RIORI Redux: Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” Revisited



The Players…

Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Ackerman, Billy Crudup, Jeffery Dean Morgan and Matthew Goode.


The Story…

Adapted from comic laureate Alan Moore’s landmark miniseries, the events that transpire after a superhero is murdered in an alternate universe circa 1985 lead a band of once famed costumed avengers—now outlaws—to solve the mystery. However this is no mere murder, regardless of the victim. There are far more sinister forces at work shadowing this mystery, and very little of it has to do with some dead guy wearing a costume. And a smiley face button.


The Rant (2013)

When I was a pup, I picked up the first ish of Watchmen. Didn’t get it. I guess I was not the target audience. Sold the thing for five bucks. This was 1986 dollars. I was too young to know the oys and joys of beer, drugs and sex. I guess I was a wastrel when it came to comics as well. Who’s the latest X-Man? What’s Spidey up to? What’s sex? They do what? To each other? Eewww.

Ha. Since then, I’ve grown up. Sort of. Through waste and disgrace I now have all 12 issues of Watchmen hermetically sealed in a binder somewhere. First issues. Ugh, the geekiness of it all. Am I boasting? F*ck yeah I am.

So when the whirling dervish that is Zack Snyder got the green light to tackle a full-flung take on the mini-series (which had been languishing in production hell for lifetimes) and plaster it to the silver screen, a million comic geeks over were harping about either two things: this had better work or this ain’t gonna work.

And here I am to declare the results in a sober, reserved geeky mindset. Keep in mind, I’ve been a movie nut well before there were ever comic book movies…

Where to start?

Okay, the plot. It’s painfully simple, right? Painfully simple, which is all but this comic series and ensuing film is. Funny thing is it’s almost impossible to give too much away about the movie for how dense it is for its 2 hour 45 minute running time. I’m actually amazed the studio heads and/or editors allowed this length. Then again, I doubt a movie could do the comic book justice in only 90 minutes. The book and the film are that inscrutable.

My take on certain points of the film is cursory at best, because there is a sickening amount of details crammed into the near three-hour running time. I’ll try to make this work. Remember, I’m not a professional movie critic. Just a loudmouth with a blog.

At its core, Watchmen is a murder mystery. All the allegory and satire is just applesauce. Very good applesauce, mind you. But try telling a neophyte the plot of Watchmen without tying up your tongue and his mind. Right.

There is a lot more going on here than my perfunctory synopsis the story. I can’t explain it all, and that is what is the most damning about this film adaptation. There is too much going on. Props for Snyder trying his hand at it. He did what no other director managed to do thus far. He managed to do what Terry Gilliam, David Hayter, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass could not. He got it on film. Not only that, but he captured the spirit of the comic quite well, if not the complexity.

There is a holy host of touches that make this movie work. The fact things work at all is practically a miracle. It feels like Snyder got into most of the heads of the readers of the series and tried to make celluloid flesh out of what the mind’s ear heard and of what the imagination piqued.

First of all, the voices are important. It’s hard to believe that the dulcet voice of Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan) that assured us for everything else, there’s MasterCard would be such an eerie complement to the omnipotent Doctor. There’s a wistful innocence and dare I say pity in Crudup’s performance that marshals up emotions that we as the audience should have for him: pity and awe. On the flipside, Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach snarl was dead on for my mind’s ear. The voice of a demented, so-called hero. The monologue in the prison interview was especially effective. The dialogue was tight and didn’t seem forced or purple, which could be construed that way if delivered by a different actor.

Along with the voices was the music, especially the now-infamous Leonard Cohen romance scene. Some of these songs also appeared in the miniseries proper, also cued up and overlapped as scenes in the book as well as the screen translation. It’s nice to know the writers did their homework. Then again, all that homework might’ve hurt the film some. It’s always difficult to translate a book into a movie. Something’s always going to be either padded or jettisoned (for Watchmen it was the whole “Black Freighter” subplot, which was later and adapted for a straight-to-DVD release). But scenarists Hayter and Tse may have adhered too closely to the source material, not leaving a lot of room for cinematic interpretation. It’s one thing to see the images leap onto the screen. It’s another to have to keep turning the pages.

The sets reflect the hard, colorful angles of the nine panel pages of the original book. Everything sort of takes a kind of surrealist focus, as if to remind the audience that this is—was—not the 1985 you knew. You get the feeling that despite the heavy-handedness of the source material, Snyder’s having a lot of fun making the film. Granted the fun is dark and sometimes demented, but let’s face the truth: sometimes the best kind of fun is dangerous.

I gave up following the movie frame-by-frame along with the original comics I cracked out for the occasion by the third act. Biggest carp? The ending was racist Hollywood, and with that a lot of other stray thoughts clutter up my mind. Being beaten over the head with exacting efforts can leave one woozy.

Do any of these points sell the film for people who’ve never read the comics? Probably not. They are but touchstones of a valiant effort to bring one of the most complex, dense and literate comic books to the screen. So…


Rant Redux (2019)…

Again, I was surprised that I didn’t sound so bloated as I thought. Being a comic book fan I am one of a few individuals that are given a wide berth when it comes to their fetishes (eg: comic geeks, pro wrestling fans, CosPlayers, pedophiles, etc). Meaning I’m faced with a certain degrees of bemusement and “Sir, this an Arby’s” when it comes to my—and others—blathering on about their manic, fevered obsession over the machinations, codex and philosophy about a fictional universe that admittedly stinks to high Heaven of life arrest and taking up indefinite residence in their folks’ basement. Fantasy, exactly. Glad you’re following along.

One of the major achievements of Watchmen I glanced upon was that the dang film ever got made. With Zack Snyder at the helm, of all people. I say that based on past becomes prologue over the years here at RIORI. Snyder is the most scrutinized director here, which says something. Not that all his films are lame (Sucker Punch  was a fine exception), but most are in some way, bland, ethereal and…well, assuredly mediocre passing entertainment. Over the years here at RIORI Snyder’s aforementioned Sucker Punch, his take on Watchmen and Man Of Steel have gone under the microscope, and if The Standard doesn’t change (it won’t) we’re gonna see a lot of more of Snyder’s craft end up here unless his style changes (it won’t).

Still Snyder’s taste for spectacle over craftsmanship suited the abstract Watchmen well enough even I was surprised—surprised the comic series ever made the leap to cinema at all. In the endgame it was a herculean task to rescue Alan Moore’s magnum opus from infinite Production Hell. Watchmen was optioned back in 1986, the year the comic was released and didn’t hit the theaters until over 20 years later. The main reason why it took so long is because Fox failed to secure a director. Those names I mentioned above? All were qualified for the job as far as I was concerned; they could all tackle such a recondite, culty, socio-conscious detective story out of a comic book, before God. But I don’t think seeking the right director was what Fox (later Warner Brothers and later Paramount and even later Warner Brothers) found tricky.

