« Deep Waters Don't Run Still | Main | Dead Until Dark »

April 12, 2009

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Patrick Wilson did a great job with his general geekiness

That's probably why he was my favorite character. This is a geek who, for a time anyway, got to actually live his fantasy and, like I've said here before, he came off not as a loser but as a flawed person who tried his best.

A comment about one of your SPOILERS... I actually preferred that ending because it tied in with the elements already laid out, instead of bringing something out of left field.

I am completely with you on the opening credit sequence. It is one of the finest I've ever seen and speaks both to the source material and to this whole convluted thing of what comic books and superheroes represented both to the real mid-century America and the alternate one of the film/book. It's an amazing piece of art.

I didn't like either the book or the movie, but I'm not a super/antihero fan. I went to the movie with a friend who also belongs to our bookgroup, which read the book, and she liked both and had a much deeper review and constrast.

SPOILERThe ending change did help to streamline the plot, which isn't something to sniff at when the film was 3 hours long. This was at the cost of weakening the story, but it's the kind of trade-off they were making throughout the film. Of course, a better choice might have been to have some of the action sequences not sslllooooowwed down so much and perhaps cut them down to allow more time for nuance in the story.
END OF SOILER

Related, the violence was noticebly ramped up for all the characters* except Rorschach; to a certain extent everyone else was being dragged down to his level.

As for Manhattan's voice, it sounded human, but the kind of human on the end of a phone who's been in a call centre for the last 7 hours and doesn't get off for 3 more - going through the motions. High pitched? We discussed this at the time, and I put forward my theory that one of the key themes is that for all their strength and ability, the superheroes are fundamentally impotent, and that this metaphor was made literal on page and screen. On the other hand, it could just be that we all expect Doc Manhattan to talk with a deep, resonant, "voice of god", so the film-makers decided to take it in another direction, because they could.

* Or perhaps by having it performed by actors it's more immediate than a picture on the page, no matter how dynamic

Neil... I think the voice of God should have been like mine. Or maybe Alannis Morissette's.

Neil... the violence was noticebly ramped up for all the characters (...) Or perhaps by having it performed by actors it's more immediate than a picture on the page, no matter how dynamic

If you look at comic-book fights, they'd kill most people.

Last film I saw with God speaking had Morgan Freeman playing him.

I rather liked Ralph Richardson as God.

I actually preferred that ending because it tied in with the elements already laid out, instead of bringing something out of left field.

Well, it only did that because they added those elements in. They weren't there in the original; Doc M's work had nothing to do with Veidt. So yes, if you make up stuff to put in the adaptation and then make up an ending that fits with it, it will tie together nicely. But I would have preferred that instead they include the original storyline, which also tied together nicely if you paid attention, and thus not have to make stuff up that has the side-effect of warping the characters and the non-made-up plot.

Related, the violence was noticebly ramped up for all the characters* except Rorschach; to a certain extent everyone else was being dragged down to his level.

* Or perhaps by having it performed by actors it's more immediate than a picture on the page, no matter how dynamic

The latter is part of it, I think, but they did ramp it up. No bones sticking through skin in the comic book (after the NO/SS gang fight scene). And I think they ramped up Rorschach with the cleaver to the head of the child-murderer bit, though I looked away at that point so I can't see to what extent. In the comic book he just throws in a match as he goes out the door and you see a "whoosh" of fire, but nothing more. Really, the implication was plenty; we didn't need to see the guy burn to death. Clever readers can figure these things out by themselves and their imagination is sufficient to the details, if they so desire.

On the theme of fundamentally impotent superheroes: what about the Comedian, who was fairly potent in both senses of the word? Is that why he had to die early on?

(I'm thinking book as much as movie; obviously he had to die in the movie because that's how the book started.)

(Note that I am abbreviating "series of twelve comic books collected into and published as a graphic novel" to "book" from now on.)

Anyway, the Comedian is impotent against his mystery-adversary, leading to him getting tossed out the window, but in general he's not. Or are the big blazing guns, flamethrowers, etc. supposed to be compensating for a more fundamental impotence?

Not to be crude, but one living kid and one who didn't live to be born (inside the pregnant Vietnamese woman he killed) suggests that he wasn't, shall we say, shooting blanks. Or having his, err, pistol jam.

