“…Upon Your Mystery Ship”


Bet you thought I’d never get back to this one.

(I no longer like “the oughties”, by the way…)

Well, neither did I.  But then Ed brought over the Watchmen movie, so I figured “what the hell”…and who knew this extremely late review would turn out to be at all topical?  Huh.  Well, it’s probably just that the DVD came out, so that’s what’s driving rumours, possibly even will drive soul-chilling announcements, who knows?  But so anyway I am trying to watch it a second time now, and let me tell you it is slow going.  For the life of me, I can’t understand how non-comics people could’ve been interested in this, why they didn’t run screaming from it.  I mean, “realistic superheroes”, okay, that pump’s been primed already — in an obvious, if roundabout, way by Watchmen itself — but did anyone watching this really get a head rush from Dr. Manhattan’s history?  Weren’t all the “head rush” parts mostly taken out?  And so it seems too lackluster to really reach out and grab anyone by the throat, not just in the critical “Watchmaker” section, but in various bits and pieces throughout the movie that should have shone even with no polish on them whatsoever, but somehow didn’t.  Meanwhile most of these “realistic” things have probably been seen before, so what else gets added?  The best dialogue in the movie is still Alan Moore’s, but the worst thing that happens to it sometimes is that it doesn’t get changed when it oughtta, and (astonishingly!) it does get changed when it doesn’t need changing…with the result that many points of tension simply fall right out of the thing, along with the supersymmetry.  Which of course isn’t just about the way Dr. Manhattan sees things, but about the way all the other characters don’t see things.  When Laurie and Dan fight the muggers in the alley (and believe me, I’ll get back to that!) it has nothing to do with Jon’s TV interview, because words and pictures don’t synch up…which is fair enough, you can’t have everything, and as has been noted many of Watchmen’s coolest bits on the page would turn to trite conventionality on the screen, so there can’t be anything sacred about saving them.  Even the matter of supersymmetry isn’t absolutely essential, I guess.  From a certain perspective.  On the other hand, though:  tension.  Without the supersymmetry, there are so many ways in which it fails to be built.  Did anyone honestly not get the memo about who Laurie’s father was, when they saw this?  Did anyone not come away from that scene with Adrian and Dan, you know the one where Adrian looks out the window and says “by the way, it was me”, and not realize that, by the way, it was him?  Already in my head is a voice screeching that at some point you’re going to know it’s Adrian anyway, that it’s just the nature of the moviemaking beast…and that’s the same voice that says Watchmen always did show blood, gore, dirt, sex…that Moore is always toying with the darker notes hidden away in characters like these, that he wants you to see them…

…But this voice is an asshole, I think.  Hey, remember last week or something there was some fuss made over the Fantastic Four comic where Valeria calls her brother a “retard”?  The thing is, the casual use of this word offended some people.  In case you missed it, other people (including the writer) defended the word choice by saying “that’s just how kids talk”.  But if you boil it down, that’s the same sort of bullshit argument I outline above.  And don’t get me wrong, if I wanted to weigh in on how cautious we should be with potentially offensive language, I would have — that isn’t the part I’m identifying as bullshit.  But the suggestion that any writer of Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man, or Batman or whatever has some kind of artistic obligation to be real with his language is clearly bullshit, I think.  Because it isn’t society that’s on trial, here:  most of the words spoken in superhero comics are outrageously not-how-real-people-talk, never are going to be how real people talk…these aren’t documentaries, and it’s damned rare that controversial or realistic language does much for a story in this mode, but it’s even rarer still that a controversy completely unintended, that doesn’t even have a point it wants to make, can pull off claims of story-based value in “realism”.  And so it makes me laugh to think how little would be lost, if the writer had said something more like “jeez, I guess I didn’t think about that very carefully;  you’re right, it was unnecessary.”  I mean, people make mistakes all the time, right?  Sometimes they are small mistakes.

Other times, they’re bigger.  Now what I was thinking about, was how amazing it is that Dan and Laurie graphically kill and maim a few people in Watchmen, and then discuss going for a beer.  I laughed when the first bloody bone came shooting out of an arm, and I was kind of thinking “wow, just imagine if this was in 3D”.  It might as well have been.  And of course the whole movie is loaded up with gratuitously violent money-shots such as this, stuff that is just simply over the top, hard sells, hammer-blows, visual amphetamine.  Crank?  Crank.  But it’s not exactly a good sympathy-engine.  Meanwhile the little voice in my head says “it’s just explodey fun, why get uptight about it, hey you liked Crank, I thought!”  But that voice only finds it convenient to call me a hypocrite because misery loves company:  that voice wouldn’t care if it was Watchmen I was watching or it was Transformers 2, because that’s the voice that says “Oh, take it easy, personally I’m looking forward to reading Mark Millar’s adaptation of Pale Fire, just to see the trainwreck.”  But as I mentioned:  that voice is an asshole.  And furthermore, be it known:  trainwrecks aren’t really that much fun to watch.

Not really.

I liked Crank.  In contrast, I don’t think the voice ever genuinely likes anything.  So there’s that “retard” thing, I want to get back to that…because if the word-choice doesn’t flow from a commitment to “provoke” the reader by being unflinchingly honest, it certainly comes from somewhere, because word-choices don’t really just “happen”.  So, where does it come from?  I think it’d be uncontroversial for me to suggest that it doesn’t come from what kids say, but what adults say — hip language, pop culture, the zone of hyperactive inter-geek storytelling.  The shared frontier patois of we who accept our inner adolescents, our own shared experience/observational comedy stuff.  We don’t just pick it up out of our environment as kids do, we choose it:  the cheap thrills of lovingly-shot slo-mo mayhem, kickass show-off moments studded with (to paraphrase a friend’s recent comment about what twelve-year-old boys like) non-threatening action spandex girls with huge tits.  And so we should know better than anyone:  character really isn’t a major concern in this sort of thing, no more than being a veridical observer of How Things Are is a major concern.  So there’s nothing to defend, here;  the energy spent on this defence is wasted.  Concession costs nothing, because there’s nothing at stake.

Or…maybe there is?

Maybe there is just a little something at stake.  This movie’s got a shitload of little problems, that aren’t really “little” at all:  they’re basic problems, that range all over the map of “basic”.  But the voice wants me to know that none of this really matters, because if I think it does then it also means I think the voice is an idiot grazer whose only artistic criterion is whether or not its belly is full.  The “retard” thing, I think it’s safe to say, was just a mistake.  Dan and Laurie in the alley, slaughtering muggers:  oh, come on, that was a mistake too.  There’s a thing about this movie, that it makes a lot of mistakes — mostly you wonder why, you wonder how the mistakes came to happen.  Some of them are the result of Snyder ramping things up into the stratosphere, and that’s easy to see.  You want to know why, when Dr. Manhattan points his finger at somebody, they pop like balloons full of meat salad?  But the movie is full of such things, for heaven’s sake this is practically its sentimentality at work!  To the extent Snyder has an auteur-ish vision, here it is.  The SFX track is pumped way up for a reason.  Rorschach only kills the dogs incidentally, for a reason.