It was the source material. Not so much it being sourced from a vital, however still obscure comic book, no. And not exactly what the plot of the comic book was, either. I feel that the source material’s sophistication and an execution would not have been taken seriously, or at least the studios defiantly did not understand the opportunity because—

*drum roll and drop the mic*

it came from a friggin’ comic book. Up until 1986, the only comic book hero to grace the silver screen was Superman, his cinematic exploits couched firmly in action and fantasy suitable for all ages. What Moore and Gibbons had cooked up was topical, complex, loaded with social commentary, satire and major head-scratching  in equal measures. This was a comic book? Where are the capes,? Joel Silver cried. Why, daddy why?

Yep, believe or not Hollywierd. And they shuffled the option around and around like a hot potato with tertiary syphiliis, too hot for any conventional studio at the time to touch. The aging powers that be deemed Watchmen unfilmable (not out loud) and down to the Seventh Level the script was laid dormant for over two decades. The party line goes that Watchmen was never picked up in a timely fashion for myriad of reasons: all the usual Hollywood folderol. Budget. Casting. Revolving door of perspective directors. Rewrites. Budget. “Creative differences,” and last of all budget.

To wit I say: hogwash. Zack Snyder made the impossible possible and got Watchmen to theaters. Better late than never, especially up against the dimwitted myopia studios have “unfilmable books” (read: return on investment) been regarded, and often incorrectly. If Kubrick could get A Clockwork Orange and Lolita—of all books—to film, one would be hard-pressed to ask, “Hey. What about that Miracle Man guy?” And for better or worse, master weird guy David Lynch got a crack at Dune (much to author Frank Herbert’s dismay. I think the fiasco contributed to his death a year after release. That and the cancer, but the cancer came after the movie, so hmmm). Naked Lunch got the movie treatment, ‘tho I’m still not sure why. Gonzo journalistic epic Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson directed by (once tapped, erstwhile director of Watchmen) Terry Gilliam to good effect. And for some other whacked out reason (other than a bet) Steve Coogan tried his hand a Tristam Shandy but shouldn’t have.

This brings me back to my point: my reluctant praise for Snyder full pulling off the greatest jewel heist in comic book movie history. It was Alan Moore’s K2, and Snyder planted a flag at the summit, for better to worse. I still only claim that because of course the final product could’ve been better, but most audiences’ attention spans with movies have been trained to be reliable only up to 100 minutes. Watchmen was almost three hours long and even within that “restricted” boundary Snyder still did  the best he could with the cards dealt him.

And Snyder did yeoman’s work. Watchmen the movie was acceptable and not uninteresting. All that made a good movie good were in place: good story, decent acting, cool action, pacing, what have you. It was serviceable to the masses and frustrating for the fanboys (like me). But one a final, honorable note Snyder made his mark with graphic spectacle. His version of Day Of The Dead and his breakthrough 300 (technically another epic culled from a graphic novel rather than historical record) with unabashed spectacle. That signature of spectacle sticks around in Watchmen, but this time out Snyder brought out the CGI fireworks and martial arts to accentuate plot points, not as wallpaper (think the birth of Dr Manhattan or the “foreplay” between Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre). I appreciated that; he let the story ride on without a lot of naive audience appealing conflagration for the sake of eyewash. How the studio must’ve hated him for it in a “basic comic book” movie.

Too bad the takeaway proved him wrong. Chin up, Zack. Later on you’ll be back on par soiling Superman’s cape and f*cking up the non-existent DC Cinematic Universe with such joie de vivre.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: Rent it. It’s a good movie, even if it was only made against all odds. Will it please fanboys? Hells no. Is it a cool murder mystery? Yep. Erm…sue me.


Next Installment…

I take another Drive with Ryan Gosling as my murderous Uber. This was the first movie I watched based on someone’s recommendation. Said recommendation was from the unofficial co-founder of RIORI, the mischievous Jordan. He was upset that I didn’t like Drive. Maybe this time around I won’t be sippin’ on the sizzup for a less hazy judgment. Maybe.


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 86: James McTiegue’s “V For Vendetta” (2006)

 



The Players…

Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and John Hurt, with Rupert Graves, Tim Pigott-Smith, Roger Allam and Sinéad Cusack.


The Story…

It’s been quoted that “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.”

That’s a misquote. It’s actually, “They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.”

Terry Pratchett, a 20th Century English author of fantasy novels steeped in ribald comedy.

It’s now the mid-21st Century. 2027, to be exact. And it’s Britain, operating precisely as Pratchett warned society.

Evey, an intern at the State owned British Television News does her damndest to help keep propaganda running smooth and digestible via the inescapable airwaves. Then she gets assaulted by the Realm’s authorities she’s supposed to understand as upstanding and decent.

Her beliefs end when she is rescued by “V.” And his mission.

Woke.


The Rant…

Like with The Missing I caught V For Vendetta in its original theatrical run. It was 2006 and I was getting reacquainted with the comic book world, collecting again in earnest. After giving up comics for Lent—er, high school—I got bit again and found I had a lot to catch up on in the funny pages. Like what was this thing about Superman dying? The then recent issues made him look pretty healthy. Wolverine was cloned and now has a sister with his powers? And she was a hooker? Magneto joined the X-Men by masquerading as a REDACTED with a REDACTED for a REDACTED? I had a lotta catching up to do.

Like Nintendo and Legos, I retired my marvelous hobby in high school. Thought the stuff was “too childish” for a “mature” high schooler. Couldn’t score chicks carrying around MacFarlane’s silver ish of Spider-Man #1. At least not in my high school. So yeah, retired the comics in the name of becoming a big boy for the 90s. Hell, according to fellow collectors circa 2006 I was told I didn’t miss much, save something about Batman having back trouble and Marvel going bankrupt. Both properties got better it turned out. Just in time for me to pick up the cudgel again.

Into the 21st Century, back into the fray. Proceeded to get hip to what had been going on outside my personal comics gulag, making a jailbreak and frequenting my local comic shop and scouring eBay for what wasn’t available at the brick-and-mortar. Now I wasn’t that dense. I knew of some major milestones in the comics pantheon, high water marks of the medium that only the dilettanti would raise a brow at. Stuff like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and the book that elevated comics from mere kiddie entertainment to actual literature: Alan Moore’s superhero deconstructionist meditation on the nuclear arms race WatchmenWatchmen made Time‘s Top 100 greatest books of all time. I knew that from reading the rag in my self-imposed exile from comics, so there.

Here comes our quandary. How does a refreshed comic collector not get all slobbery over the magna mater of modernist comic books and yet still has a review to write that may require spittle?

Make it simple. Keep it that way.

That being said, I’m not gonna wax rhapsodic about Moore’s magnum opus (tho’ it is a great book); I’d just crow about what’s been crowed about a million times over by every terminally pimple-faced mouth breather. What I will say is that Watchmen made me a Moore fan…like every other comic book collector. It’s about the man’s literary quality. Most comic stories merely push the action along with script as skeleton. Moore’s style is the action. From what I’ve read of the man’s work, any comic book action is merely a bookend to the story. The story is the story. Moore gets this.