Susan... About the ending... It's been more than 20 years since I read the book so I had indeed not realized that Veidt and Manhattan's working together was an invention of the movie. On the other hand, there are others like Pharyngula's PZ Myers who I think had a better remembrance of the book than I did and who, even though he loves octopi, also thought that the ending worked better in the movie. Besides, I'm not sure that audiences unfamiliar with comics wouldn't have laughed at bringing space aliens in at the last minute. And, considering how expensive those movies are, I don't expect the producers wanted the word of mouth to be "That ending was stupid." It's the old art-vs-commerce thing.

Still, without the book's original ending, having someone watch The Outer Limits didn't make much sense.

For a movie ending, it worked. Face it, they had to change something -- they're moviemakers -- and they restrained themselves in so many ways.

Things I'd have put back in (and found time for by shortening fight scenes -- maybe by using this thing called 'normal motion') would include Hollis Mason's finale, and the statuette with the words "IN GRATITUDE" looking more like "INGRATITUDE" and more detail in the Rorschach and shrink scenes. This would include R's nihilistic summation of the events of his origin story and the doctor's ruminations as he sits alone looking at the blots. A hint of the lives of the expendables would have been nice, too.

But I was vastly relieved. I think they pulled it off. If the movie's not a success, I don't think it's because it wasn't a good movie. It was not only that, but it was a good movie of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's book.

The Comedian - how potent was his influence on history?

- His time fighting the Japanese makes no noticeable difference to history
- His involvement in the Kennedy assassination - Kennedy dies - no change
- His fighting in Vietnam - no noticeable difference (unlike Doc Manhattan)
- His covering up Watergate - Nixon not impeached - Nixon goes on to change the constitution and get re-elected twice more

Essentially only once is his intervention decisive. And as far as we can tell, he has only the one surviving child*.

Of course there's yet another level to this that didn't exist at the time the book came out; Veidt tries to prevent a nuclear war, but we avoided that in our history. If he succeeds all he does is put us back on the track we should have been on without superheroes.

I agree with Kip W (and most of us on this thread) - it's not perfect and we all have quibbles, but it's a better Watchmen film than I ever expected. Zack Snyder is becoming a very interesting director. I'm keen to see what he can do with some original material.

* The fate of the other child is a powerful scene that I'm thinking about.

Neil... Veidt tries to prevent a nuclear war, but we avoided that in our history. If he succeeds all he does is put us back on the track we should have been on without superheroes.

When I was growing up, and until the late 1980s, I have come across many stories whose premise was that we were heading for total self-destruction and the only way out of it was an outside element that forced us to set aside our differences, or took away our capabilities for destruction. For example, The Day The Earth Stood Still... Colossus: The Forbin Project... Alan Moore's own MiracleMan... Arthur C Clarke's Childhood's End... I wonder if someone ever wrote about that.

I was a little annoyed with Veidt's character in the movie. In the book, he's got it all together. In the movie, he's kind of a weenie in a plastic suit.

I liked Matt Frewer as Moloch.

... That is to say, he's a self-made superhero, and the workmanship is impressive. In the movie, I just can't believe he's all that. As flaws in the movie go, I'd put Veidt at or near the top of the list.

Kip, I completely agree with you about Hollis Mason. It felt really weird to me that they had the early scene with him, then he's never seen again. Heck, we have Night Owl and Silk Specter heading to see him, the incredibly graphic fight with the gang, and then no mention is ever made of the character or seeing him again. They might as well have written him out entirely and had one less paycheck to pay.

...Hollis Mason's finale, and the statuette with the words "IN GRATITUDE" looking more like "INGRATITUDE"

What I love about Watchmen: twentyish years later, there are STILL things in it I hadn't noticed before.

A hint of the lives of the expendables would have been nice, too.

I strongly agree about this. I would have liked to see more of Bernard/Bernie's actual interaction, not just their joint death.

But I was vastly relieved. I think they pulled it off. If the movie's not a success, I don't think it's because it wasn't a good movie. It was not only that, but it was a good movie of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's book.

I don't claim to be the last word on movies or anything, but I'm not entirely sure it was a good movie. As I said above, I think it may be the best that could be done with Watchmen. I'd like to see it again, though I don't know when I'll ever find the time. (I'm seeing Wolverine this weekend.)

Kip:
re. Veidt: I didn't entirely buy the character in the original, and I didn't entirely buy it in the movie.

I also thought Moloch was excellently done in the film. They even had him in the fridge briefly. (And I was okay with that minor change.)

Kip & AJ,
I bet the scene of Hollis' death was left on the cutting room floor. Huge, huge dangling loose end there, to include him at all and then not wrap it up.