And it’s in the reason, that one discovers the nature of the more obvious errors.  Look, from the opening fight in Eddie Blake’s apartment, things start to shoot themselves in the foot:  these people have some kinda extreme super-strength and resistance to injury, this isn’t Batman, not even Jet Li, this is Superman II.  And me, I think that was a dumb idea, but I understand the rationale.  Even if the rationale was sort of not quite right.  Still, it’s a little dicier when Dan and Laurie kill some ordinary people on the street and then smile about it though, eh?  They’re not even the right kind of nervous with one another.  One is concerned for the point, as one rationale necessitates another, and the whole thing picks up speed unrestrained.  Blake’s scar doesn’t figure into the symbolism, neither does Laurie’s finger on the dust of Dan’s equipment.  Of course these things could’ve been left alone about as easily as they were changed, but I think it is fair to ask:  left alone to what end, when the supersymmetry isn’t there anyway?  By comparison, the long shot of the Argyre Planitia — I can only image what the non-comics moviegoing public made of that.  Did they think it just came in from out of left field, did the words “as if” cross their minds?  The supersymmetry is not really there!

These are little things, but they do add up, and most of them aren’t just me nitpicking.  Me nitpicking would be like:  wow, Adrian’s personal worth is enough to buy Chrysler, Ford, and GM a couple times over?  It isn’t impossible — this could easily be a world without Microsoft or Apple, and APPARENTLY he’s some kind of whiz at genetic engineering — ha, maybe they left Bubastis in this movie because they’re planning of making her into an action figure? — but I’ve got to say, it was a bit jarring to hear him threaten to buy the entire North American auto industry.


But here’s some not-nitpicking.  The sex scene in the owlship is crazy over the top, don’t you think?  When Rorschach disposes of Big Figure, that just seems kind of laboured, doesn’t it?  But then there are things that aren’t over the top, they’re just sort of…huh?  Rorschach’s dialogue in the cell is changed just slightly, for hard-to-understand reasons — the method by which he kills Big Figure’s remaining goon is sort of repetitive.  Is that guy even supposed to be alive after having his head smashed through a toilet?

Can the psychiatrist really not recommend Rorschach being committed after hearing his story?

That in particular is kind of a Dark Knight level of inconsistency…so let’s just leave it to one side for a second, and concentrate on the day what was left of Walter Kovacs died.  This is a straight-up fumble, isn’t it?  Honestly I’m coming to really enjoy the Rorschach guy’s acting effort in this thing, and he knows how to read Moore’s words…but the killing of the dogs is the part where Kovacs finally checks out, isn’t it?  Well, it is;  but that dark moment — as dark as it gets! — is inexplicably undersold in favour of the bad guy’s punishment.  And it’s tempting to chalk that up to somebody’s misreading of the original text, except…come on, did anybody misread that part of the original comic?  So, no:  the guilty party here is the crazy ramping-up of spectacle, the adrenaline.  Rorschach breaking down and butchering the dogs isn’t any adrenaline-junkie’s idea of a fist-pumpingly good revenge trip.  Dan and Laurie’s porno-gone-wrong music video starts with Dan feeling impotent standing naked before his owlsuit (which doesn’t really look like an owl at all, but — nitpicking!), however the bit where he’s wearing the glasses is carefully omitted, right?  And anyway they’re the wrong kind of glasses, and come to think of it that doesn’t make sense — he’d look a lot more like an owl if the glasses were like Archie’s windshie…oh never mind, there’s so much to say it almost isn’t worth getting bogged down in every little specific.  We’ll be here all night.  Speaking of which, crazy to think poor old dead Jon still possessed vanity enough to reconstruct himself with both a steroidal physique and a huge schlong (superpowers!) — and yet the key is right here, eh?  The key to everything is that the world is no more ready for a superman with a tiny dick, than it is for a masked avenger of the night with real feelings like the kind we’ve got.

“Mommy, is that Jesus?”

Snyder unwisely lets the moment stand.  Though at least Mommy says “no”.

But the point remains:  this isn’t nostalgia, it’s mawkishness.  And the violence is the most mawkish of all.

Christ, I feel a little bit like I’m picking on a little kid, though.  Does the world really need another excoriation of the Watchmen movie?  I mean I want to make my point, but I don’t want to be an asshole about it myself, you know?  There are just lots of little mistakes in this movie, that’s all.  But it isn’t more deserving of scorn than other Moore-derived movies.  “From Hell” was actually far more shortsighted than this is.  The Watchmen motion comic was far more horrendous.  So, this hasn’t ruined the original experience for me like seeing the Star Wars Special Editions did.  Good God, but in the age of computers haven’t we been well enough educated to know that “Special Edition” is the mark of death?  I’m through with Star Wars now, man.  Star Wars and I are done, finished.  But Watchmen and I are fine.  So what am I saying, it wasn’t as good as the comic?  Well, I never thought it would be.  Am I accusing Snyder of hubris or something, is that my point?

Am I saying it was shitty?

It wasn’t exactly shitty, but it was a bit WEIRD.  If I had to think of a recent superfolks movie to compare it to, I’d probably pick the first Fantastic Four movie, honestly.  Which makes sense:  because I had the same sort of feeling of aversion to seeing it, as I did with that one.  It wasn’t hate.  It wasn’t fear.  Maybe it was embarrassment?  Or more likely it was a kind of sympathy after all.  Christ, I couldn’t even make a Watchmen movie that I’d like, you know?  In the end, the squid didn’t matter as much as Dan telling people he’d be seeing them all the goddamned time.  That was one of the inexplicable mistakes.  The ludicrous gore was more understandable, as was the loss of the supersymmetry.  But it was the B-grade “understandables” that were really frustrating.  Most of Rorschach’s journal came across like the Architect’s speechifyin’ in the second Matrix movie:  as text, totally fine, but as spoken dialogue WHAT?  I do understand the necessity of having the journal end up in Seymour’s hands, with us knowing what it is, but…seriously, someone says “abattoir of retarded children” aloud, that’s not arresting, that’s either hilarious or it’s disturbing as shit, or it’s both.  But are we supposed to think of Rorschach that way, really?  Well, I think it was not really considered, I think the question never came up in a serious way…like I said, it’s a bit weird.  Do we need to have the name of the military base that houses Jon and Laurie narrated to us, after seeing the sign almost a whole minute before the voiceover gets around to it?  In the comics, lots of things can be made to work, that are radically superfluous in film.  “Obsolete Models A Specialty” is not necessary in film — and stripped of supersymmetry it looks ham-fisted.  Listen, here’s the absolutely AMAZING thing, okay?  Movies already trade on supersymmetry. Nobody in a movie ever has a dream that isn’t prophetic.  Movies put the foreshadowing in your face ten times a minute.  All this shit’s completely normal to movies.  Which is why Hollis’ sign is something that won’t make anyone go “ahhh! how clever!” in a movie — in a movie, no one will see the places the camera goes as anything but totally intentional.  Hollis’ sign isn’t brilliant decoration in the movie as it was in the comic, “In Gratitude” would be grating even if it were set up properly, there is nothing brilliant about filling spaces in a movie with movie-type-stuff, no one looks at Orson Welles movies and says “that’s so innovative how he has the actors scold the camera like they can see us”, they just DON’T.

