A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 54 – Watchmen (Director’s Cut)

Watchmen (Director’s Cut) – April 23rd, 2010

I will say it right up front: The thing that affects me the very most about this movie isn’t even the movie proper. It’s the opening credits montage, showing the alternate timeline the movie is set in and how the world has come to the point it’s at by the time the movie starts. I have a thing about times that have passed by. Viewing the golden years of something from just beyond it, when everything’s in decline. It’s a melancholy thing. I cried in the theater when I saw the credits for the first time and I cried watching them tonight. It was beautifully shot and beautifully edited and Bob Dylan was the perfect choice of music for it.

Beyond the credits though, there’s the rest of the movie, and that’s a little harder for me to pin down. Some of it rings true for me and some of it doesn’t. That being said, when I first saw this movie, I was dubious about the whole damn thing. The book it’s based on is so dense, it seemed like an impossible task to put it on film without destroying it. It’s a story, a history, that was a perfect fit for its original format. The backstory for the characters, the history of the world, the primary documents (news clippings, psychiatric reports, novel chapters, not to mention the Black Freighter comics), it’s all so much. The book presents everything in a sort of collage that gives the reader the big picture. But as Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message. A movie is a far different medium than a graphic novel, and so it’s going to affect its content. I honestly can’t decide what I think about the effect the medium has had on the message here. It’s not bad, but it’s not the same.

All that being said, I think the movie does an excellent job with some things. It does tell the story well. A story of imminent nuclear war and heroes made powerless to stop it. A story of lives in turmoil. I’m afraid my plot summary will be sorely lacking, because there’s so much to it all. The setting is an alternate timeline where a man caught in a radiation accident was granted super powers and ended up turning the tide of the Vietnam war. So many things are different and yet close to our own timeline. The events of the movie involve a plot to bring the world together and dispose of the masked heroes who might stand in the way of the specifics of that plot. But more than that, there’s the story of Rorschach, who sees the plot for what it is, but can’t convince the others to act. There’s Dan and Laurie, both former masked heroes, and Laurie’s mother and the Comedian, members of the previous generation and they’re all connected in some way or other. And Adrian Veidt, a superhero who went public and now runs his own empires of media and energy and everything else. And there’s the story of the man caught in the nuclear accident, Dr. Manhattan, and his disconnection from humankind. Dr. Manhattan’s story is the one that hits me hardest. Him and Rorschach.

Dr. Manhattan’s story is why we picked this tonight. His backstory, narrated in first person present tense, is set to Prophecies and Pruitt-Igoe from Koyaanisqatsi. And it is perfect. The sense of impending disaster and the industry and destruction and the power mankind has at its fingertips but doesn’t truly control? It’s painfully spot-on for Dr. Manhattan and his whole arc. Next to the opening credits, it’s my favorite part of the movie. It’s beautifully done. The other two parts I love are Rorschach, Dan and Laurie in the prison, which is spot on from the graphic novel, and the very end with Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan, which has an enormous impact in just the way I want it to.

But then there are parts that leave me feeling meh. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they’re not great. They don’t hold the spirit of the source material in quite the same way. The translation from medium to medium didn’t work so well. Part of it, I think, is that what feels like a cohesive collage in the graphic novel doesn’t feel quite as cohesive. I don’t feel like the pieces patch together to form a big picture. There are many smaller stories, and they do fit together, but it’s more like a braid where each strand remains distinct while being part of a whole. It’s hard to describe. It’s not an easy movie to watch at times, but I do enjoy a lot about it. The casting, for example, is amazing. The soundtrack, even Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, is fantastic. And like I said, there are scenes and sections that I find to be excellently done, with true emotional impact. It just doesn’t come together as well as it should. As well as the graphic novel does. It’s a pity, but I can’t say it’s unexpected. To be honest, I’m really rather thrilled that any of the graphic novel translated to film well at all.