And that being said, the following is not a Watchman fanzine. Instead, it’ll go like this:

Comic movies in the early part of the century were odd ducks. Superhero films were either fun (Raimi’s Spider Man films) or grim (Hellboy, From Hell [another Moore vehicle]) but both dabbling the toes in the stream. Like I said in the Constatine installment Hollywood didn’t really know what they had on their hands. There was no Marvel Cinematic Universe. We were stuck with Affleck as Daredevil. This whole wad of Thomas Jane was like a sticky bomb slapped against the Hollywood machine. Big stars? Of course. Whiz-bang? Better have. Depth? This ain’t just a necessity for a submarine maneuver. Call Snipes. He be good at slicing and dicing vampires. Marv who?

This fumbling allowed precious few comic movies back then to make it to the silver screen. Again with the Constantine installment, Hollywood was slow to take the plunge into comic book as viable property. They were unsure what to do with funny books as movies back in the early aughts. Sure, the first two original Spider-Man flicks did well, enough so to resurrect Superman (to diminishing “returns.” Get it? I luv being funny and clever). Hollywood mostly played it safe, kept the tootsies in the shallow end. Barring the original Blade, Tinsel Town chose to option graphic novels. Guess they had more literary merit in their eyes. Probably more like they were self-contained without a massive continuity history that tapped an unlucky director to shoulder, as well as the wrath of hundreds of geeks for possibly f*cking it up, not getting it “right.” Pressure. Better make it work or else we revoke your rider. No more free Cheetos. Marker.

Most undertakings floundered. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell and Watchmen (at least by The Standard’s criteria). Not to mention V For Vendetta. All Alan Moore works, BTW. Guess he was the go-to guy for solid literary merit to make films from back in the Bush, Jr years. Nah. His name was the cachet for the geeks, and perhaps an entry drug for cinema doofus’ growing tired of watching Bruce Willis explode things yet get nary a cut. That’s a judgment call, but I’m making it.

As I intimated, a few of Moore’s adaptations have graced RIORI in the past, including the above Watchmen, From Hell and presently V For Vendetta. Here’s the rub against La-La Land’s scattershot yet best investment choices. Moore’s stuff is very esoteric, dense and not user friendly. Took me three reads through Watchmen to “get it,” and I was in my mid-30s at the time. I read Ulysses in a week and got it. Barring shipping time from eBay my initial foray into Watchmen took over a month. Twice as long years ago to fully scan this dense comic book serial. I’m not some snot-nosed middle schooler who desired access to tittie shots. Um, though even in my thirties I appreciated that. And plot, too. Can’t forget that. Moore’s works are like that: you expect the expected and get delightfully disappointed. LIke with Jimmy Joyce. Who needs a drink?

*klonk klonk*

Thanks.

Too bad Hollywood kinda missed the boat with that vital aspect of telling a dense, terse and ultimately rewarding story culled from Moore’s works, even after making some necessary concessions. I expected and couldn’t argue with Zack and Co excising the “Black Freighter” subplot from the Watchmen film. If included the movie would’ve ran into the 3-plus hour range, and that’s not good for filling theaters. Sometime common sense reigns, but when it threatens the story (and often it does) we get ugly fallout that reeks of ancient sneakers and smug Hollywood indifference. Namely commerce over art.

Moore’s oeuvre has a merit that doesn’t cow to Hollywood well. I’m willing to wager that his tough subject matter welcomes high drama in the studio’s eyes. Ka-ching. The literary merit? Folks don’t go to movies to read, unless it’s a foreign film. And who watches those (ahem, everyone outside of America)? So most Moore movies often get shaved to the bone. The nuance is stripped bare. The room to breathe is lost for the sake of pyrotechnics and the latest in CGI as well as dwindling audience attention spans. Not just that, but to do so is tossing a sop to bored movie goers to hopefully get all twitchy over drama first and story a distant third. Connery retired after League. When 007 throws in the towel, you can smell the frustration against story versus execution. And this was the guy who willingly starred in Zardoz, Meteor and Never Say Never Again. Jeez.

All that being said, V For Vendetta might, just might, be the Alan Moore adapt that bucked the trend, holding on to the literary quality—the “message”—the author was approaching. Screaming and kicking against the Hollywood machine maybe, with a sluggish response. However I’ll bet the royalty checks were welcome. Not that Moore would, nor should acknowledge that.

Precious few movies based on books, plays, TV shows, video games or comics get the letter of the law as well as the spirit. The message. The Godfather movies, Apocalypse Now, Zeferelli’s Romeo And Juliet, Polanski’s Macbeth, Kurosawa’s Ran, Donner’s first two Superman films (I’ll leave Lester on a hard day’s night. Funny and clever, remember?), A River Runs Through It, the original Straw Dogs and 2001: A Space Odyessy. All maintain a sort of faithful integrity to the source material. They all did a bang-up job at the box office, too. Even from across the North American continent. You know, the foreign market?

To the point, we’re going to fly under Moore’s hermetic radar across The Pond. To a microcosm of messages, if not outrage about too much forced, profitable drama and not enough message.

There, I kept my fanboy-ism in check. To a degree and you’re welcome. Anywho, there’s a movie to tend to.

Dateline: The United Kingdom, circa 2027 CE. It’s Rule Britannia under rule…


The United Kingdom was once a bastion of freedom, integrity, national pride an stable economic viability, both financial and social for a millennium.

That was then. This is now.

England is still a bastion, but of order, control and media manipulation. It’s the mid-21st Century, and for the rest of the world it’s all strife, shortages and civil war, including the once great United States. “The Colonies” the disdainful Voice Of Fate hammers over his state-sanctioned broadcasts have descended into lawlessness. An open warning against a liberal government.

So England prevails.

The UK has become a fascist dictatorship, determined to maintain order by any means possible. Be it censorship, surveillance or cultural suppression. It’s all in the best of the people, not to mention holding on to power as long as this new order breathes.

Enter Evey Hammond (Portman), an intern at the overly influential, state sanctioned BTN, the Voice Of Fate. The mouthpiece of media for High Chancellor Sutler’s (Hurt) vision of Britain. Evey serves coffee, delivers the post and barely tolerates the talking heads that give the public what they need—must—hear. The law of the land must be enforced, lest England descends into chaos like the other former First World nations.

Sick of it all, one eve Evey decides to get all dolled up, break curfew and get some social air. Much to the dismay of the Order’s secret police who nab her and intend to give her the action she was seeking elsewhere. Anywhere but here.

Enter a stranger, eloquent and doffed in a cloak wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. He calls himself “V” (Weaving) and proceeds to dispatch the Fingermen with extreme discretion. It’s all too much for Evey to digest.