And so this may be another key to this movie, specifically to its weirdness:  that the comic already looked like a movie, just not enough.  Or occasionally:  just a little too much.  So much hammering, but somehow — somehow — we lose the details of “Watchmaker” that attach us most powerfully to Jon’s experience of time.  Little trivial pieces of nothing, they’re just words, so easily replaced…yet without them something’s lost.  And why are they not there, if they’re so trivial?  I’m not saying we need whole scenes back, although I don’t think it’s very hard to see that Billy Crudup would’ve hit the “photograph lies at my feet” business right out of the park, I mean look what he accomplished just with “perhaps nothing is made” and “it’s too late” — as Jackie Earle Haley would’ve crushed the audience to tears, no doubt, with the dogs — but I love it when he scratches his head later on, you know? — I mean I’m not asking for the whole wide world, but where is the sense that Jon is reassuring Janey in one room, can hear her swearing at him in another?  Not all of Moore’s prose is deathless, but the technical fine-tuning is fairly impeccable, and doesn’t take any more time than anything else…that someone made the choice to get rid of it astounds me.  Did the non-comics folk in the audience really get Jon’s perspective?

But maybe they weren’t really supposed to — maybe they weren’t supposed to dwell on it that much.  Rorschach with the dogs, that would’ve stuck in the mind like a splinter.  Could I have appreciated him scratching his head, after that?  The movie’s only so long.  Jon’s story could fill twice the space it took up, and probably more.  I saw the Director’s Cut, it was skinny at a hundred and sixty-eight minutes.  In the theatrical release, you wouldn’t want people just zoning out thinking about Dr. Manhattan, would you?  And as for Laurie’s parentage, my goodness.  It isn’t pretty, the way we get to it.  But at least I saw the snowglobe.  And you can’t have everything.  You can’t have all of it.

And it’s too late now, anyway.

But there are definitely some negative things to say about it all, that deserve saying, deserve hearing, deserve something anyway.  Because I may’ve said that nothing really needed to be held sacred in this movie, but then again the movie itself is all about what needs to be held sacred and what doesn’t…and I, myself, am actually so very fondly attached to the book that if given the chance to make this movie I probably wouldn’t’ve.  Sacred, I dunno.  It’s funny what cooks down as essential, here.  It’s very wobbly.  The logic of physical damage, punishment both dished out and taken, is tough to make work…if you care about that sort of thing.  It’s so exclusively tonal:  Dan pounds on Adrian’s face and makes a little scratch.  I have to tell you, it set me back a little:  earlier we saw teeth floating in a bloody mouth.  This is the logic of bodies and how they work, what they can endure, what they symbolize, how they suffer and why.  Adrian’s little drop of blood is meant to touch us.  His fight with the Comedian is supposed to fill us with desperate urgency.  The violence is the music, here:  emotional texture.  Watchmen needs a lot of it.  Well, that’s what realism is, for heaven’s sake!  Dan’s gawping after Laurie is so empty that it needs something, and it was either brutal over-the-top ultraviolence, or it was gonna be “Oh Yeah” by Yello…

Oh yes, folks, don’t kid yourselves!  These same choices could’ve been made much, much more poorly!

As for the Comedian himself, his funeral is confusing;  camera looks down as rain falls on the mourners, we’ve seen this before, okay, it’s not exactly pure genius but it isn’t unendurable…still, if they’re gonna do that, why didn’t they do the bit where the mourners’ posture at the grave recalls their posture when the Comedian messed with their heads?  I mean, I don’t really care a whole lot, but I also don’t understand the choice.  Not when Rorschach gets to play with the “fine like this” callback-dialogue thing, and my GOD when did that shit become so de rigeur in American movies, I really really really would like to know.  I’d like to have someone to blame for it.  I mean if they can do that stuff, why couldn’t they do any of the other stuff, that’s better and less hackneyed?

Although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like how he delivered the line…heck, the way it ended up, I didn’t even mind the song.  But you know, this is like “The Golden Army”, this is just somebody’s fan-fic, like a backhanded review of the source material rather than an adaptation of it.  There really are music-video parts — like those long-form videos people used to do, it’s sort of like six or seven of those strung together, with bridges made of “movie”.  I’m going to say this is not the most heinous thing there ever was:  music does indeed add texture to poses and shots, possibly is the only thing that might add back tension that script revisions removed.  The score, the shots, the dialogue in voiceover…that’s the symphonic aspect of film, and it isn’t forceless, it isn’t valueless.  Maybe it’s even where the seeds of adaptations take root, translating something difficult from another medium into a kind of Universal Donor form of artistic dynamic, a plug that fits all sockets…”music video”, I mean how did anybody ever even come up with this idea?  I remember reading X-Men comics while listening to the Red Album, and it fit weirdly, just as all this does.  In the old mixed-tape days, I wrote down themes I was trying to get across, flows for a rainy day, a bad breakup, a party.  On to the sampling and mixing of today, and even I, Mr. Old-And-Tired, have just plugged part of the opening of “Ziggy Stardust” into a song’s middle-eight like an insane person, to switch the “logic” track over from Words to Music, a temporary inversion of how meaning is delivered in an ordinary song.  We shouldn’t just discount this.  This is how we make our own personal fan-fic in our heads, isn’t it?  How we play our games of “what would I do”, “what would I match”…

It’s sort of a kink, you see.  “Oh, if I could do whatever I pleased, I’d do this…!”  Hmm…something to be said for a job where all you do is cross your own boundaries, make illicit fantasies into normative behaviour…

Let’s see…what else?  It is of course nice to see drinking buddies and old professors getting work.  What else?  Under The Hood is absolutely awful.  SURPRISE!  Bet you expected it to be good, huh?  Me too.  But it really wasn’t.  The Black Freighter made me laugh, though.

What else.

God, I don’t even know.  The Nixon is like a Sin-City Nixon, remarkably like a Nixon in a comic-book…for some reason I grew not to mind this.