I think it will be quite interesting to see a director's cut of this, which I assume will be forthcoming on DVD.

It's possible the next time I see this will be on a DVD. It got me out to a theater, though. I went to the first show that wasn't in the middle of the night.

It got me out to a theater, which usually only happens a few times a year. It's not likely to get me out twice, though, even if it's still playing, which I'm not sure of.

The Comedian - how potent was his influence on history?
- His time fighting the Japanese makes no noticeable difference to history
- His involvement in the Kennedy assassination - Kennedy dies - no change
- His fighting in Vietnam - no noticeable difference (unlike Doc Manhattan)
- His covering up Watergate - Nixon not impeached - Nixon goes on to change the constitution and get re-elected twice more

I think there's a trap here that a lot of alternate histories fall into. Are forced into. The Comedian can't have made much difference to history because part of the interest of Watchmen is that it takes place in a world so much like our own. The earlier the split from our history happens, and the larger the impact, the less recognizable the world is going to be. The Comedian has to be part of how our own history happened (Japan, Kennedy assassination) right up to the relative last minute of the late 1960s and the setup for Nixon and the nuclear danger. And I think basically removing Watergate as a scandal is a pretty major change, though I'm blanking on whether that's actually in the book or something they just threw into the movie.

Asking how potent he was in this context is a little unfair: his potency is limited to enacting what actually happened. As a thought exercise, you could imagine what would happen if, say, the Comedian had not assassinated Kennedy (that being a clear, discrete event, unlike participation in a war). Kennedy would have survived. Optimistically, he would have taken things in a different direction and would not have produced the world of Watchmen. And then we have no story. Or not this story.

Am I making sense?

The Watergate thing is in the book as well.

Watergate not happening, yes, but the Comedian's specific involvement (killing the reporters, I think was what was implied in the movie)?

Normally I'd just go look in my copy, but it's currently out on loan to the person I saw the movie with.

Chapter IX. Flashback to a party held in 1973 in the Comedian's honour. He's chatting with a bunch of unidentified suits with cigars and smug expressions:

"See those Post reporters they found in that garage? Woodward and what's his name? Jewish name."

"Bernstein. Yeah, I understand the underground papers are already yelling conspiracy."

"Well, Eddie. Any opinions?"

"That piece in the Berkeley Barb? Well, I guess you smoke enough weed you can imagine almost anything. Nah... I'm clean, guys. Just don't ask where I was when I heard about J.F.K."

Make of it what you will.

Well, it seems to imply that he did assassinate JFK but did not kill off W&B. That would be assuming he had no reason to lie, which isn't a given.

What was the phrasing in the movie?

I've maybe gone too far with my interpretation of this theme.

My point was something like: In our world, in 1985, we were facing down the barrel of nuclear armageddon*. But thanks to the amazing powers and exploits of superheroes, in the world of Watchmen they're... facing down the barrel of nuclear armageddon.

My interpretation is that the character of Doc Manhattan comments on the lack of impact that, for example, Superman makes to the way the world works in comics. If Superman really existed, wouldn't this have an effect on the balance of the Cold War?

The rest of them are more like Batman in his less wacky and outrageous incarnations; a vigilante who makes some difference to the politics of Gotham City/New York City but doesn't have a larger impact**. Veidt and The Comedian are the exceptions; Veidt using high technology and his superpower of unlimited wealth; the Comedian by working with elements within the US government.

But I don't insist this threads through everything in the story and I'm tired now so will stop.

* Which is all history now, as I realised when talking to teenagers about what they want to do when they leave school; at their age I wanted to join the RAF, until I turned out to be too tall and poorly sighted to be a pilot and then the Cold War ended. They don't understand the feeling that I didn't feel I needed to join the air force because the threat was gone, so I didn't have to do anything about it.
** I note the brief appearance of copycat batmen in The Dark knight.

Doctor Manhattan Testifies

Urm, I had to prove I wasn't a robot to post that.

That one was okay, so maybe it was the URL?

Marilee,
Having it be just a link may have tripped TypePad's spam filtering.

(But the comic strip was cute. I didn't like that trailer at all, however!)

If Superman really existed, wouldn't this have an effect on the balance of the Cold War?