When she finds herself captive in V’s underground lair, she discovers even more to digest. She learns from her benefactor he intends to bring down the New Order by all means possible. Being a fascist state does not suit Britian’s health, emotional and social. According to V’s diplomatic argument, Sutler’s England should not stand.

Evey soon understands that her captor has some sort of vendetta. Should she come along for the ride…?


V For Vendetta was the right film at the right time. And I ain’t talking the right time to make some comic book movie. That then was just a foot in the door. Some feet shoved said door open, but was the first to gain some traction as comic book as viable trade to make a dramatic action movie. In a weird way of a pissing contest did better than Superman Returns (also covered here) at the ticket taker. An obscure story in a dying British fantasy magazine—half-forgotten by the author himself—managed to steal the brass ring from the Man Of Steel’s “triumphant” return to the green screen.

How’d that go down? Story. At the right time.

dropped in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks, which invited a lot of “permitted” fear-mongering and militant xenophobia (BTW, water-boarding is torture and detainees are federal prisoners. Like Olestra is to potato chips as your ass is to being glued to a toilet seat). The Twin Towers collapsed? A plane crashed into the Pentagon? Let’s not assess the ugly situations, let’s point a finger. It’s always quicker and simpler to blame the other for the bad “they” inflicted on “you.” But who’s the other?

Let me pull the hood back. I know here at RIORI I tend to pontificate under the review proper. We all have our opinions, our beliefs, about movies and otherwise. After seeing V all those years back and being refreshed now, a tidewater surge of opinions are about to splash over the lot of you. And I expect, if not demand hostile feedback from the other side of the fourth wall. Ready?

*klonk*

Good.

Put simply, one cannot fell two 110-storey skyscrapers with airplane impacts alone. Especially since the impacts failed to alter the collapse “trajectory.” Read: straight down. That would’ve required strategically placed ordinances. Every demolished building I’ve seen taken down collapses in on itself. Strategic, physics-compliant explosives. They don’t drip like wax from candle without a few yellow X’s spray painted to say where the C4 charge should go.. And don’t get me started on the flashpoint of jet fuel on steel. That’s been done already. Or sympathetic vibrations from a collapse cannot fell a building unless a nuke was involved.

Done. Shutting up now. Though I could choose not to.

Was 9/11 tragic? Nothing else but. But what’s worse was all that bootin’ rally that happened in 9/11’s wake. God praise the first responders, naturally. They are now honored at the weir. Now saving grieving family members (who must relieve the nightmare via TV every September 11th), name one civvy survivor. Who wasn’t surviving by accident?

*(partial) crickets*

Does that inquiry support my theory? No, but it might make you think. All that destruction, and not enough media attention to the destroyed? Tell that to the crossed hands in front of all those TVs into the 12th. To quote sicko comic Doug Stanhope: “Did you pray on the 10th? Didn’t do dick, did it?” It’s an open response.

In short, 9/11 devolved into a blood-buttered publicity stunt designed to have W wave his prick at his ineffectual dad who couldn’t nail the dictator that had nothing to do with the attacks. In long, open up long-waiting Rothchild’s accounts and encourage the racism that got Trump elected. Hey, if you can trust a former reality show host who had a board game named after him who can you trust?

BTW, the Mideast War is the longest hot war in American history. And it will never end.

Kaboom!

*klonk klonk ricochet*

Crass? Sure, but unless you hear the other side, your side will either remain quiet or way too vocal about half-baked, ignorant, xenophobic hate speech. Dialogue always counts, despite the bile that may rise. Talk with the bile, and may another 9/11 never happen again. One can only dream, with heartburn. The price to pay over mulling details.

So anyway, fear-mongering. V was released at the right time despite its curious audience wasn’t exactly ready for it. It was released five years after the 9/11 tragedy, and the USA was polarized. Some kept weeping, others kept their stocks clean and ready to see action…somewhere. According to my myopic view, no one wanted to talk about the fallout into the future. Everyone was still too busy chewing on their nails.

Want to know the crushing part? Blocks upon blocks of prime real estate have been obliterated and rebuilt in Israel, Syria, Jordan, Iran and elsewhere in the Mid East over and over again. But once it hits home people snap awake. Takes a bit of time, but it inevitably goes down.

That’s kind of the message behind V: such deliberating can only go so far. And once it does, you missed the plot. The novel was already published; took months to finish the book. Too late to dog ear the page. Too late to pause. V‘s message is unfortunately timeless. Now don’t laugh, the tenor of is akin to a line from the original Star Trek.

“I’ve found that evil usually triumphs. Unless good it very, very careful.”

Thanks for the philosophy, Bones.

But really, that’s true. Malice creeps, and can be very insidious. That’s how Hitler took control of Germany and then most of Europe. People like Alexander The Great with his bravado haven’t existed for a long time. Nero did play the fiddle, but not while Rome burned. He ran from the city to the hills only to be strung up later. Creeps, seldom a supernova.

Yeah, V is a cautionary tale about how power corrupts and can also be embraced out of fear. Fear of order falling apart and all the First World luxuries falling along with it. is a 21st Century take on the classic “man on the white horse” theory. But with more knives and explosions. Dunno what Orwell would’ve made of this movie, but I doubt he’d sleep well after watching it.

An Interweb resource claims (better than I can eloquate) that in some cultures, white horses stand for the balance of wisdom and power. In others, like Christianity (“Strength Through Unity, Unity Through Faith”), the white horse is a symbol of death. The horse is a universal symbol of freedom without restraint, because riding a horse made people feel they could free themselves from their own bindings.

That is the world of V in a nutshell. Sutler’s reign is preferable to the crumbling of social order beyond Albion’s shores. Sure, British social structure sucks, but it sure beats civil war. Or not eating. Or being without the telly. Keep the public docile, so England may prevail. Ugly.

While watching V (for the second time, mind you. This time uder a microscope), my brain kept poking me about a short story I once read by sci-fi scribe extraordinare Harlan Ellison. “Asleep: With Still Hands.” To keep it quick, the plot illustrated that society cannot evolve without conflict. V is the fly in the ointment, hellbent on irritating Sutler’s England to devolve into revolt.

This is where V‘s story begins. Never have I seen a flick where the backstory is so vital to the active plot. Funny thing, though. The backstory creeps in the background just enough to make this audience glue its attention to the active action on the screen. As soon as Evey breaks curfew and encounters the “Fingermen…” That term alone alerts us all to that this is decidedly not Merry Ole England of history. We now have a UK with a secret police. It is to tremble, and now we know where we’re coming from. And into.

is a polite Orwellian nightmare. First we’ll hear your impotent case en toto. Then we’ll shoot you. This kind of arrangement smells preferable to Birkenau. Still, minus the overt allusions to totalitarianism, you get the edge that all is not right here. There is anxiety, a looming sense of “being caught.” The creeping fear that clouded the US public’s judgment back in 2001 became manifest in V‘s world. The populace lives in both fear an indifference. Hell, our way is better than the “other’s” way, but we’re wearier for it. A docile people does not a healthy society make. Like V says, “People should no be afraid of their government. The government should be afraid of the people.” Sutler and crew are indeed afraid of their people. All they need a voice to scream it as so. That’s why V is labeled a terrorist. Of course he’s not. He’s a revolutionary.