Ah.  And of course, there’s the matter of “was it worth it” and “was it enjoyable to watch” and so on and so forth.  You do have to be happy for Dave Gibbons, who got to see some of his masterful artwork diligently recreated by someone who obviously understood just how good it was.  How many comics artists get that kind of compliment?  How many, who’ve accomplished something as stunning as what Gibbons did in Watchmen, have been so ignored and denigrated by the very people who claim to love his work the most?  On the higher plane of human beings getting the respect they deserve, Watchmen’s a success in this sense:  Dave Gibbons is in every scene, his name is on it and he got paid for it and people went out and bought his book because of it.  And he was happy with it.  Good for him.  So does it matter if it was any good, if I thought it was “worth it”?

Well, sure it does.  I just don’t know if I do think that, because my “review” of the source material is considerably different from the one Snyder’s given me to chew over.  Watchmen the book and Watchmen the movie were always going to be miles apart from one another in terms of content — no one thought we were going to get the Gordian Knot, surely?  The inside of the Bestiary?  The Black Freighter?  Blood From The Shoulder Of Pallas?  Even the outstanding colouring.  Watchmen doesn’t even mean the same thing to me as it did back in ’86 — like me, it’s aged well, but it’s aged nonetheless.  The movie, by contrast, is never going to age at all — it’s going to be stuck in the summer of 2009 for all eternity, pinned ruthlessly to the corkboard of this time, this place, this cultural concern.  The special effects will one day look primitive.  The politics will look as glued-on as the costumes.  The story will stay pretty much linear.  The particular humour and particular seriousness of Moore and Gibbons will always be absent, as will the true character of their accomplishment.  What we were always looking for here was an interesting failure;  that really was all we were ever going to get, that really was the best we were ever going to get.

So…was it interesting?

Dave Fiore thought it was.  Focussing on the political dialogue between the comic and the movie, he thought it was worth it to consider an Adrian who was more than just an extradimensional-squid inventing madman.  And he has a point:  in the comic, Adrian’s far madder than Rorschach, more inhuman than Jon, more pathetic than Dan…his life more damagingly composed of lies than Laurie’s.  Of course it’s just this that causes the Comedian’s sense of humour to shatter, in the end — a fucking space squid!? — and as Jog noted at the time, Veidt’s apocalyptic landscape is a pretty sanitized one in the film.  Very little horror, very little blood.  He says he’s made himself feel every death, but in the comic you know he hasn’t;  you know he couldn’t.  Whereas in the movie he’s allowed to get away with saying this — well, he is the smartest man in the world, after all!  Maybe he knows something we don’t!  Because we can’t make ourselves feel every death, can we?

So, is it deck-stacking?  In the comic we know something Adrian never will, because we’ve been to the bloody Lovecraftian deathscape of New York with Jon and Laurie — so “smartest man in the world” won’t cover anything, for us.  It just won’t wash.  In the movie we aren’t confronted with this sort of perspective, though, so we do get Dave’s interesting political dialogue coming at us in a more unforced way…the only question is, what should we say about the difference?  In the dialogue between movie and comic, a principal difference becomes how much judgement of himself Adrian is permitted — how much certainty he can afford, or manufacture.  In the comic he yells “I DID IT!” in childish triumph, but then looks to Jon to solve his dreams of the Black Freighter…and finds no solution forthcoming.  One in three go mad, in the new Millenium.  However in the movie there is no triumphant schoolboy shout, but there’s no madness either, so…I don’t know, is it enough?  True, we can grapple with the same problem Adrian grapples with, using the same tools, and decide for ourselves if his results are reproducible…or worth reproducing…but it’s only Adrian’s tools we’re given, and not (as the fellow named Kieran points out in that long-ago comments thread of mine), Moore’s.  Which is to say:  our own.  We are not really shown anything but what Adrian can see on his TV screens, so naturally we, like him, think the tools he’s got are up to the job.  And for myself, I think this constitutes a shortfall in meaning…

…But, yeah:  it’s probably interesting enough to argue about, anyway!

And anyway, as I said, we knew we wouldn’t really be getting Watchmen.  So maybe the argument is all there is?

I don’t know.  There are few scenes that don’t have something to quibble with in them.  It’s hard to get around Adrian having an Egyptian statue standing there with Yeats’ lines scribbled beneath it, even though at this point one pretty much expects it.  It’s tough to feel bad for Laurie when she could’ve just taken the cab and not killed that guy.  The little voice argues that this is just how kids talk, this is just how real-world superheroes would be:  they’d be horrors, they’d be fascists, I mean look at their suits.  It says:  hasn’t Moore made a big enough meal of this in his other comics, for you to accept seeing it here?  And yet I did not think Dan was such a big hypocrite in the comic, so…was I supposed to?

Was that the message I missed?

Was it all just a big joke, from the beginning?

Nah.  All that hyperviolence stuff, y’know…that’s new.  They stuck it in there on purpose, because they needed it.  Dan and Laurie in the alley?  You think of all the things that sequence was for in the comic;  it isn’t for any of that here.  It’s for quite another sense of proportion.  Nothing “sacred” about it!  And so that explains why the defence of this movie seems not to have been centred around the question “did they hold it as sacred”, but around the question “did they blaspheme against it” instead…with the corollary question being “is it even possible to blaspheme against it?”  So we’re into the Frankenstein questions here, appropriately enough:  is it just a matter of reassembling the pieces in the correct order?

Perhaps Dave is right, and the dialogue between movie and comic is interesting enough in itself, to make the movie worthwhile.  I only wish I knew if he saw it a second time, though!  Because when I finished my second viewing of it, all these words just about went flying out the window.  Depressing?  It surely was:  largely empty-hearted, dripping crocodile tears, a series of nods to scenes that were presumed to have something in them just because they were there.  Snyder drops most of what is in Watchmen, to show us what is on it:  owlship crashes spectacularly on Antarctic cliffs, ACTION sequence!  But where’s the meaning in it?  Dan and Laurie lose my sympathy in the alley, but for what?

Here is a thing about meaning:  it’s about thinking globally, and acting locally.  One scene doesn’t mean all by its lonesome, but it’s part of a tapestry of cause and effect — a cause and effect whose nature the scene reveals, through being a part of it.  So by themselves — and even together! — the scenes in Watchmen might mean anything, you see?  And so it always is, with superficial copies — their perceived faithfulness depends on how low they can set the value of faithfulness.  Is Watchmen, the comic, any good?  Why do we even like it so much?  After all, it’s just a bunch of scenes of people doing stuff and saying things, hell I can get that out my front street…so what’s the difference?  Thus from Mary Shelley we move off further back in time, to Rene Descartes…

What is “mind”, anyway?

You can’t touch it, or taste it!

And don’t a live body and a dead one have the same number of particles in them?

Structurally, there’s no difference…right?

Well…maybe there’s just a little bit of difference.  Mark Kardwell told me, in the last comments thread, that it would be awful and that I would complain bitterly, but that I would still wind up enjoying it…because at the end of the day it is Watchmen.  I think he was probably right, when it came to my first viewing:  for all sorts of reasons, I felt involved and invested in what would happen, what Snyder would do…how I myself would respond, and what I’d discover from that response.  The second viewing absolutely swept all that excitement away, however;  as I began to realize that the movie was actually mostly crap.  And yet, you know, Mark’s still right.  I didn’t enjoy it on second viewing.  Quite the opposite.  But somehow I have still wound up having something to say about it…because at the end of the day, it was Watchmen.

