WATCHMEN - 2009
Rating: USA: R
There was a certain poignant opening to WATCHMEN in IMAX when I saw it over the weekend. It was not part of the movie, has nothing to do with the movie, but before the movie began, there was this other thing the theater showed. It was poignant because the creator of WATCHMEN sued to have his name removed from the film of his own creation - because he (rightfully) no longer trusts anyone involved with movies based on his stories. Alan has been publicly and intentionally burned, humiliated, and lied about. If I was in his position, I'd feel the same. Anyone would, including the very people who happily screwed him over like they expected an "Attaboy!" for it.
The opening I speak of was also ironic. It was one of those theater commercials that want you to turn your cell phone off and not talk on it during the picture. It shows a bedraggled guy at his computer getting word that the studio is mad for his script, Jack The Ripper. The writer is rich!
Then he gets a call on his cell phone while he is being outfitted for a new suit. The studio turds feel that his script is too violent.
"Yes," he says as if speaking to an idiot holding his money over a flame. "It's about Jack the Ripper."
The turd suits want him to tone down the violence. The writer, now eating a decent meal, says okay.
Then the suits call him and say, "Hey, how about, instead of Jack the Ripper, we make it Jack the Rapper? He raps instead of kills people?"
And the well-dressed, well-fed, cleaned-up writer: pondering the purchase of a new sports car and having a new beautiful, but clearly stupid girlfriend (she stands there vacantly staring off into space, sucking her finger), considers it for a moment then says, "Okay."
And the irony here is that Alan Moore, creator of WATCHMEN was also creator of the comic series (now graphic novel) FROM HELL. A story about Jack the Ripper, the movie version was almost nothing like Moore's story. It didn't start, end, or even carry through like Alan's tale. Seems the only thing that wasn't changed is that, yes, it was about Jack The Ripper. Oh! And they remembered the grapes.
I got to wonder if screenwriters Terry Hayes (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR, MAD MAX 3: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, DEAD CALM) and Rafael Yglesias (DARK WATER ) had the same thing happen to them with FROM HELL? I don't know, but according to imdb.com, Hayes hasn't worked as a producer or writer since.
I DO know that one of the producers of FROM HELL, Jane Hamsher, carries the distinction of having not one but two movies she's produced that had writers wanting their names removed from them. Quentin Tarantino (wrote the original screenplay) wanted his name removed from NATURAL BORN KILLERS and Alan Moore wanted the same of FROM HELL. According to imdb.com, she too hasn't made another movie since.
The other producer of FROM HELL, Don Murphy, carries the distinction of having three movies like that. NATURAL BORN KILLERS, FROM HELL, and the execrable THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.
Any fans of the original WATCHMEN graphic novel, were aware of the irony. In the seats in front of me, I saw fanboys and girls looking at each other. Was this an inside joke?
Hardly a tangent I'm speaking of here: this has everything to do with the making of WATCHMEN, as director Zack Snyder went on record as saying that he wanted to make his movie as close as possible to Moore's novel. Zack worked with original Watchmen artist, Dave Gibbons to capture the look and feel of the graphic novel. Moore would have nothing to do with Snyder. Not because he felt one way or the other about the man, but because he swore off of Hollywood entirely. Warner Bros. also screwed Moore over V FOR VENDETTA, with producer Joel silver openly and knowingly lying about Moore, putting words into Moore's mouth, and didn't stop saying it even after it was clear that Silver was lying. Since Warner is also making WATCHMEN, it can't make Moore any happier. Possibly no movie company can make Moore happy, but especially not Warner Bros.
This was the burden that Zack Snyder worked under. A burden particularly acute because Snyder is a real comics fan. He actually cares what the creator's think about his work (George Romero pissed all over Zack's DAWN OF THE DEAD, for having "fast zombies". Then Romero made DIARY OF THE DEAD, which featured fast zombies). Zack cares about what his fellow fans think. Zack never called his movie 300. When we sat in the theater, emblazoned across the screen in bright red it read, Frank Miller's 300. If anyone wanted to honor Moore's vision, it may have been Snyder.
I read WATCHMEN in the 1980s. A few more times in the 1990s. Again in the early 2000s (it's just one of those novels you keep coming back to), but I don't think I've read it since the pages started falling out and I threw it away. I'm a reader not a collector and I told myself that I'd buy it again once it was out in the more durable hardcover (and now it is!). So I think it's been about five or more years since I've read WATCHMEN cover to cover.
So what did I, a fan of the original think of the movie? I found very little out of place. Let me tell you about what I did see.
An aging man is watching TV in his apartment. It's 1985 and Richard M. Nixon is still in office. Apparently he's still there because when he finally, mercifully pulled the U.S. out of Vietnam, it was a win. A win thanks to Dr, Manhattan, who we'll get to in a moment. The man, though old and scarred, is powerfully built and this comes into play when he is attacked in a home invasion. The old man can really throw a punch, and he can really take a hit: the kind of hit that would crush the skull of an ordinary man. The old guy is no ordinary man, but the invader is no ordinary human either. The invader wins though, defenestrating the old man who falls to his death.
Through the credits and the nasal whine of Bob Dylan, we see the birth of the costumed hero in the U.S. The first set from the 1930s through the 1950s got too old and a new set rose, only this new set contained actual superheros, the most powerful among them being Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup: WAKING THE DEAD). Dr. Manhattan was once the shy, brilliant scientist, Jon Osterman, but had a Bruce Banner moment during his research that changed him into a superbeing. When the credits end, however, everything we learn in the movie comes largely from the journal of Rorschach aka Walter Kovacks (Jackie Earle Haley: DAMNATION ALLEY, NEMESIS). In the movie, Rorschach seems to be the only one without superpowers. He relies entirely on his wits and the fact that he moves, thinks, and behaves in ways that his enemies can never anticipate. Especially unnerving for his enemies: career criminals who count on their victims being terrified, is that Rorschach can't be scared. He's too angry, too driven, too sad, to ever feel frightened of those who make him so enraged.
