Sunday, 8 March 2009
Who Reviews The Watchmen?
I've had a couple of days to process, I've listened to some Dylan, I think I'm finally ready to articulate my feelings about Watchmen.
So without further adieu *SPOILER ALERT*
As a film it requires you as an audience member to think. I have seen very few films that either require or entice this level of engagement. Adrian Veidt and his television screens I think are central to readings of both the film and the text. He talks about watching the unconnected images on the screens and finding a truth behind them. Both the book and the film function in this manner. Chronologically they are all over the place. The audience rather than the author sort events into a story they can comprehend. The audience plays an even greater role as a sort of moral judge. The origins of Watchmen comes from the black and white world of early super-hero comics, a universe flipped on its head by Moore to create a world with nothing but grey areas. It is interesting to note that Moore initially wanted to write the novel using the pre-existing stable of Charlton characters which include current DC mainstays The Question (Rorschach), Blue Beetle (Nite-Owl) and Captain Atom (Dr Manhattan). This suggests that maybe the characters themselves weren't as important as the conflicting philosophies that the story would play out. Unlike pretty much every other super-hero film to date there is no central character or viewpoint. Any sort of morality is once again imposed by the viewer.
This idea of constructing single meaning from a diverse number of sources is even more prevalent for those who have read the graphic novel. I found myself not only considering the film's narrative but comparing it with the narrative of its source material. In this case reading the source material gives a further layer of meaning forcing the viewer to consider what Snyder is implying by choosing to leave certain signs and signifiers on the cutting room floor. Yes, there has to be changes to serve the medium and keep the film at a watchable length but there's other more interesting choices made along the way. Thankfully the film isn't as loyal to its source as Snyder's 300. It is an all the more interesting piece for taking departures from the original narrative.
Of course I have some gripes. I think every comic afficianado (read Geek) will. The loss of so much of the 'original Minutemen' source material diminishes the detective conspiracy aspect of the plot somewhat. However, I also feel this opens up the story by not having Rorschach as such a dominating presence. There is also the reworked ending which I have to say I feel was pretty well done and was probably a necessity (Though I will miss The Island of Dr Moreau-esque goings on). At the same time though it has to be said that it swings dangerously close to the ending of The Dark Knight in its debate on the role of hero and villain though in many ways it answers the question posed by Nolan and his cohorts. I was sad to see The Black Freighter and the news stand interaction go but at the same time this is probably the part that is most tied into the comic form. I look forward to seeing what Snyder does with it on the promised DVD.
What I haven't mentioned is some of the successful changes made in the move to film. The way the costumes parody those that have come before is quite ingenious. You might not notice it on first watch but Ozymandias' nipple suit is very similar to Clooney's Batman nipple suit in the much maligned Batman & Robin. The movie Silk Spectre costume is even more sexually exploitative than that of the comic and again recalls visions of the (terrible) movie versions of Catwoman and Elektra. There is also the opening sequence where Snyder presents images made up of large chunks of the graphic novels back story to the soundtrack of 'The Times They Are-A Changin'. The sheer amount of information communicated through music and image sans dialogue is astonishing.
Some of the promotion of Watchmen is misleading suggesting it is just another generic super-hero film. Heed this warning, if that's what you expect and, worse, what you desire than you will be disappointed. Snyder's work in expanding the action sequences is admirable but still these are the least exciting parts of the narrative. It is the character's interactions that matter and by keeping these integral to the film is how Snyder's adaptation ultimately succeeds. It doesn't matter how beautifully you film the thing it has to have the same heart and this certainly does. It's big, it's epic and it's different to anything you will have seen before. Go and watch it.
That's that. I won't mention the blue swinging penis but it's totally there if that's your thing... Tannahill. Also maybe it isn't the best idea to go and see this thing if you're a bit tipsy heading toward drunk town. It was all a little too much for Ben and Adam.