By which I mean:  the comic was.

And of course, it still is.

…But I think that’s all the time we’ve got for today, to talk about it.


35 responses to ““…Upon Your Mystery Ship”

  1. I’m a little annoyed with myself that I didn’t put in any things about scenes that were genuinely just bad, because they were just crappy Hollywood boilerplate. Not choices, you know? But reflexes. What we mean when we say “boy, they really sucked the life out of that”, bargain-bin sentiment. But then, I didn’t put in all the imponderable goofs, either — hardly a frame in this you couldn’t look at and say “nope…nope…mistake…silly…another mistake”, all the way down the line to the credits. There just isn’t time enough to cover them all.

    But I should’ve peeled myself away from the ones I did cover, to point out that there are things in this movie that just made me say “oh, fuck you anyway” to the screen…like we all knew there would be. But the worst thing about the way it’s all jammed up alongside one another is still that no one bothers to criticize the things that are just fucking stupid and boring, in favour of criticizing the things that aimed higher and flopped. I mean, the really bad, unimaginative, shitty stuff Snyder did shouldn’t get a free pass just because the rest of the time he was trying to do Watchmen. But they do. There are bad parts of this movie that are very un-Watchmen, that have nothing to do with approaching the source material, that just lie there. If I was a real film guy instead of a comics nut, it’s those things I’d actually be concentrating on, I’d say “yeah, the stuff he got from that comic, whatever, now how is it as a movie“…and I think I’d probably say it was a half-assed movie. It’s sort of like when my Dad read the Da Vinci Code, he was interested in the symbology but hated the book…apologists for this movie online have really tried to have it both ways, giving credit to Snyder for things he didn’t do while in the same gesture absolving him for whatever was actually his contribution, like somehow it’s unfair to get on his case for whatever wasn’t special effects, choice of what to adapt, modelmaking, etc…for whatever wasn’t “replication of Watchmen” he gets a pass because the replication was so hard to do, for whatever was “replication of Watchmen” he gets a pass for the same reason. Everything that’s right down to him, it’s as though we’re content to say “well, none of that stuff was ever going to be good enough to even merit criticism, so let’s just forget it.” Doesn’t sit right with me: why weren’t we to expect anything from stuff that wasn’t just “getting Watchmen mostly wrong?”

    • I mean, one thing like that I did remember to mention was, I guess, Adrian’s “it was me” face. But Laurie’s reconciliation with Sally at the end of the movie was another big one that pissed me off no end.

  2. Honestly, the more I think about this, the madder I get: “make it look like this comic as much as you possibly can”, how is that even a reason to make a movie? How is that really even “adaptation”?

    Grr. I’m probably going to fume about it for a while, now that I’m past listless depression and right into full-on pissed-off-ness.

  3. Oh. And here I was striving to draw parallels between Moore and Abel Gance and Segei Eisenstein, in order to explain how Zack Snyder was in the same fix as David Lynch.


    If we’re merely on the plane of dumbutt stupid, the first thing I want to know is, what was wrong with “You’re My Thrill?” Who could be so deaf to the lyrical? Doesn’t Snyder even understand how many hundreds of directors have clawed themselves bloody grasping for the one solitary detail that would say “And this is the kind of love it is”, and Moore hands it to him on a plate, and he …

    (Famous New Yorker cartoon. Le Chef in his kitchen, chef hat, sitting bent over his bench, in tears. Tears. Sous-Chef leaning over his shoulder, all support in his friend’s bereavement.)

    … he … doused it in tomato sauce!

    Everything else pales.

  4. It’s like there’s four classes of mistakes, here.

    One: Just plain bad/lazy filmmaking.

    Two: Absolutely insane shit that there’s no reason for, that just comes out of nowhere.

    Three: Aggressively blind moves away from stuff that was already beautiful and easy, for something uglier and clumsier.

    Four: Things he did on purpose/had to do, that constituted informed decision-making but nevertheless seemed to suck pretty badly.

    In other words, things that were a result of him not really getting what Watchmen was about, things that were a result of him changing it for commercial reasons involving “what people want to see”, things that he changed for his own aesthetic reasons, good things he foolishly dumped, weird or stupid details he mystifyingly inserted, things that there’s no reason he should’ve even thought of altering but somehow did, things that he bloody well should’ve changed but didn’t, and things he did to dumb things down formulaically because they were easier to handle that way. That’s a pretty long laundry list of Wrong. Against it is a real short list of Right — things even I will admit he did right, maybe changes I didn’t necessarily prefer but changes which anyone could reasonably defend…and filmmaking stuff he did right.

    I will admit to being fascinated, the first time through. Even astonished at times — thank God you prepared me for Ride of the Valkyries! But it’s hard to lose “You’re My Thrill”, even harder to lose Dan liking “You’re My Thrill”, which is why it’s playing…questions of running time, maybe, but Good Lord what we got instead was not a substitute for it!

    Rant rant rant! Oh shit I have to be up and travelling in three and a half hours.

  5. I hope I never see it, but this, Jog, and Who Sent the Sentinels – there’s sure but some good writing about it!

  6. They did the rescue scene but *didn’t* use You’re My Thrill? That’s just sheer boneheaded fucknuttery wrongness. There’s no possible defence for that.

  7. Frightening, eh?

    Glad you’re here, Andrew, since I wanted to say a little bit more about the use of the word “retard”, and I know you despise it. So here’s what I remember about it, thrown out there just to see how this lines up other folks’ recollections:

    I remember people my age revisiting it in their twenties, referencing how they used it as children for ironic effect. Even pronouncing it as a little kid who doesn’t know any better might — this is, I think, where its currency of the moment came from: from the intersection of comedy, and nostalgia.

    Weird, huh? And in 1986 I was twenty years old.

    That’s how I remember it, anyway.

    (Also I believe the “slow clap” comes from Brubaker, but that really is beside the point…)

  8. Honestly, the more I think about this, the madder I get: “make it look like this comic as much as you possibly can”, how is that even a reason to make a movie? How is that really even “adaptation”?

    I’ll have more to say later probably (I know: pins and needles, right?), but I think this is ultimately what bugs me about Snyder’s Watchmen. It’s one thing to look at source material and say “There’s something valuable to communicate here using a different medium, using different methods.” And it’s another thing just to make a movie version of something purely for the money. One’s commendable, one’s kinda shitty, but I can understand them at least.

    But such a faithful (or intending to be faithful anyway) recreation? It’s like, why are we so desperate to see these things being done with real people, with motion, with sound? That great Dave Gibbons shot of the funeral in the rain – why do we *need* to see it in a movie? It comes off oddly as begging for validation. He had to make a movie of this because it *deserves* to be a movie, which is ultimately just a total burn on comics as a storytelling medium. “This is brilliant, and so it has earned the chance to be told *properly*.”

