“Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide –
the chance won’t come again.” As in the original comic, two Dylan songs bookend Zack Snyder’s ambitious, admirable, and flawed adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, the critically-acclaimed tale of the rise and fall of Cold War superheroes (which I’ve now seen twice.) The first, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” comes direct from Dylan himself, and scores the impressive, easter egg-filled opening credit montage that is one of the highlights of the film. Here, Snyder has taken the world of Watchmen, fused it with some quality Bob, and made something transporting and uniquely filmic. (Fanboys and fangirls, note the original Nite Owl saving the Waynes. By the way, Dylan, US History, and superheroes — yes, this sequence is easy for me to love.)
On the other hand, over the end credits, we get a a truly terrible version of “Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance, whom I’m not particularly familar with but who, on the basis of this cover, would seem to be derivative, talentless hacks. Now, I’m not averse to Dylan played fast and loud. To hear it done right, check out Rage Against the Machine excavating the angry heart of “Maggie’s Farm”, or the White Stripes’ live takes on “Isis” or “Lovesick”, or, of course, Jimi’s “All Along the Watchtower” (also in the movie, right where it is in the book.) But MCR have completely missed both the power and the poetry of “Desolation Row,” and just play it fast, sloppy, and nu-punk like the faux-Green Day cover band (which makes them faux-faux-Pistols) they seem to be.
If I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about these two Dylan songs at the onset instead of Watchmen, it’s because they mirror the dichotomy present in the film. In certain sequences like the opening credits, Snyder manages to catch lightning in a bottle and really bring elements of the graphic novel to life, albeit in truncated form. There are moments in the movie, usually involving Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan, where I was struck by the sheer sensation of seeing the book leap off the page. (Short plot summary for the uninitiated: In an alternate-America 1985, on the eve of what appears to be nuclear Armageddon, one of a dwindling band of ex-superheroes is murdered in (and then out of) his New York City apartment. Rorschach, a borderline-psychotic right-wing vigilante who dresses like Philip Marlowe and rasps like Christian Bale, wants to know why. It’s a dangerous question.) The altered ending notwithstanding, it’s somewhat amazing to me that we got a Watchmen movie this close to the source material, and, by all accounts, Snyder had to fight tooth and nail with the studio suits for every cynical, resolutely uncommercial facet of it.
But, at other times, Snyder’s bad habits sadly leak through and undeniably taint the end product, most notably in the gratuitous violence present here. In interviews, Snyder can sometimes come off as a geekier version of the white fratboys in Harold and Kumar. (“Dude, that’s so extreme!“) And that better-harder-faster mentality results in some serious whiffs along the way in Watchmen, when Snyder ratchets up the gore and bone-breaking at the expense of the story. However close the movie gets to gorgeously capturing Manhattan’s reveries on Mars (although I wish the Doc’s living in an endless now was better emphasized.), it basically drops the ball completely on Rorschach’s “origin” (which I quoted in my pre-movie post), mainly because Snyder sidesteps the existential horror of Kovacs’ story to amp up the violence of it. In the comic, Kovacs has pierced the veil of the sheltering sky and discovered all is blackness. In the movie, he just seems to be on a torture-porn killing spree. Same goes for a scene involving Dan (Nite-Owl) and Laurie (Silk Spectre) getting jumped by the Top Knots gang in a dark alley. It’s bone-crushingly brutal when it doesn’t need to be, actually has these two kiling people Rorschach-style, and seriously detracts from the more interesting scene it’s intercut with, that of Dr. Manhattan inadvertently exposing his disinterest in humanity in an interview with Ted Koppel.