V toes a very thin line running the gamut as social commentator, heavy-handed naysayer and simple cinematic entertainment. It’s the anti-hero thing again. You’re not really sure you can get behind him, despite his motives. An odd twist of the movie is that it’s hard to see if V’s crusade is played out of a sense of justice or revenge. Since there is this blur it spins the mystery of his motives ever deeper. Makes for delicious conflict.

One must give respect for Weaving as our crusader. Best put: Agent Smith as an avenging hero? Yes. Yes indeed. I’m as surprised as you are. The sinister Smith as a gallant, Errol Flynn-esque hero fighting the good fight for freedom against a non-digital regime? You see it here.

Which is curious since Weaving was a last minute replacement for James Purefoy, who dropped out of the production after six weeks of filming. IMDB claims he quit due to issues wearing the Guy Fawkes mask. Whatever. Due to the Wachowski connection via V‘s script came on in a pinch, loaning his voice to parts of the first act and taking over for the remainder.

And “taking over” is a apt phrase. As scary as Agent Smith was, his V is just as charming. For a guy who wears a creepy, smiley-faced mask for the duration of the film, he sure can emote with nary a wink. Weaving’s body language impressively defines V in spite of or thanks to that mask. Weaving’s performance is like a dark mime. We learn to like him, but since the face is always masked we have  hard time trusting him. Until he physically emotes. Best example of this acting is in the final act when V is injured. We can hear and see his pain, and it is palpable, but we still don’t see his face. But we see his face.

And let’s not forget this: V’s monologues are elegant, and the flipside to the willfully unwitting and naive Evey’s screeching. Portman is Weaving’s ideal foil. A young woman entrenched in the System that “supports” her yet vaguely aware all is not well. Minus the studied histrionics, Portman plays everywoman rather well, with an acceptable English accent to boot. Evey portrays what I’ll call “guilty victim.” A strong but damaged woman who adheres to the power structure if only to put away the old one and all its pains. She knows Britain is f*cked, and tries to keep that notion in the back of her mind, no matter how appealing the opposite could be towards getting in touch with reality. No matter how nasty it is. Better to feel something than nothing at all. Think we’ve all been there, shaved head or no. We ride on Evey, we follow V.

On the other side…

Ironic casting Sir John Hurt as as the High Chancellor. Of course there are plenty of clever nods to the film version of 1984. And having Winston Smith cast as Sutler is delightfully on the nose. Hurt’s character only appears as a talking head on a giant screen for almost all of the film, hair closely stylized to resemble Hitler’s. Ultimately his rich voice is character, from is far but sinister, confident and authoritarian. It’s fear that Sutler screams as dogma, almost clownish. He’s not Big Brother. He’s more like the fear-mongering demagogues you see nightly on the cable news broadcasts. It sorta makes for the best kind of villain: more presence than flesh, even though Sutler is really nothing more than the monster under the bed. Look how his cabinet cowers before him; they’re more worried about their job security than their freedom. The voice of the republic, for the republic but merely a voice. Only Fox News is less scary as dictating what “must” be said. All weak spines from his chosen few. Disturbing, and all too plausible.

An aside, but maybe very telling. After seeing twice I harbored a belief that a great deal of V‘s cinematic world’s references of UK culture and history was lost on US test audiences. Guy Fawkes’ Day for instance. Or what the Old Bailey is. Or even Thatcherism. Of course liberties were taken with the source material (if only to grease the wheels in the name of Anglo/American cinematic entertainment). Then again, too much British in an American action film might’ve turned off the more culturally ignorant US audiences. Just sayin’.

Here’s what’s up. An essential piece of V‘s being is a twisted version of a near ancient society wrapped up in symbolism only third to the Chinese and Meso-American peoples. Sure, most Americans have a vague understanding of their country’s history, but it ain’t really based on bowing to symbolism and the rites that may ensue. Which I why I enjoyed the police procedural B-plot against the less drab but still rather formulaic A-plot “crusade.” V’s mission is not just one of revenge but of message. A rallying cry. That kind of motive has a certain hole. Like in the original Matrix, not everyone is ready to be freed. And since V’s most visible targets are symbols of an old, maybe better past, the rabble that grew up in this nightmare just might not give two sh*ts about his mission. Same could be said for American audiences who think that the Old Bailey is a pub and Parliament is just a cigarette with a wider margin. Not every mission earns a following, despite what the film dramatically points act come the end. There be a sinister creeping afoot…

That being said, Rea is the “absent” star here. His Finch’s empathy never wavers from feeling real, from duty to mystery to reality. He knows from day one something’s rotten in London, and had known it all the while. This V case provides the opportunity to sift through the dross and understand how he came to cow before that blowhard Sutler. He’s the yin to V’s yang. And an earthier choice against our flamboyant, swashbuckling, titular hero. If one considers it, Finch’s investigation parallels V’s terrorist acts. Both want to get to the meat of the matter. Both sacrifice life and limb over sworn duty. The only diff’ is that Finch’s path is one of direct intrigue, where V is nothing but intrigue. Who would you follow? Right, the beleaguered inspector. It’s his foil that make’s the story work. Comedy versus tragedy. It works every time. Kinda like Nair; strips it all away.

Sorry.

Another (and hopefully final) thing about that I really dug was the clever editing. There’s a lot to digest in the dystopian world full of bad food, corrupt cops, curfews and media saturation for the sake of all hail. It better look seamless, and it does. Big pat on the back to Martin Walsh, the editor. What could have been something out of 10-year old’s bedroom flowed. Those who are recurring readers here know that apart from pacing, crappy editing is my big bugaboo. Make stuff jarring, it f*cks with your attention span, as well as clouds the story. Not with V. Everything falls into place neatly, and sometimes often into sub-place. The trips to Larkhill. Valerie’s story. What V’s true motive is. Lotta grace there. Walsh allows just enough breathing room for the audience to take it all in.

Until the third act. Now it’s catch-up time.

I hate this. When a dense plot needs a resolution far too many directors do a cram session. Sadly, V spills out as no different. We got a bit too much exposition in the third act, explaining everything. Literally everything. It’s a Readers’ Digest version of their abominable Condensed Books (you Millennials should be grateful for not being exposed to these anomalies of soft literature. Praise Audible). This was where the story gets muddled. It all makes sense, but you better take notes to track it down. A flurry of lines try to wrap up and hour and 55 minutes of action and social commentary can be exhausting, if not distracting to follow. Felt like the SATs minus the blue book. Crap in a hat.

So that’s it. was overall a quality waste of a Saturday afternoon. We had action. We had drama. We had political intrigues. We had swords. We had a drop of mental science smudge the forehead of any thinking person still smelling the stink of spilt jet fuel on their tongues. More than all of that, we got a flick that toed the line between political statements and action/mystery tale in a quite satisfying way.

