation that likely tested fans, and the already testy Alan Moore that much more. Likely driving him to even greater unforgiving expansiveness toward the mendacity of Hollywood filmmakers daring to put their smarmy hands on his stuff. Key being the extended fight scenes receiving the now telltale Zack Snyder slow-motion, hero-stylized treatment, and just about as brutal as those meted out in 300. Even the look of our “heroes” received a millennial makeover.
Mixed results were also found in elements crucial in judging the adaptation’s success, not to mention Ozymandias’ outfit rivaled Batman & Robin‘s. Malin Ackerman not exactly great as Silk Spectre II, which Carla Gugino (who played her mother) would’ve been perfect for, Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), and Matthew Goode (Ozymandias) were amp’d beyond their mortal counterparts on the page, diluting Moore’s deft juxtaposition to Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup).
Even so, each had their moments on-screen4.
Yet, for all Snyder “calling cards” heaped upon what likely was the best the genre ever published, there were more pluses than minuses in my book, at least speaking for the superior Director’s Cut5. A stellar opening title sequence that stylishly but effectively built out the alternative timeline care of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'”; unlikeable characters you’ll somehow identify with…maybe grudgingly care about, and perchance recognizing a story of human nature’s frailties and weak points, even among the “supers.”
“You see, Doctor, God didn’t kill that little girl. Fate didn’t butcher her and destiny didn’t feed her to those dogs. If God saw what any of us did that night he didn’t seem to mind. From then on I knew… God doesn’t make the world this way. We do.”
As Jabeen Akhtar recently wrote, “Comics have been, and continue to be, an unequivocal tool used by outcasts to narrate, often through metaphor, their distinctive experiences.” Both Alan Moore’s innovative story and movie-makers attempt at rendering it for the big screen paid off, albeit unevenly, in vastly different realms. Perhaps, Zack Snyder was a tad too heavyhanded with his treatment of Watchmen6, but you can’t say he didn’t give it a valiantly darker effort, throwing a light on something refreshing, for once.
Just don’t get me started with what he did with Man of Steel, though.
Parallel Post Series
- The Shining
- The Accidental Tourist
- Apollo 13
- Brokeback Mountain
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- – 2014 posts
- – 2013 posts
- – 2012 posts
- – 2011 posts
- – 2010 posts
- Theatrical Cut 162 minutes, Director’s Cut 186 minutes, and Ultimate Cut 215 minutes (which incorporated Moore’s comic-within-the-comic subplot, Tales of the Black Freighter, with the Director’s Cut). ↩
- Coming after the new millennium’s arrival, my initial read of Watchmen was a revelation; Alan Moore’s stunning work, even decades later, was still relevant, and this second reading hasn’t change that. ↩
- The classic season 1, episode 3 of The Outer Limits, “Architects of Fear”, which Snyder paid homage to with the program’s opener featuring Vic Perrin’s unforgettable voiceover on a TV set during the finale. ↩
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley the acting standouts, their characters the most cynical and observant of the lot to what’s going on, even if they’re total pricks about it. Not everyone agrees, but I thought Matthew Goode’s interpretation of Ozy came off better in the extended cut. ↩
- Generally, the Director’s Cut offered more story exposition along with new and extended scenes. ↩
- The “climatic” superhero sex scene in the ‘Archie’ craft with Silk and Owl to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” song the prime example. ↩