Now, as with loud, angry Dylan covers, I’m not averse to gore or over-the-top violence when it serves the narrative. To take an example, there’s a scene involving human entrails stuck to the ceiling (don’t you want to see this now?) which is also overly Snyderish, but I think works in context. (The voiceover is making Hollis Mason’s point that, with the arrival of Dr. Manhattan (i.e. the advent of atomic weaponry), the superhero game has forever changed — it’s no longer gallantly nabbing bankrobbers and pursesnatchers with a few “Wham! Pow!” four-color blows, but something much darker and more lethal.) But Snyder’s Watchmen is unnecessarily violent at the wrong times (see also Big Figure’s henchmen), and then inexplicably goes soft at the moments when gore is virtually required. I’m referring here to the consequences of the Big Plan, which feel strangely weightless in the movie, partly because (in this cut) no characters we’ve been following are anywhere close to Ground Zero and partly because, unlike every other action sequence in the movie, it’s all very PG-13 all of a sudden. (Contrast this with the opening of Chapter 12 in the comic, which is basically several pages of horrific imagery, unlike anything we’ve yet seen in the story.) Now, I’m willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that 9/11-squeamish studio types were unyielding about the soft-pedaling of the climax here (which, by the way, is elegant in its own way even without the squid.) Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that, while Moore and Gibbons used violence in their tale to comment on its awfulness (and the awfulness of The Plan), Snyder often just uses it because it’s like, totally extreme.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no idea how it plays to people unfamiliar with the comic, but for the rest of us, there’s a lot to like here. Even notwithstanding some godawful, cringe-inducing age and Nixon make-up (I guess everyone was busy on Benjamin Button) and one of the worst movie sex scenes in recent memory (I’m offended on behalf of Leonard Cohen), Watchmen is a better film than some of the critical pans make it out to be. Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach is especially dead-on, and is rightfully drawing most of the acting kudos right now — This should be a career-defining role for him. But Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan and, surprisingly, Patrick Wilson’s Nite-Owl are also pretty close to note-perfect. (So too is Matt Frewer’s Moloch, who absolutely nails his big moment — “You know that kind of cancer that you get better from eventually? Well, that ain’t the kind of cancer I got.”) And Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian and Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias grow on you, even if Ozy seems a bit charisma-starved compared to his comic counterpart. (As for Malin Ackerman’s Silk Spectre…uh, well, let’s just say she’s in it too.)
So, in short, I liked the movie, would recommend it to readers and non-readers alike, and thought even more of it the second time around when I was less burdened by expectations. (Yes, it’s wayyyy better than 300, and I’m looking forward to the 30-minute longer cut, which is rumored to spend more time with Rorschach’s shrink and the two Bernards.) Still, it’s hard to shake the nagging sense that the things I really liked about Watchmen would’ve made it into any reasonably faithful movie version, and that a different director than Snyder might’ve brought about a better, richer film in the end.
Still, as my old boss was wont to say: We don’t need people who get the ball to the twenty-yard line; we need people who can bring it over the goal line. And, for better or worse, Snyder got this ball over the goal line where Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, and Paul Greengrass couldn’t. Let’s give credit where it’s due: After twenty years of trying, they actually made a Watchmen movie, and it ended up being surprisingly close to the source material and not at all an embarrassment or cash grab. I presume the Rorschach types probably loathe this end result, compromised as it is in certain places. But for the rest of us, I’d say this new Utopia, however flawed at times, is close enough for government work.
“It would be insulting to the genre and its readers, as well as fundamentally untrue, to say that Moore reinvented comics. Moore loved comics, in all their overheated melodrama and violence and passion and romance, and simply wanted them to fulfill their potential. He wanted comics to be better written (and more beautifully drawn; he has consistently brought out the best in his artists), to be more alive to the outside world and to other forms of culture, to be less imprisoned by the emotional ghetto of pre-adolescence.” On the precipice of Watchmen, Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir sings the praises of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing.
As for Watchmen itself, the early reviews for Zack Snyder’s adaptation are coming in pretty poor, unfortunately. Still, I remain cautiously optimistic that, with expectations suitably lowered, there’ll be some things to like about Snyder’s version. For one, a lot of the worst reviews of the film wallow in exactly the type of insecure, i’m-too-cultured-for-funny-books douchebaggery I just noted in my review of A Christmas Tale. (See, for example, Anthony Lane’s spoilerish New Yorker review, whose good points — for example, that Snyder’s film revels in the same fetishizing of power that Moore was trying to subvert — are buried beneath his puerile sneering at both the author and fanboys in general. (“‘Watchmen,’ like ‘V for Vendetta,’ harbors ambitions of political satire, and, to be fair, it should meet the needs of any leering nineteen-year-old who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex, and whose deepest fear — deeper even than that of meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation — is that the Warren Commission may have been right all along.“) Even for him and The New Yorker, which famously whined of The Matrix that we should all be reading Cheever instead, this review is a new low.
For another, and as I’ve said here many times before, Snyder isn’t my preferred choice of director for this project either. But, heck, even a stopped watch is right twice a day. So, here’s hoping there’s something salvageable from this long-awaited adaptation…I’ll know when the clock strikes midnight tomorrow.