People have two types of anger. The majority of people feel hot anger. Their anger makes them behave stupidly, irrationally. Then there is that much smaller group of people, those who have cold anger. Anger makes them behave coolly, rationally, decisively. Rorschach is like that, and trying to make him scared makes him very angry.
Rorschach has loyalty to the Watchmen even if he doesn't have any friends among them. Which makes him superfluous seeing as how the Watchmen were disbanded by law some years ago. The only ones still doing their super deeds are Dr. Manhattan and the wealthy Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). If Superman lived like Batman, Supe's secret identity would be Adrian Veidt and Bruce Wayne would be Ozymandias.
Who would Dr. Manhattan be? Doc is off the chart for any superhero.*
(*don't give me any crap about Galacticus! He's an eater of worlds for crying out loud! Hardly a superhero!)
While I'm on this topic, let me run down the list of Watchmen.
The old guy who got thrown out of his apartment was
The Comedian / Edward Blake (Jeffery Dean Morgan: THE BURNING ZONE [TV], DEAD & BREAKFAST, CHASING GHOSTS), who is like pretty much every stand-up comic I've personally known, except that he's a bit more super than most.
Silk Specter II / Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman: THE CIRCLE, THE INVASION), a second generation hero who, if she ain't super, is certainly tough and can beat the crap out of well-armed enemies far stronger than she. Laurie is so tough that she can leave Dr. Manhattan to find some attention and affection from her friend...
Nite Owl II / Dan Drieberg (Patrick Wilson: HARD CANDY, LAKEVIEW TERRACE), the only other second generation costumed hero who is also pretty tough and kind of Batman in his hero gadgets, but very Clark Kent or early Peter Parker when he is being himself.
When Laurie is busy being ignored by Dr. Manhattan, Drieberg hangs out and reminisces with the original Nite Owl (NOT his father), Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie: 300).
What we basically have here are two sets of costumed heroes. One set retired when they got too old, the other set was forced into retirement when the world rejected them. Needless to say, being rejected and despised for saving people's lives doesn't endear them to you or you them.
What director Zack Snyder (DAWN OF THE DEAD , 300) and writers David Hayter (X-MEN, THE SCORPION KING, X2) and Alex Tse had to tell was a deep, intricate tale that had as much to do with the plot and the world overall as it had to do with the primary characters themselves. The younger heroes all realize that they no longer care about the lives of the people who don't want them. The people turned their backs on the Watchmen, so the Watchmen turned their backs on them. And as the problems of the world escalate, as the super-power nations square off, the former heroes don't care; allowing the world to burn itself without mercy or savior. Only self-preservation and loyalty brings them out of retirement. Nobody really liked The Comedian, but the murder was clearly a message. So they investigate. They learn. And when that happens, they realize that maybe the rest of the world had a pretty fair reason for distrusting them.
WATCHMEN was a thick graphic novel and it had a lot of story to tell. And the main thrust of that story, the one responsible for bringing the heroes out of retirement and getting to know them, was that someone was killing them off (shades of THE INCREDIBLES you say? Yeah, no shit! Brad Bird is a comics geek, natch!). Director Zack Snyder knew he had to take his time with WATCHMEN if he wanted to do it right. A bunch of turds in suits had already taken Alan Moore's work, thought they could make it better, and lost their investors a fortune. Snyder hopes that maybe someday Moore will watch his movie before he makes a judgment on it. Moore publicly crushed that hope in no uncertain terms. Hey Alan, you preciously derided Bush for the pre-emptive war on Iraq (See? You DO share common ground with the folks who produce your movies! Now kiss and make up), so how about you give Snyder - who hasn't done you any wrong - a break? Just to avoid the scent of hypocrisy?
In my eyes, both as a long time Moore fan and a longtime Watchmen fan, Zack Snyder has made the best Alan Moore movie ever. That may appear like a backhanded compliment, considering what has come before, but I didn't say "Up to now". I said "Ever" meaning that WATCHMEN is fun and sexy, thoughtful and thought provoking. It's so good that I don't think anyone will ever make a better movie from an Alan Moore story. EVER!
The multitudes of characters are all well drawn and meaningful even though some of them have been cut down (I'm not including the ones that have been cut out, of course). These characters are so well fleshed out that even the humor is character based: coming from what the audience knows about the characters, and not some cutesy one-liner thrown in for levity.
With WATCHMEN, Zack Snyder amazes me. He re-made DAWN OF THE DEAD, which no one thought was necessary, and its the only DEAD remake the fans have embraced. He made Frank Miller's 300, which no one thought was possible, and it was a huge hit. Now he has made another seemingly impossible movie and I love it!
Seriously! I gotta unleash the fanboy here! WATCHMEN the movie is the movie I've seen in my mind all of these years - only better! And Thank You Dave Gibbons for helping Zack & crew make that happen! The fanboy in me also appreciates seeing Matt Frewer (DAWN OF THE DEAD ) as I'm an old MAX HEADROOM fan (Hey, Zack! How about re-making THAT for the silver screen?). WATCHMEN really rocked me and was worth every IMAX penny I spent, and that includes the eleven dollar price tag for a combo of some mediocre popcorn and a too fizzy coke!
Ahem. Speaking of which, WATCHMEN is over 2.5 hours long and I wouldn't recommend buying a large drink before you watch it, but I definitely recommend watching the WATCHMEN!
Four Shriek Girls.
copyright 2009 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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Alan Moore interview at WIRED.com