April 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Watchmen (Director’s Cut)

April 23, 2010

Watchmen (Director’s Cut)

How do you review a movie that was widely agreed to be unfilmable? Terry Gilliam – one of my personal idols and favorite film-makers – famously decided that he couldn’t make this book into a movie. As a huge fan of the original book I’m obviously going to spend a lot of time talking about the transition from book to screen. I very much wish that I could have watched this movie with somebody who has not read the book yet. I want to know if it has the same emotional impact as a film as it did as a book to me. The book, when I read it back in the eighties, blew me away. And continued to blow me away for years to come as I re-read it and discovered all the little details and parallels and foreshadowings that Alan Moore layered into it. Really, the book is one of the greatest pieces of dramatic storytelling I can recall ever reading, with it’s ultra tight writing, astonishing world building, and apocalyptic tone. But since I’m so familiar with the world and the characters and the story I’m not blown away by the movie. Watching the movie is not like discovering an awesome and frightening alternate reality for me, it’s more like coming home to a place I’ve known for years. I wish I knew if the movie was capable of that earthshaking emotional punch to the gut.

I can’t say. I can only say that it doesn’t have that effect for me. For me the movie is a very different experience. Zack (Visionary Director of the 300) Snyder has done an admirable job capturing all these images and moments from the book. It feels like a betrayal to his monumental accomplishment that I spend so much time noticing the minutia that are different in this version. The rounded electric cars and lightplugs don’t show up until the very end of the film, instead of being present from the very first shot. The Comedian’s gruesome scar simply isn’t in the film at all. At the end of the scene in Vietnam where Jon recollects the Comedian gunning down the pregnant woman in the book Jon is lost in thought standing half through a fallen table, an early sign that he’s losing the ability to even pretend to be human any more, but in the movie that detail is missing.

Ironically I find that my favorite moments in the movie are the bits that depart most from the book. The radically altered (but thematically similar) ending is great. It makes the whole alternate universe easier to accept. The opening credit sequence, although I don’t agree with the way it lays out the entire alternate world for the audience rather than letting them discover the differences gradually as you do in the book, is a fantastic bit of film-making and really draws you into the world. The final reveal of Roschach’s origin is more visceral and less cerebral than in the book, but I like it better. (I’ve always felt that the book ripped off the climax of Mad Max anyhow.) The line “Men get arrested, dogs get put down” is NOT in the book, but it is so perfectly Rorschach, and it works so perfectly well for the moment. Better than the book in my opinion.

Ahh. We’re just now watching the moment when Jon arrives in Mars. With the Philip Glass Soundtrack from Koyaanisquatsi (which was the reason we put this movie in tonight.) This segment, and the bits with Rorschach in prison, are the parts of the movie that most evoke for me the feelings I got reading the book. Yes there are a lot of major cuts to make the bits work on film. Gone is the fat man who steps on Janey’s watch – which was the reason Jon went back into the intrinsic field experiment. Gone is the gradual over-the-decades decrease in Jon’s clothing (fully dressed in a suit, then with his full purple costume, then with his thong, then eventual complete nudity) which parallels his lost humanity. But the feeling is the same. The sequence feels truly alien and inhuman. I like that.

The general feel of the meld of computer animation and motion capture that transforms Billy Crudup into Doctor Manhattan is fantastic. His performance is so disconnected and aloof, but also so vulnerable and lost. It’s perfect. And Jackie Earle Haley is unbelievable as Rorschach. He does Rorschach’s raspy voice precisely as I heard it in my head. Him screaming “give me back my face!” is one of those instants where the movie and book are absolutely perfectly in sync. I love it.