Back in 2006 when I caught V it charged me. It was like every time some bullying force tried to bludgeon me into submission a part of me screamed, “No! I’m right!” Naive? Yep. Unrealistic? Maybe, maybe not.

Fast forward to now. Does the sh*t stink? Yep. What can I do?

Write this blog. But don’t take any faith in it.

“The first duty of a man is to think for himself.” – José Marti


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. If you’re a thinking person, you will be stony in your viewing. If you’re not, you vote with crossed fingers.


Stray Observations…

  • “Fear got the best of you…”
  • Didja notice how heavily armed the law enforcement was here? No nightstick wielding bobbies in this London.
  • In the comic it was Chancellor Susan, not Sutler. Perhaps a swipe at Thatcher?
  • “Put the sword away.”
  • Books. Always the enemy.
  • Always, always, always cut the red wire. Unless you shouldn’t.
  • “You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it.”
  • There appears to be an air about the vacant telly-watching rabble that habitually tunes in a drops out that is bored, dulled but also aware all is sh*te. Yet they won’t shut Big Brother off.
  • What is it about shorn heads that scream both subjugation and defiance at the same time?
  • “Are you a Muslim?” “No, I’m in television.”
  • A part of me feels that the best part of the movie is the “movie within the movie” regarding Valerie’s plight.
  • Despite  being the director’s debut film, he sure has confidence and a feeling of execution with purpose.
  • “God is in the rain.”

Next Installment…

Zack And Miri Make A Porno because food stamps only go so far.


RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 12: Albert and Allen Hughes’ “From Hell” (2001)


FromHell-PosterArt


The Players…

Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane and Ian Richardson.


The Story…

It’s London in the late 1800’s, and a vicious murderer is on the loose. He preys on the women of the night, cornering them, slitting their throats, eviscerating them. There is no clear motive. There are no proper clues. Save a few odd letters from the ghoul that taunt the authorities, the deeds might as well been committed by a specter. Scotland Yard charges one of their best, brightest and rather unconventional inspectors to the case. He is put to task investigating these grisly murders revolving around a new, different and baffling breed of criminal altogether: a serial killer.


The Rant…

In college, I came across a novel that I found myself tearing into from the prologue. It was The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Perhaps a few of you know of it. I lapped the thing up. A serial killer mystery in late 1800’s New York, chock full of seamy atmosphere, proto-noir, remarkable characters and sense of urgency that if the killer could not be found (by employing the woefully primitive forensics of the day) in time, a new victim would surface at every chapter turn. Needless to say, great book. Read it like three times in a year. It even had Teddy Roosevelt in it as a cameo. Really.

I’ve read other serial killer novels that also took my fancy. The Silence of the Lambs, of course and its prequel, Red Dragon. Robert Bloch’s Psycho. Some others tales of no consequence. I’m not exactly a voracious reader of the oeuvre, but the notion of the hunt that appeals to me. The hunt for clues and the hunt for the man. And it doesn’t hurt when the stakes are very high. A trail of bodies that’ll lead to an even longer trail if something isn’t done to stop the nutjob with the meathook and daddy issues. Like I said, high stakes. Makes for a good mystery.

I guess it’s a foregone conclusion that you know the unsolved Jack the Ripper mystery is the fountainhead where all such tales of grue flow. It’s the original cold case file. A spit back I covered a film analyzing the hunt for one of Jack’s contemporaries, the Zodiac. That film adaptation was a clean, clear, concise and equally gripping story as any based on the Ripper mythos. But that’s just the thing. No other serial killer, real or from an author’s imagination has created a mythos; a set of attitudes and tenets based on the romanticized notion of what a killer could be. The closet relative is f*cking Dracula. And the Ripper was indeed a real person, but somehow not as scary as Arthur Leigh Allen (or whoever the Zodiac was—is—whatever).

Why does the mystique of this case endure? Is it because the Ripper case was never solved? Well, neither was the Zodiac. Is it because of the gruesomeness of Jack’s slaughter? Jeffery Dahmer’s acts were far more perverted. Is it the time and place? There was the Devil in the White City, HH Holmes, who worked in a similar time and space while Jack picked off his vics, and Holmes had dozens more than the Ripper’s. I say none of that matters. What really matters is that there’s a great story behind Jack the Ripper, real and/or imagined. A story only history has steeped into the collective memory of all of us (hell, it even popped up in an episode of the original Star Trek). We’re talking staying power. Enough to entrance moviemakers time and again…


London, 1888. The Whitechapel district. The Tenderloin of the seamier, skuzzy, sh*thole asscrack of Albion where the depraved come to practice their trades, learn them or simply succumb to the filth that just happens to be hangin’ ‘round. Because that’s all any of it is good for. You wanna good screw? Go elsewhere. You want to get f*cked, get thee to Whitechapel. You’ll blow your load and lose your billfold on so much sh*t tub booze and honeyed words from the local, willing bang-tails. Maybe you’ll even be relieved of the end of your nose if you’re so fortunate. Good times, good times.

For some better times than others, for there is a killer on the loose in Whitechapel. And not your average cutthroat out for money or fulfilling a vendetta. No. This ghoul works in and is of the shadows, snapping his victims out of the dreary, sordid streets of the demimonde and eviscerating them, bloody and savage as if God wasn’t watching. His works of butchery are found to have a certain grace however. These aren’t the knife gouges of your common street tough, but rather concise work of a skilled surgeon. The victims bodies have been relieved of their innards, disemboweled by the likes of an artisan, and the focus of the incisions being of the genitalia.

Despite the grisly nature of the crimes, they don’t really draw much concern from the denizens of Whitechapel, you see. The victims have all been prostitutes, common corner-walkers. Whores. Transient wayward women who come and go in the distract as the gardyloos run down the gutter. What’s another dead trollop in a neighborhood awash with depravity?

A mystery, for one. And a fever dream for one Inspector Frederick Abberline (Depp) who can’t just let such cases go. It’s a curious case, one bets, but not nearly as curious as how Abberline goes about his detecting. He has “visions” of sorts, aided from endless nights chasing the dragon at a secret opium den or alternately chasing the green fairy with a bottle of absinthe, a few well dripped baubles of laudanum and nice hot bath. He “sees” the crimes happen before they happen, but the details are always hazy. The Ripper case is a particularly juicy one to bite into, as it appears to point in a pentagram-like compass rose to many halls of the British social structure.

A political case, you say? What does the insane practices of diseased butcher have to do with the social climes of Victorian England? Abberline wants to know, needs to know. Away from his usual haunts and mostly lucid, Abberline realizes he needs and inside man within the halls of Whitechapel to follow down a lead. More accurately, he needs an inside woman, whom he finds in the form of the rabble rousing Mary Kelly (Graham), who was close to several of the Ripper’s victims. She knows the streets even grimier than what Abberline ever accessed, and if these murders are not random, not quite sociopathic, but political in nature, why, the Queen herself would be up in arms. The slaying of whores as remonstration up against a political identity that has served the Empire well for generations?