“Rorschach’s Journal, October 13, 1985, 8:30pm. Meeting with Dreiberg left bad taste in mouth. The flabby failure sits whimpering in his basement. Why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders? The first Nite-Owl runs an auto-repair shop. The first Silk Spectre is dying in a California rest resort. Dollar Bill got his cape stuck in a revolving door where he got gunned down. Silhouette murdered, a victim of her own indecent lifestyle. Moth Man’s in an asylum in Maine. Only two names remain on my list. Both share private quarters at Rockefeller Military Research Center. I shall go to them. I shall go tell the indestructible man that someone plans to murder him.“
With Midnight only two weeks away, there’re a quite a few more Watchmen clips popping up online (including a semi-entertaining riff on Martha Quinn-era MTV and one cringe-worthy clip of the prison melee that’s basically a show reel of Zack Snyder’s bad habits.) Still, this extended look at Rorschach’s sleuthing gives me hope that Jackie Earle Haley, at least, knocked it out of the park. (“All those liberals and intellectuals and smooth-talkers, and all of sudden nobody can think of anything to say.“)The clock’s still ticking…
It is twenty-two years ago, and I am reading the final issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. It is three weeks from now, and I am watching the midnight show of Zack Snyder’s film of the graphic novel. It is ten minutes ago, and I am watching these five exclusive clips from the movie and thinking, “Hrm. These don’t actually seem very good…” (True, clips taken out of context can always seem strange. Still, Veidt muttering his lines and all that Snyderian sloooo-moooo — Silk Spectre at the fire, the Comedian off of Archie — gives me pause.)
Speaking of public service announcements, and in keeping with the Cronkite-era Dr. Manhattan report of a few weeks ago, the Watchmen powers-that-be offer up The Keene Act and YOU, a 1977 government safety video on the predatory costumed vigilantes in our midst. To be honest, I like the idea better than the execution, but good on them for tryin’.
“It doesn’t take a genius to see the world has problems. We can do so much more. We can save this world…with the right leadership.” If you haven’t been by there recently, the official site for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen has added extensive quotes and mini-trailers for each of the main characters. It’s particularly good to see/hear more of Ozymandias — Except perhaps Doc Manhattan, Matthew Goode as Veidt was the character I’ve had the most worries about.
Also of note, Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach delivers his first journal entry (“Dog carcass in alley this morning. Tire tread on burst stomach…“), and the oft-quoted line from the trailer — “the world will look up and shout ‘save us!’” — has been restored to its original form.
Update: The final poster is released. Bit of a cut-and-paste photoshop job, to be honest. But I suppose it’ll do until the trouble gets here.
Taking a page from all the viral shenanigans accompanying The Dark Knight, the WB marketeers recreate Rorschach’s favorite mag, the New Frontiersman, for Zack Snyder’s forthcoming Watchmen. Hrm. It doesn’t seem nearly as right-wing as I remember. Must investigate further.
Update: As part of the site above, a March 1970 NBS news broadcast celebrates 10 years of Dr. Manhattan.
Speaking of the costumed vigilante in question, it looks like the recent lawsuit by Fox to put a hold on WB’s Watchmen is now well on the way towards settlement. “Attorneys for both studios disclosed Friday that they had achieved progress toward an accord and agreed to delay a federal court hearing until today in order to continue settlement talks.” So, reset the Doomsday Clock for March 6, 2009.
Strangelove much? The Japanese trailer for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is now on the tubes, which contains some spoilery-type new footage if you haven’t read the graphic novel. (Note also the new Minutemen featurette on the official site.) Interesting that this trailer foregoes all the Dr. Manhattan-exemplifying-American-might stuff in favor of more emphasis on the alternate history and Cold War doomsday clock.
“The bottom line: Warner Bros. had absolutely no right to roll film on Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons superhero classic.” Forget the watchmen for a sec: Who’s watching Larry Gordon? A judge rules that Fox’s lawsuit over Watchmen does indeed have merit, and that former Fox, now WB exec Larry Gordon never actually secured all the necessary distribution rights to make Watchmen at his new home studio. “In his ruling, Feess concludes that Gordon never properly presented Fox with the option to produce and distribute the version of Watchmen developed by director Zack Snyder. He also makes it clear that neither Gordon nor Warner Bros. had bought out Fox’s interest before Warner Bros. went into production.“
What this means for the movie is still up in the air, although a release delay of several months isn’t out of the question. When a similar incident happened with The Dukes of Hazzard, a case that involved the same judge, WB eventually just settled and ponied up before the release date.
Well, here’s hoping this gets worked out in short order. I’m guessing Snyder’s film is going to have some serious problems, but I’d still like to see it next to immediately. (Watchmen image above via The Nerd of Her.)
Among the bountiful harvest that is the Quantum of Solace trailer crop…
I’m all over the place on this one. There are some real red flags here — all the Snydery slo-mo shots of Malin Ackerman’s hair, for example — and some of the dialogue feels as stiff and expository as the ponderous take-a-meeting scenes in 300. Then again, as with the first trailer, I’m still having trouble just wrapping my mind around the fact that they finally made a Watchmen movie. So I’m inclined to be charitable, and the little flourishes throughout (Rorschach’s mask moves!) appeal to my inner fanboy regardless. (Also, while Jackie Earle Hale’s Bale-Batman-growl may be a tad distracting, it’s hard to imagine Rorschach with any other kind of voice.) For now, I’ll call it a push.
