Thursday, March 5, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

It has been forever and I apologize, but a new post has finally arrived, along with some general changes to the Sarcasmancy banner. I will strive to post more consistently in this coming quarter, even in the face of academic trials and personal crises. You also may notice a few more pictures in future posts, like this one here:

On March 5th, at the Steven Jay Ross theater I had the privilege of attending a preview for a little flick called Watchman. You probably don't believe me, and I can't blame you seeing how the movie's been out for weeks and I'm just talking about it now. The intermingling days have been a deluge of deadlines, examinations and group projects on WoW which required extensive study.

The production values at work in this film are flat-out amazing. Every major character, and most of the minor ones as well (like newstand guy and comic book kid), are attired according to the comic book's odd orange, purple, green color scheme down to their last button. Some people have groused over the changes to Night Owl II and Silk Spectre II costumes, but they both look sexier and more practical on screen than they did in the ink.

The casting is mostly strong. Edward Blake is amazing as The Comedian, and Carla Gugino displayed an impressive range as Sally Jupiter. Malin Ackerman was stretched more than a little too thin playing Laurie Jupiter, though the character sort of begs for over-acting, and she looks great naked, (though the sex scene is still ridiculously awkward). I personally loved Billy Crudup's take on Doc Manhattan. His soft spoken nature made him far more impressive than the deep, cold monotone the comic led everyone to expect. I can see how some people might feel that it made him too sympathetic, or even too vulnerable for the role, but honestly things could have been much worse:

I find it kinda funny, that lots of critics are criticizing Synder's adaptation for being too faithful to the graphic novel even though many of them backed up Alan Moore's claims of it being 'unfilmable'. Their complaints do not prescribe stylistic adjustments either, but outright objections about the source material. Some complain that politics are adolescent and tediously exaggerated. Others feel the plot is pretentious and needlessly convoluted. Guess what folks? Allan Moore has done this before. Snyder could have afforded to be a little bolder here and there, but the idea of a domesticated, mass-marketable Watchmen is a frightening prospect to a lot of people, and for good reason.

I think William Hoy and Zack Snyder recieved too little credit where editting is concerned. They mannaged to trim most of the fluff from the story and tremendously simplified its ending, which involved a green, tencacled, vagina-eyed monstrousity; a device I always suspected Moore implemented just to poke fun at the way comics escalate. In each volume, plots tend to become more convoluted, bizaire in correspondence with their broadening scale. At first you're saving banks from thugs, then nations from nazis, then planets from aliens, then universes from trans-dimensional disasters that encroach upon the metafictional.

Anyway, instead of whining about how each scene copies those in the comic, or tittering at how much screen time Doctor Manhattan's big blue dong has, it would be nice to see more critics addressing the absurd amount of superfluous violence Snyder injects into the presentation.

Much as I hate to admit it, The Batman may be to blame for this one. Dark Knight was violent. Where PG-13 ratings are concerned it pushed some serious boundaries, and I walked out of the theater predicting a parental backlash. I was relieved to be wrong, because everything between Ledger's pencil trick and Glasgow Smile served a purpose; developing Nollan's darker and more realistic take on Bats. It was also done with intelligence and decency, honoring one of the oldest traditions in the comic industry: It left the blood in the gutter. This practice exiles gruesome acts to the spaces between the pictures, allowing audiences to come up with their own explanations and interpretations of the macabre. I learned all this from Scott McCloud, and you can too if you pick up his excellent book, Understanding Comics, which is one of the few works of contemporary comic-theory available, and the best I have read to date.

Funny thing is, while Watchman is also all about making superhero vigilantism realistic, the spectacular and explicit presentation of it's violence (rife with slick slow-mo and over the top sound effects) serves to establish the exact opposite effect. The ridiculously violent fights feel more like those found in Marvel's flicks and that surreality distances audiences from the heavy themes at work in the script, despite it's relentlessly dark posturing.

Once again, it's a matter of fracture. The tendency in film, by design, is to present audiences with an experience that is as fluid and streamlined as possible, while comics bombard audiences with fractures; from issue, to page, to pannel, to text box or speach bubble, few media are as inherently fragmented as comics. This gives artists a number of channels to choose from when engaging their audience. Watchman was celebrated as a graphic novel, and is favorably compared to it's cinema counterpart for it's ability to pair grim suggestion with stark images of violence. And just as rain water renders war memorials unintelligible by filling in their inscriptions, Snyder wipes away the visual subtlety of Watchman's story by smearing Gibbon's carefully drawn lines with extra blood. Great, now I sound like a page out of Rorschach's journal. And possibly an alarmist to boot.

Understand, that I am a hotblooded young man who likes his steaks bloody, his entertainment violent and his freedom of speech loud. The mantel of Schoolmarm is not one I am eager to adopt. It's rather at odds with the rebellious artist persona I'm trying to cultivate here. Though in all honestly, the movie is too fucking violent. It's like Snyder found the laziest possible way to make the movie as 'challenging' to watch as the comic was to read, except one's stomach is tried as opposed to his intellect. Just a few cuts here (Buzzsaw. Prison Cell.) and there (Rorschach. Pedophile. Cleaver.) would have made it much easier to watch and nobody would have gone wanting for blood at the end of the day.

In closing, I would like to mention I have joined the ranks of the Biased Video Gamer Blog, an up-and-coming site featuring all sorts of gaming goodness, including links to amusing game videos and reviews including a piece on FEAR 2 written by yours-truly. There will be more where that came from as well! I will also continue to cover games here at Sarcasmancy on a fairly regular basis. The next post will be sooner coming than this one was, I promise you.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

An interesting take on it. I've yet to meet anyone else who both appreciated Watchmen for the subtle themes behind it AND thought the movie was too violent.

Your writing continues to impress and entertain me.