Some are not willing to let go of this case for many reasons. But Abberline has only one: to stop a madman…


Heh. This was a fun one.

Remember the old 1985 movie Clue? That was also a fun one, and not just because it was funny. It was based on a game after all, and the story kind of flowed out like a game, tongues firmly in cheek. From Hell has that same vibe, but without the humor. No matter, that. But there is a game afoot. Let’s case this joint.

The opening montage is just great. Everything you need to establish the atmosphere is put into place. Snuggle up, we’re gonna be here awhile. Better get comfy. It’s sometimes a bit of a challenge to set the stage for a “period” film without resorting to stereotyping. Since this movie was based on a graphic novel, such staging used it not only reflective of the comic but how the story flows as well. From Hell has good story flow from the get go. Like I said before, the first 12 minutes. Got my attention.

The camera work here sort of plays out like a graphic novel, too. Very cool editing, deliberate and sound. I’m assuming that From Hell is not as immediately recognizable as, say, Watchmen in the Alan Moore catalogue (I’m noting this as a sort of PSA for the under informed). But it is noteworthy in how exhaustively researched it was with the Ripper case. The framing of shots here flow in a panel-to-panel progression. I find that neat. Here’s a comic book adaptation with a high sense of style.

But wait, there’s The Standard to follow…

We got highly stylized everything here. The costumes, the acting, the staging, the lousy accents (seriously, Depp and Graham would’ve fared better speaking in their natural voices. They both sound like outcasts from a Renaissance Faire), the period atmosphere is all a bit overwrought, sometimes bordering on cartoonish. I know this was supposed to be a comic adaptation, but there’s nothing deliberately comical about the story. However the Hughes’ bros were never shy about being stylistic. Who says you gotta stay in Compton in order to flash violent flair? Then again, the gore in From Hell can be stupid at times, comical. There’s a balance the Hughes’ are trying to reach here, between mystery and historical fiction (as well as probably trying to do Moore justice) but it’s barely left of center.

There’s a touch too much melodrama in From Hell, which can make the film feel hollow here and there, like the balloon might be popped at any moment. Again I know it’s supposed to be a period piece, but that doesn’t mean we gotta get all stereotypificated here. You can safely lay that pratfall at the feet of our leads. There was nary a hint of chemistry between Depp and Graham. Depp’s Inspector Abberline feels as if he’s spent way too many nights “chasing the dragon,” a slave to his “visions.” He often seems on the verge of boredom, despite the grisly urgency of the case. And there is urgency; the Hughes’ keep things moving at a good clip with very little slushiness. What slushiness remains is provided by the caricature Graham provides. The streetwise hooker with a heart of gold is an all too common device, which in the right hands works really well. Um, it didn’t work with Graham. Along with that accent, bleah. Mary Kelly and her brood just showed up in the film to slow it down.

On yet another hand (and here goes that durn balance trying to get established) the interplay of the characters, especially the supporting cast (and an exclamation point to Ian Holm whose laid back presence throughout the film really hit the finale home) created a nice Upstairs, Downstairs dichotomy going on. There is this subplot of class warfare in the movie I didn’t particularly take a shine to, but it did make for a pretty nifty take on how the other half lives in late Victorian London. Here the balance was achieved.

Upside: the movie’s a good mystery. Downside: I think I figured it out too soon. There was an element of predictability in From Hell, albeit a small one. I’m also kind of on the fence of having the mystery solved. According to my records—*rifles through pages*—the Ripper case was never closed. It’s probably the longest cold case ever. The again, it’s quite hard to gage the film version against the comic. I never really read the book so I can’t tell if I’m ahead or behind the curve as plotting goes. I know Moore was writing historical fiction, but one of the greatest aspects of the Ripper case is that was never solved, thus adding to the mystery and mystique. Wrapping it up robs the story of some its punch.

Despite all my carps, I did dig the movie. From Hell was fun. What’s neat about this film is how easily it makes the mystery aspect interactive. The audience sniffs for clues as Depp sniffs for clues (note: in Whitechapel, clues smell a lot like beer farts). It uncurls, twists and turns again as we scratch our collective heads with an air of…well, whodunit? It plays out to the cinematic version of a game of Ocarina of Time. Not too hard, not too easy. Goldilocks zone. Nice balance actually achieved there,  too, perhaps what the Hughes’ were aiming for along the way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go chase me some fairies (Zelda or absinthe reference? YOU DECIDE).


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It’s got a pleasurable charm for the graphic subject matter. But at its core, for all the gore and sociopolitical folderol, From Hell‘s a good, old-fashioned whodunit. One plus two plus one plus one; that’s six. 😉


Stray Observations…

  • I love the sound effect when the brougham’s steps are deployed. It cleverly replicates the sound of…well, a blade being unsheathed.
  • “You won’t get any sense out of her.” “I’m used to that.” Both smirks are priceless.
  • In college, I was vice prez for our chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Most of its rituals came from those of the Freemasons. I learned that despite the accolades the Masons earned in helping found our country, a lot of their sh*t stank. Perhaps the mention of it in the movie is a warning to both invest in and suspect an outside, secret belief system. In simpler terms: don’t be quick to trust anyone simply because they have “connections.”
  • A lot can be done on a small movie lot. If this sounds like a small anti-CGI screed, it’s not. I just appreciate efficiency in cinema in all its guises.
  • Ah, the absinthe ritual. “Let me commune with T.S. Eliot!”

Next Installment…

Linear. Vertical interval. ABS-EBU embedded with digital audio. Burnt-in. CDI. MIDI…You know, types of Timecode.


RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 2: Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” (2009)


Image


The Players…

Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Ackerman, Billy Crudup, Jeffery Dean Morgan and Matthew Goode.


The Story…

Adapted from comic laureate Alan Moore’s landmark miniseries, the events that transpire after a superhero is murdered in an alternate universe circa 1985 lead a band of once famed costumed avengers—now outlaws—to solve the mystery. However this is no mere murder, regardless of the victim. There are far more sinister forces at work shadowing this mystery, and very little of it has to do with some dead guy wearing a costume. And a smiley face button.


The Rant…

When I was a pup, I picked up the first ish of Watchmen. Didn’t get it. I guess I was not the target audience. Sold the thing for five bucks. This was 1986 dollars. I was too young to know the oys and joys of beer, drugs and sex. I guess I was a wastrel when it came to comics as well. Who’s the latest X-Man? What’s Spidey up to? What’s sex? They do what? To each other? Eewww.

Ha. Since then, I’ve grown up. Sort of. Through waste and disgrace I now have all 12 issues of Watchmen hermetically sealed in a binder somewhere. First issues. Ugh, the geekiness of it all. Am I boasting? F*ck yeah I am.