    I don’t know, for me personally, selfishly, the movie was worth it just because it totally killed any desire I have to see “faithful” adaptations in this age of the comic book movie. I feel wiser (in a way that is totally irrelevant to real life, of course).

  9. Heh, actually, the discussion about writers’ supposed “responsibility” to use “real” language forms a funny kind of intersection with that “Wes Anderson’s Spider-Man” video that’s making the rounds. Yeah, people really *don’t* dress like that or talk like that, but that’s not the point, you can’t really criticize it for that. It’s just not to everyone’s taste, of course, and you can easily dismiss it as too precious. It’s like Wes Anderson is making omelets and people are getting on his case for not baking a pie. He doesn’t *want* to make a pie, dude!

    Sorry to digress.

    • Was that video supposed to be a criticism of Anderson? I tend to read these things as affectionate ribbing, especially if they’re even slightly near the mark.

      Wes Anderon’s Spider-Man might be the only Spider-Man movie I could love, at this point. (My vision was of Jason Schwartzmann’s Parker and Bill Murray’s Norman Osborn being passive-aggressive at each other in a diner – cheap drugstore costume? No costumes at all!) And it’s not like I’m not the market for the big blockbuster ones, either.

      • Oh, I read it as affectionate as well, but it’s generated discussion/criticism from internet commentators as a result.

        Actually, Bill Murray in the Anderson mode would make a remarkably good Norman Osborn, who I’ve always felt was kind of a crummy failure of a supervillain and knows it, deep down. Just petty and desperate enough to decide after Spider-Man beats him, “You know what? Screw all this plotting and scheming, I’m just gonna chuck his girlfriend off a bridge and see how he likes it.” Steve Zissou turns evil.

        Of course, Willem Dafoe is one of Anderson’s players anyway…

  10. Not at all: Ed used to have a thing on naturalistic language like this — he’d say, Shakespeare isn’t naturalistic language.

    I think that was from people complaining about Mamet’s non-naturalistic dialogue in “The Spanish Prisoner”…of course the irony here is that when Bendis attempts those rhythms, people do think his dialogue is more naturalistic. Which it isn’t, but then there isn’t anything wrong with that anyway, unless you’re someone who puts down non-naturalistic language…

    Which is really a bad spot to be in, because I think it takes a certain knack to write the naturalistic stuff. Certainly to be at all economical with it. And hey, who was that guy who made movies a few years ago, all language, all set in the same State…”The Unbelievable Truth”, was that one?

    If only there was some kind of magic information box that I could use to find this out…

  11. Back to Snyder, the thing is…I don’t think I’m willing to give him any credit for it, but when it comes to the questions of authenticity, illusion, vitality etc. that the characters are all bound up with themselves, this Watchmen movie goes pretty meta pretty fast. So Dave’s right! But then we knew he was going to be…so, when’s a copy not a copy, are there exact copies, what does it mean to be a “copy”…what does it mean to make a copy, this is real philosophical sausage and you can make it with this movie, in fact you can make it a lot easier with this than with the Psycho remake…to say nothing of the “ordinary” remakes Hollywood cranks out all the time, or adaptations like, I don’t know, Possession or The French Lieutenant’s Woman or something. So if nothing else, it’s an interesting case study, but then again (as Mark said!) that’s also down to Moore and Gibbons.

  12. The word “retard” takes me out of the story, context be damned. Yes, we used the word as a kid. We also used various swear words and dirty words. That doesn’t mean I want to see said words in a Fantastic Four comic. I’m sure it would be more realistic to have Ben Grimm swear a blue streak.

    (Speaking of “realistic” dialogue, my first impression of Bendis’s dialogue was, yes, how realistic it was. People used “um…” and started sentences over halfway through! Just like in real life! Compared to, say, Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid, Bendis’s dialogue comes closer to how some people speak, I suppose, although I recognize it now as a function of writing tics and stylization rather than immitating the content of real speech.)

    Watchmen: the movie… Going into it with muted expectations, I liked it, overall. As you pointed out, Gibbons’s artwork was well-represented. Jackie Earle Haley was a very good Rorschach. I liked the Comedian, Dan, and Jon as well. I didn’t think about the movie much after it was over, but I liked it more than the average comic-book reader seems to. Of course, I also thought X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3, and Wolverine were not that bad. Now that I think about it, Spider-Man 3 sucked ass, mostly, but I didn’t walk out of the theatre fuming.

    The main problem was how all the violence and sex being made more explicit didn’t add a thing. Stick to the main narrative, and you’ll be fine-ish. Adrian and Laurie didn’t work at all. Jon’s speech on the moon didn’t have the necessary impact, mostly because long monologues with big words delivered in a monotone don’t fly on a movie screen. I thought about how the reader controls the passage of time and rate of information absorbtion in a comic, and how the movie took that away.

    I have no desire to see it again, despite not disliking it. If I want more Watchmen, I’ll read the comic.

  13. Heh.
    I wondered how long this would take when I left that copy of the movie at your place. I didn’t think it would take over a week, but this post is long enough to account for it.

    The whole naturalistic-language-Shakespeare-Spanish-Prisoner thing was kind of the other way around; I had mentioned to you that I was getting sick of the obsession with “realism” in dialogue, and that I’d love to see someone who put a bit more art into it, and that, yes, hell, Shakespeare isn’t naturalistic, and that the very notion was probably pretty much unknown for much of the history of the written word. Then, later that very year, the Spanish Prisoner came out and did pretty much exactly what I’d been hoping for, and I totally fell in love with that movie because of it.

    That said, as far as Hickman’s FF controversy goes, I say let the guy have his excuse and move on, so I don’t really endorse using that argument as a rationale to continue hammering on at him or refusing to grant a pass.

  14. Well, I’m not interested in hammering on him or giving him a pass…I just think the “artistic merit” defence is a bit goofy in this instance.

  15. Well, sure, but the very use of the term “artistic merit” is a bit… grandiose for this instance, but I’d still accept “in-character” or “in-story reasons” without too much objection without the guy resorting to “hey that’s how it really is” or “don’t question my vision.”
    A better reply might have been just “I wanted to show her as a genius, but still emotionally immature, and even a bit of an arrogant little bitch.”
    Sure, it was probably inadvisable* but he was probably trying for something strong enough to take the reader aback a bit, and daily use of “idiot” and “moron” have drained those of most of their sting, and the one that was suggested (back on CSBG), “dummy,” is just feeble.
    Whether it belongs in a comic… well, obviously some language is best kept to MAX and Vertigo and the like, and this obviously shouldn’t get into a Marvel Adventures issue… As to how this relates to the main Marvel line being for kids or ageing fans or whether it should be, or whether it can be, or if the kids would come back if written for or not… I don’t know, and I’m not sure if I have the energy in me to take yet another go at hashing that one out, not just tonight but left in me in general.