However, there is also a lot in the movie that does not work. There’s a lot more violence than is necessary, for example. The battle that Laurie and Dan have in the alleyway is full of extreme moments that just don’t work for me. They throw the knot-tops around like rag dolls, as though they have super strength. The whole point of the book is that aside from Jon all the heroes are just normal people who, for whatever reason, decide to go out and fight crime. They don’t have any special powers, just whatever training they’ve picked up. The same thing sullies the end of the movie. There’s a rock-em-sock-em knockdown fight at the conclusion that detracts from the true power of the moment. Indeed I generally didn’t like Matthew Goode’s performance as Ozymandias. He doesn’t seem tortured enough. He comes across as effete and ineffectual, not as “the smartest man on earth.” Which probably explains a lot of why I didn’t get much of the feel at the end of the movie that I wanted from it.

I think Zack Snyder is more in tune with the vision of Frank Miller than with Alan Moore. Alan Moore wrote a book full of gritty realism (even if it took place in a slightly different reality than our own.) There’s a moment in the prison break when we get a still image of a man with both his arms cut off – it’s not in the book (there he just gets his throat slit.) It looks like a moment from 300 or Sin City – not like anything I’d expect from Moore.

I also miss all the lesser characters from the book. In this director’s cut you do see the street corner with the news vendor and the kid reading the comic book, but you don’t get the feel for all the people who’s lives are intertwined there. Again, it hurts the emotional impact of the end of the movie that you don’t get to know the policemen and the taxi driver and the psychiatrist and his wife and all of them. I guess that’s part of why the book was unfilmable. There’s just too much – it’s too dense. The book is an amazing masterpiece that uses its medium to the greatest possible extent. In order to move it to the cinema it has to be distilled, reduced. Maybe in the process it’s inevitable that it lose its soul.

Still, for a movie that should have been unfilmable, I think Zack did an admirable job. I may not get the gut feeling that I had back in the day, but it’s great to see all these characters realized in film. I often wondered how it would look so see Rorschach’s face in a big budget film, morphing and squidging. It’s not perfect (it should have no gray, just black and white never mixing, isolated from each other and uncompromising – which was what attracted Rorschach to the material in the first place) but it’s still pretty damned cool.

ETA: I want to say something as well about the scene with Hollis Mason’s death in the Director’s Cut. This one little scene, which wasn’t even in the theatrical release, hit me more emotionally than the whole rest of the film. It’s another departure from the book in that it presents all these flashbacks of Hollis and his career as the Night Owl, but it’s one of those great departures that is almost better than the book in some ways. Melancholy and beautiful in a sad end-of-an-era way. If only the whole film could have hit me that way.

April 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Rules update!

Let’s talk about rules.

The ones we have seem to be working out rather well. We’ve been watching a movie a day, together whenever possible, but still watching the same movie when apart (I think we coped quite well while I was in another state). We haven’t skipped parts or fast forwarded. We’ve watched things in sequence, though not necessarily back to back. We’ve had a guest review! And so on and so forth.

And then there’s Rule 12. Rule 12 states: “New movies can be bought and included in the project at any time.” Now, we’ve done just this. We’ve added things when we went through and realized things were missing (Fargo? Really? Where did it go?!) and we’ve added things we’ve found or meant to buy eventually anyhow or which were released on DVD after the project began. But we realized something dangerous about Rule 12. It could be used to gift us with movies we don’t want to watch.

Now, while I realize that we never actually stated that we have to watch everything in our collection, that’s the spirit of the whole endeavor. And Rule 12, in conjunction with said spirit, makes it possible for us to have something thrust upon us without our consent. Now, taste is a subjective thing. We definitely don’t agree on everything, and while we went out and intentionally made Megalodon a part of our collection, there are still things neither of us is at all interested in seeing.

So, new rule:
14. DVDs not purposefully obtained by either Andy or Amanda are not part of the project by default. Inclusion of gifts will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

We’ve got one item in our collection that’s already been excluded, and one possible gift that, if we get it, I know we will include. But if we didn’t ask for it or get it ourselves? We get to make the call on whether we watch it or not. I think that’s only fair.

April 23, 2010 Posted by | we want information | , | Leave a comment