So when the whirling dervish that is Zack Snyder got the green light to tackle a full-flung take on the mini-series (which had been languishing in production hell for lifetimes) and plaster it to the silver screen, a million comic geeks over were harping about either two things: this had better work or this ain’t gonna work.

And here I am to declare the results in a sober, reserved geeky mindset. Keep in mind, I’ve been a movie nut well before there were ever comic book movies…


It’s 1985. But not a 1985 that you’ve ever known, and this most likely is a good thing. Superheroics, once the bread and butter of America’s elite crime fighting policy, are outlawed. Any costumed avenger that didn’t want to end up rotting in some federal prison somewhere hung up their capes and aliases and joined respectable society. Now it’s just sad normalcy for the once burgeoning superhero community.

Except for one outlaw. Slinking in the shadows, on the trial of a murderer. One who killed another “cape.” He investigates the crime scene, gathers clues and shakes up the underworld for scuttlebutt.

He calls himself Rorschach (Haley). And he is a very dangerous man.

Someone killed The Comedian (Morgan), only one of two government sanctioned “superheroes.” A fed hitman, with connections to everything from the Vietnam Conflict to the Kennedy assassination. Another dangerous man, and possibly connected to a conspiracy that would threaten the entire nation. The Comedian, seemingly indestructible, thrown from his penthouse window.

Rorschach smells a rat, and goes on a mission to warn/interrogate other former heroes about the crime. Our dramatis personae consist of Dan Dreiberg (Wilson), formerly known as the Nite Owl, ornithology nut and one-time partner of Rorschach. Jon Osterberg, now known as the entity Dr. Manhattan (Crudup), who has godlike powers over physics and reality, and his girlfriend Laurie Juspeczyk (Ackerman), the Silk Specter, once a feared streetwise martial arts expert. And Adrian Veidt (Goode), calling himself Ozymandias, who used his heroics to build an corporate empire to rival that of Alexander the Great’s (wink wink) conquests. All of whom could be next on the cape-killer’s hitlist, and all could be suspects.

What’s more is that the Cold War is raging to the boiling point, and nuclear war seems eminent. There is pall cast across the country, a dark cloud that it seems only superheroes could remedy. But how could heroes come out of retirement if it meant federal incarceration? Should they don their capes and cowls again and band together to save the country? Or should they just watch their backs and hope they don’t meet a fate like The Comedian’s?

In any or all of these events, the clock is ticking…


Where to start?

Okay, the plot. It’s painfully simple, right? Painfully simple, which is all but this comic series and ensuing film is. Funny thing is it’s almost impossible to give too much away about the movie for how dense it is for its 2 hour 45 minute running time. I’m actually amazed the studio heads and/or editors allowed this length. Then again, I doubt a movie could do the comic book justice in only 90 minutes. The book and the film are that inscrutable.

My take on certain points of the film is cursory at best, because there is a sickening amount of details crammed into the near three-hour running time. I’ll try to make this work. Remember, I’m not a professional movie critic. Just a loudmouth with a blog.

At its core, Watchmen is a murder mystery. All the allegory and satire is just applesauce. Very good applesauce, mind you. But try telling a neophyte the plot of Watchmen without tying up your tongue and his mind. Right.

There is a lot more going on here than my perfunctory synopsis the story. I can’t explain it all, and that is what is the most damning about this film adaptation. There is too much going on. Props for Snyder trying his hand at it. He did what no other director managed to do thus far. He managed to do what Terry Gilliam, David Hayter, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass could not. He got it on film. Not only that, but he captured the spirit of the comic quite well, if not the complexity.

There is a holy host of touches that make this movie work. The fact things work at all is practically a miracle. It feels like Snyder got into most of the heads of the readers of the series and tried to make celluloid flesh out of what the mind’s ear heard and of what the imagination piqued.

First of all, the voices are important. It’s hard to believe that the dulcet voice of Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan) that assured us for everything else, there’s MasterCard would be such an eerie complement to the omnipotent Doctor. There’s a wistful innocence and dare I say pity in Crudup’s performance that marshals up emotions that we as the audience should have for him: pity and awe. On the flipside, Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach snarl was dead on for my mind’s ear. The voice of a demented, so-called hero. The monologue in the prison interview was especially effective. The dialogue was tight and didn’t seem forced or purple, which could be construed that way if delivered by a different actor.

Along with the voices was the music, especially the now-infamous Leonard Cohen romance scene. Some of these songs also appeared in the miniseries proper, also cued up and overlapped as scenes in the book as well as the screen translation. It’s nice to know the writers did their homework. Then again, all that homework might’ve hurt the film some. It’s always difficult to translate a book into a movie. Something’s always going to be either padded or jettisoned (for Watchmen it was the whole “Black Freighter” subplot, which was later and adapted for a straight-to-DVD release). But scenarists Hayter and Tse may have adhered too closely to the source material, not leaving a lot of room for cinematic interpretation. It’s one thing to see the images leap onto the screen. It’s another to have to keep turning the pages.

The sets reflect the hard, colorful angles of the nine panel pages of the original book. Everything sort of takes a kind of surrealist focus, as if to remind the audience that this is—was—not the 1985 you knew. You get the feeling that despite the heavy-handedness of the source material, Snyder’s having a lot of fun making the film. Granted the fun is dark and sometimes demented, but let’s face the truth: sometimes the best kind of fun is dangerous.

I gave up following the movie frame-by-frame along with the original comics I cracked out for the occasion by the third act. Biggest carp? The ending was racist Hollywood, and with that a lot of other stray thoughts clutter up my mind. Being beaten over the head with exacting efforts can leave one woozy.

Do any of these points sell the film for people who’ve never read the comics? Probably not. They are but touchstones of a valiant effort to bring one of the most complex, dense and literate comic books to the screen. So…


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it, especially for fans of the comic book just to see the parallels play out. For non-fans? It’ll make you want to go out and read the comic book. It better.


Stray Observations…

  • I like the fact they got Dan Dreiberg’s hair just like it was in the comics. It’s the little details like that, which enthralls us comic book heads. We’re sometimes easy to please.
  • I wish Nixon were more of a spectral presence in the film. The ex-president only hit the pages for a few panels, and without much dialogue to boot. It was the idea of a twisted Nixon running the country that dug into most of the atmosphere of the book.
  • “I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re all locked up in here with me.”
  • Using the swinging door as Big Figure’s demise in five panels was very good camera work.
  • As with his other works adapted for the big screen, writer Alan Moore refused to be credited. Him not wanting to be credited is almost as much a thumbprint as being credited. It’s like the old riddle: try not to think about a purple octopus. Get it?
  • In the 1960’s TV sci-fi series The Outer Limits, there was an episode entitled “The Architects of Fear” where scientists plan to save Earth from nuclear war by uniting it against a manufactured alien foe. Not sure if Alan Moore ever saw this show as a kid, but it got me to wondering.

Next Installment…

We go for a Drive with Ryan Gosling.