We're back to the trap of almost any kind of alternate history, or any superhero comic: to continue to exist in a world that is recognizably ours, they really can't have much impact. Think back to Novik's dragons, as we were discussing last summer. If dragons had really coexisted as a second sentient race on Earth from the dawn of history, we probably would not have ended up in Napoleonic Wars that were such a close cognate of our own. The whole bit about how the flutter of a butterfly's wings could change history...well, I bet having fire breathed on a few strategic people by a dragon a couple of thousand years ago would have changed it rather more.

So I'm not sure it's a fair critique of Watchmen per se, as opposed to a whole genre of fiction, both in comics (as you say, Superman included) and elsewhere. It's a flaw, but I don't think it's an avoidable one, so I don't think its use makes a big statement about the impotence of superheroes in general or the Watchmen in particular. We accept the unlikelihood of the premise in order to enjoy playing in an imaginary world that's so much like ours.

(still kind of stuck on this thought)

Hmm. Okay, Watchmen is noticeably different from many other superhero comics in one way. Most of them work around the trap of not being able to actually have an impact while still existing in our world by making up equally impotent evil to fight. Superman fights Lex Luthor, and the world is saved from a menace which of course didn't exist in the real world. But Watchman uses nuclear war as a menace, and the threat of nuclear war was (is) very real, though varying in level at different times. (Anyone else more than a little concerned about the situation in Pakistan right now?) That doesn't really change the fact that they end up in basically the same place we are right (for?) now: no nuclear war. But they took us there by a more realistic path.

That's if you accept Dr. Manhattan as realistic, of course...

I think I'm getting into a huge mental tangle on this, and I can't tell whether I'm making sense or talking in circles. Someone help sort me out?

I don't know about your tangle, but my thought was that Alan Moore probably had ideas similar to what we're talking about* and Watchmen is his criticism (or commentary might be a better word). He draws attention to the problem - "If Superman existed that would change everything but you never see that in comics" - by introducing a superman analogue and showing that the world is indeed changed, but is still walking down the same path to nuclear war that we were at the time.

So as well as being a superhero comic and an alternate history, it's also being all post-modern by commenting on the genre(s) it occupies. Veidt explictly comments on this in the final confrontation with his reference to Republic Serial Villains.

* Possibly equally tangled

It's getting deep in here...

On Veidt: I wonder if Moore was the first to do the "do you think I'm one of those dumb villains who talks about their villainy and gives you time to thwart it" speech. I know I've seen that used elsewhere, and of course it's a common thing to joke about when you see it done in movies or books. It's on the various Evil Overlord lists somewhere. Do those lists predate Watchmen?

(pause for google)

Hmm. The Evil Overlord lists arose in the early 1990s, inspired by an 1988 SNL skit. Post-Watchmen.

Watchmen was, for me, the reductio ad absurdam of the superhero genre. He puts the major archetypes out there and shows where they break down.

Superman and his world are an interesting problem. His world has him, yet it doesn't seem to have learned anything from him. Somehow, people still rob banks and run down the street with the bags of loot, and then are surprised when a man in tights drops down in front of them. Let us shoot at him, they reason, then maybe if we throw our empty guns at him!

Of course, it doesn't help that people have outwitted him in the past by running around corners of buildings (take that, super-senses and speed and intelligence!), wearing lead-lined rubber masks (Hmmmm, he's wearing a lead-lined mask! Nothing suspicious there!), or other dodges that might fool a villain in Mission:Impossible but wouldn't even work on a moderately bright security guard.

The problem is that a writer can posit someone who is infinitely smart and perceptive, but if he lacks the ability to think the consequences through, he ends up with nonsense. Moore thinks consequences through, which is one thing that gives his comics extra power. But Superman's powers are so exaggerated, the company has tried at least twice to cut them down, but each time they've proceeded to give him everything back, bit by bit, to give some kick to this story or that story.

How could crime exist at all on Earth-prime, or whatever it's called? Superman could just nip back in time five minutes to undo anything he wants. How could anyone ever fail to be fooled by someone who can stand next to himself by running back and forth at inconceivable velocity? Only the powers of super-amnesia and super-stupidity keep any conflict going in the series at all.

Moore's "Miracleman" (aka Marvelman) really took a hard look at the consequences of super-beings. A key line when the hero throws a car at someone goes something like "I tried to pretend it was empty, but I knew it wasn't." Unlike the acres of empty warehouses that seem to cushion the falls of heroes and villains alike in Fantastic Four stories, he puts his characters into a place where bystanders lose more than their hats.

I think I'll crawl out and have a snack now.

The comments to this entry are closed.