    If, as I suspect, we’re working towards a situation where Reed realizes that he’s going to have to sit his daughter down for a Serious Talk on How You Treat People No Matter How Much Smarter You Are before she develops an arrogant attitude more reminiscent of the man who named her than of him, then, it might not universally excuse it, but it would at least make story sense.

    Also, I wasn’t really saying that you were talking about hammering on or giving passes, just that that’s what seemed to make up most of the noise that ensued when this was raised over at CSBG.
    Anyway, off the computer till tomorrow, so later…
    *The perfect word.

  16. Absolutely, I think the idea is to get the “Valeria learns an important lesson” story…although it’s funny in the first place to be writing stuff like that for an adult audience, right, I mean it just shows that there are a lot more stories you can tell in a Marvel comic that partake of kid-based moral address than anyone’s willing to give up…that’s a message belonging to juvie fiction, even if I like juvie fiction (and I do!) there’s no point saying that this story’s not essentially in the juvie vein…since any number of sophisticared stories may be in it, as well…

    Which is totally fine by me. But it’s also totally fine by me if people read “retard” and go “what the fuck, man?!” I would certainly have advised Hickman to have taken a conciliatory tone, maybe said something like “okay, let’s have this discussion”…particularly since the general Marvel culture has included an awful lot of fan-scolding over the past few years. You look at how Jeff Parker dealt with the furore over Slott’s remarks about piracy — it gave him the ability to claim the benefit of the doubt. By contrast, look at the way Bendis backed and filled about the Tigra thing — “I’m not a misogynist, and nothing about this traded on misogyny”. Well, like I said at the time, it’s infuriating: if a scene like that had occurred in Powers, I like to think he would’ve said “yeah, well obviously I threw that shit in there on purpose, to elicit just this reaction from the reader…what, you think I don’t know how to do my job?” Then you’ve got Joe Q. pretty regularly implying there’s something deficient in readers who take arguably appropriate offense, for a few years now. And what happens is that sometimes somebody gets caught in the shitstorm of mistrust this all generates: Epting’s Cap cover with the Falcon in flames, through (I think) no fault of his own, became tarred with the “fucking Marvel, at it again” brush.

    Sorry, this is turning into a bit of a mini-rant…

  17. …But what I mean is, it’s just a snowball mistake on Hickman’s part, to have even gotten into a place where Valeria says “retard” and it works in the context of the story maybe a bit better than another word would’ve, but at the same time it’s going to put you in a position where you have to either defend it, or cop to maybe it not being the best idea you ever had…or something in the middle, although as I said, if it were me I would’ve just said “oh, you’re right, my bad.” I do think it is the general climate of “fuck you, reader” that creates much of the problem, though — if Hickman can be accused of making a snowball mistake, then he’d certainly be able to turn around at point the finger at Marvel in general for allowing the slope to get so steep. That “retard” is a loaded word, whose usage is contested, is just a fact; and that Hickman’s taken heat for appearing to use it as though it wasn’t, shouldn’t surprise anybody. If he used it intending to show that Val’s got a bit of a socialization problem down the line, then he was aware of the word’s controversial nature, so if he didn’t load her use of the term enough for the reader to get that maybe it’s not cool for her to say it…you know what I mean? Marvel’s got a deservedly bad rep for insensitivity, and a really bad rep for putting out disingenuous PR about it, and despite what I said above about the “afterschool special” slant on it, for all I know Hickman might’ve been intending to do no more than set Val’s personality at “bit abrasive”, with no further thought given to this word-choice. I mean, I don’t know either way. And that’s kind of the point — if “retard” doesn’t piss me off as a reader, then I won’t care because I won’t care, but if I do care then nobody’s given me any reason to provide benefits of doubt. No Marvel comic’s ever going to get any benefit of doubt from any reader who cares about anything they may happen to be a bit saucy about, for that matter from any reader who wonders something like “is Storyline X even going anywhere”, ever again…the last decade’s blown their credibility to shit as far as any sort of “trust us” behaviour goes. So if Epting got tarred with that brush for his Cap cover, Hickman sure isn’t going to be able to escape it for the “retard” thing, and I feel for the guy for finding himself in a spot over it but it’s always something with Marvel, they’re always poking their fans with a stick, and even if that isn’t Hickman’s fault it’s sure as hell not mine either, and he could do something to fix it if he wanted to.

    Got a bit mad there, because suddenly selecting text has gotten a lot harder on my computer, don’t know why…

    More on this later! I know, I’m surprised too…but it’s 2010, maybe this is my end-of-decade thing, the nature of the fanbase and the company culture, what’s going on out there…


    Well, we’ll see.

  18. Hrh. When you said “I can’t understand how non-comics people could’ve been interested in this” I was hoping that you were genuinely curious. I’m always suspicious of the condescension of those who’ve read the book towards those who’ve only seen the film. Especially when you think treating the comic as a storyboard was complimentary to Gibbons.

    For the record, Penny (who doesn’t read comics, who sometimes has trouble knowing which panel to read next in a Sunday newspaper strip) loved it.

    Here is what another non-comic reading friend thought.

  19. Not at all, David! I’m still curious why, when so much has been made of the comic’s inaccessibility to non-comics folk (it’s invisible to me, I suppose because I’m so steeped in the references I don’t see anything there to know?), the movie seems to’ve been greeted so warmly by them. I mean, maybe the business about the comic being inaccessible’s been exaggerated in the first place — it’s certainly selling well!

    As to Gibbons: I think he feels complimented, by a director seeing what comics fans often don’t, that Watchmen is very dynamic visually.

    And there’s no need to call me “hrh”! That family tree was actually faked, we found out recently…

    Right, off to read your links.

  20. Obviously I meant to type “hurm”, but I’m sleep-deprived and didn’t follow your amusing link until after I’d posted my comment.

    Sorry for the snarkiness, but I didn’t find the movie crap and your post rubbed me the wrong way.

    (Nitpicking: after living through the “GFC” you don’t think it would be possible for a rich and powerful businessman to buy the American auto industry?)

  21. Well, you didn’t sound snarky at all, I thought doing the “you don’t have to call me HRH” sounded funny, but really it sounded like somebody responding to perceived snark…and so that was me giving the wrong impression, there. Also, being a bit slow on the uptake I’ve just figured out you weren’t saying you didn’t think it was complimentary to Gibbons to be admired as a storyboarder…

    Oh, Internet! You and your lack of nuance!

    Back in a few…must answer phone…

  22. I don’t think it is complimentary to Gibbons to be admired as a storyboarder! I disagree with comments that movies like this are “visually faithful” or “the comic brought to life”.

    (This would all be clearer in person. With beer.)

  23. But…I’m still typing my reply…!

    Dead right about the beer.

    I am interested in what parts of the movie attracted the non-comicky among us, and how they line up with what I like about the comic and the movie…almost as interested as I am in what turned them off, what they didn’t get, what they had to work at, what they excused, etc. I did find the movie a lot more crap on second viewing, and I think this was because on the second viewing I was less interested in how this and that and the other thing turned out, and much more interested in the relationship between book and film. But, I wonder if there wasn’t a bit more to it than that, as well: the first viewing had me excited to see what would come next, but the second was extremely tiring…and I didn’t expect it to be tiring, I expected it to be pretty much the same experience as the first viewing. It wasn’t, though.

    Of course my theory is that the non-comicky people who liked it were attracted to the parts in it that were the best intersections of the comic’s best language, art, and especially tone. Sometimes these were not the most visibly “faithful” moments, I think — for example, the parts I personally recognized as capturing that tone the best mainly had to do with the acting! Though at other times they had everything to do with visual assembly: just as an e.g., in the opening montage I believe we go right from Nite Owl standing up to have his picture taken, to the Silhouette kissing the nurse in the street. So there’s your nostalgia, and it’s disappearing, fine and good. Billy Crudup reciting those two lines I so enjoyed: there’s your sense of trippy atemporal dislocation, resignation, sadness. I just mention these to say, yes, they worked for me in the sense of “I love Watchmen, and that’s how I engaged with this movie, as an adaptation”. That I liked those parts has a lot to do with that personal approach of mine, the concern with “faithfulness”. But I also think they were richer parts of the movie, more attractive, even for those unfamiliar with the comic. Another thing that worked for me, you’ll probably think it’s funny: when Blake shoots the guy in the riot with the tear-gas canister, and he squeals out a desperate “No! Comedian…!” I would’ve happily lost the American Dream/It Came True bit at that point, if you see where I’m going — that hapless rioter getting nailed, and protesting it, to my mind is a valuable moment of orientation in the movie, and could almost carry the scene all by itself. Rorschach scratching his head because the damn mask is itchy…yet he’s not gonna take it off, right? As I said, I even found myself liking what I perhaps shouldn’t’ve liked, the Hendrix song and the Antarctic “Fine like this.” Interestingly to me, where in the comic Archie’s just plain toasted, in the movie Dan scurries about on the hull to save him…and I would say there’s something of interest going on there, in the choice to show it that way. When the “assassin” goes for Adrian, when Blake flies out the window in slow-motion…perhaps a half-dozen other moments or sequences, fall into the category of “liked it to some variable degree”, and I’m thinking surely I’m not so bound to the book as a book that other people unfamiliar with the source are not liking it too. Many of Moore’s words sing: I expect that people noticed that, and liked it.

    Then there are parts that didn’t grab me at all as “Watchmen”, but that I understand and that make sense, that also attract me to one degree or another. The fight in Blake’s apartment, for example. But also there are parts that are like that, only they’re not any good — parts that on second viewing didn’t make me react in any way other than to wonder “damn it, why the hell isn’t this better?” Things I just don’t like in movies, period.

    But then finally there are all the parts I didn’t like, that I found tiring on second viewing…and some of these were deliberate choices I didn’t approve of because of my own bias, but other parts had more with me being actively vexed by the way they screwed with the emotional logic of the comic, and turned it from something I liked into something I disliked. These aren’t really things I’d expect anyone coming to Watchmen fresh to notice if they liked the movie, but things I think they might be critical about if they didn’t like it, or at least if they didn’t like it all that much. Well, actually I think it’d be far more likely for a Watchmen newbie to mention these things, when it comes down to it: since there’s also a certain pressure on comics fans to excuse much in this movie, that other viewers wouldn’t feel.

    Oh, and then there’s all the stuff in the comic that I just can’t believe anyone would omit or change or distance themselves from…the new folk wouldn’t know anything about this, of course, but I’ll cling to those objections anyway!

    …Aaaand, now I’ve gone off-topic, damn. Must return later, after more reading and possibly sleep.

  24. But really, how could someone who didn’t already know Watchmen tolerate Rorschach’s freakin’ interminable voiceover-ing in the first few scenes? I mean, for me that’s Mystery #1. It’s just not written to be recited aloud!

    Oof, gotta crash…getting punchy…

  25. Actually, I felt more than just the journal suffered from being read aloud. Only saw the movie once when it came out, but I remember the “American dream/You’re looking at it” bit coming off stilted, and not buying the “This is the left hook that floored Captain Axis!” line, among a few others.

    But those I think might have been an issue of delivery/directing/acting, and not the script-language not translating. Of course, it *could* just be my problem, knowing the lines too well, and not anybody’s actual fault. I should’ve asked the co-workers I went to see it with, but I was too mad at one of them for thinking Rorschach was a stone-cold badass.

  26. Still don’t know if I went over the top on Snyder here…I mean it is true that non-comics people liked it and were intrigued by it, and…look at those loving flashbacks to the weird villains Nite Owl I fought, that shit is crazy because it is right out of the superhero comics culture, in the comic when Dan and Laurie are talking about Captain Carnage you understand the guy was just some random loon, when Hollis talks about Captain Axis you can kind of see there being a crazy nazi dude running around in a Hooded-Justice-inspired get-up…but one of the many faultlines in Watchmen the comic is the idea that any of the Minutemen ever did much more than beat up purse-snatchers, because they just couldn’t have and yet they must have…why on Earth would Laurie have a rooftop patrol to run through if the streets weren’t loaded with low-level supervillains, eh? It’s like the Keene Act stuff, it doesn’t make sense that the cops all strike because of seven or eight somewhat-athletic people in leotards, but it doesn’t have to make sense…it isn’t intended to be realistic, it’s commentary on genre conventions, it’s fine. Nite Owl hallucinates beating on DOZENS of costumed clowns, I mean it’s ridiculous…but in the movie this part’s actually glorious, because it’s just so insane, the colour palette is so manipulated, everything looks like it’s under six feet of distilled water…and it’s crazily tactile for all that, it’s loaded with really interesting kinetic detail.

    I applaud that bit, I really do. But I wonder: did the non-comics people love it too?

    I think I believe they probably did, that that’s a place where our acculturations meet. I think they got the riot stuff too, accepting from their knowledge of superhero comics that the cops are reacting to dozens and dozens of these freaks roaming around, even though in the comic/movie itself they’re…you know, not, but let’s not jump all over the implication just to shut it down. In the comic there are real psychics, it’s a world of “no powers” except for Jon, except it isn’t, it’s still a world operating (elliptically) under the rules of superhero comics. Man, I’m a bit late to be throwing this in, but yeah: I guess the idea that there were things that went over the head of the non-comicky is too deep for me, what did they not get if it wasn’t Dan and Laurie talking about “Captain Carnage” as though that could be a real person?

    Hmm, more on this one day soon, unless David comes back…

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