Also out of late:
In anticipation of the second trailer (one of the many coming to theaters with this weekend’s Quantum of Solace), six new character posters for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen are released. That’s right-wing freakshows The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) up top. See also Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) with Bubastis, Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup).
As featured in the Spike awards last night, an extended version of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen trailer arrives online. I’m liking the Galactus-y feel of Dr. Manhattan’s moments, but the slo-mo Snyderisms here (the doomed flight of the Comedian notwithstanding) still give me pause.
Update: Speaking of which, said flight is now captured in a spiffy new Watchmen teaser poster, above.
“Whatever happened to the American Dream? It came true — you’re looking at it.” Quite a bit of new Watchmen material today. AICN get their hands on high-rez versions of the spiffy painted Comicon posters. (Rorschach | The Comedian | Silk Spectre I | Silk Spectre II | Nite-Owl | Dr. Manhattan | Ozymandias.) Very nicely done — Lots of continuity nods thrown in for the fans, and note the clocks in the top-left corner. Plus, this is the first image of Ozy that I’ve liked so far. (Bubastis helps.) And Empire Online has a few new stills to share, although they’ve logo-stamped them in rather irritating fashion (and the characters look a bit stiff.)
“This trailer speaks to the fanbase in a huge way. Your friends and neighbors will be damn impressed by what they’re seeing, but they’ll also be slightly baffled. They’ll want to know more – who is that blue guy? Who is flying that ship coming out of the water? Are they on Mars? Why is that guy getting thrown through a window? – so get ready to start lending out your book.” One of the CHUD guys takes a spin with the Watchmen trailer, due before The Dark Knight tomorrow night. Sounds great, and while Snyder’s 300 turned out to be more than a little ridiculous, it’s still boasts a helluva trailer.
Update: The Watchmen trailer officially drops over at Empire Online tomorrow, at — of course — the stroke of midnight (EST).
In the fourth installment of their making-of video series, original Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons sings the praises of Zack Snyder’s art direction, and shows brief glimpses of Hollis Mason‘s apartment and Rorschach on patrol. All well and good, but as I said before, obsessive art direction will be the easy part.
This is old news at this point, but nevertheless: AICN procures a vintage-era photo of the Minutemen from Zak Snyder’s forthcoming version of Watchmen. (Note Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian.) Hrm…They look a bit cosplay, but then again they probably should.
Update: Also in Watchmen news, the NYT reports that Tales of the Black Freighter will first be spun off as its own DVD, five days after the film comes out. “Mr. Snyder said he was eager to head a direct-to-DVD project, in part because it would allow him to use more material from the ‘Watchmen’ graphic novel. ‘I thought the ‘Black Freighter’ story would never see the light of day,’ he said. ‘The main picture is nearing three hours long and I know I have a fight on my hands just with that.’”
As the first part of a 12-part series (with each episode premiering on the 6th of the month), a new video grants a set tour of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. Looks grand, although after 300 and these stills of a few months ago, art direction is the least of my concerns about this project.
By way of Bitten Tongue, the Peanuts characters take on the mantles of Watchmen. Charlie Brown with the power of Dr. Manhattan is a bit unnerving, and Linus seems like more of a Nite Owl-type, but Lucy as Silk Spectre and Schroeder as Ozy make perfect sense…and Rorschach is really just one bad day away from Joe Cool.
Also, via Quiddity and in keeping with the GitM theme, the plight of Pac Man gets reconfigured as a Tale of the Black Freighter. Game over, yellow fella.
Some comic-book cautionary tales for the day: Rorschach sets fire to a would-be pursuer in a new still from Zach Snyder’s Watchmen, which has wrapped shooting. And Dark Horizons offers a first glimpse at how Aaron Eckhart will look as Harvey Dent…after the incident.
“This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.” Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) strolls the streets of (Late-Late-Nixon-Era) Manhattan in one of several newly-released stills of sets from Zack Snyder’s Watchmen.
The lovely Carla Gugino (Sin City, Spy Kids, late of Entourage) joins Zach Snyder’s Watchmen as Sally Jupiter, a.k.a. the original Silk Spectre. A solid choice (although she doesn’t really look related to Malin Ackerman.)
Also in comic-to-film news, there’s more rumors of close-to-official casting for Zach Snyder’s Watchmen happening. Keanu Reeves apparently passed on Dr. Manhattan, so now they’re looking for, um, Jason Patric in that role. (I’m not seeing it, frankly, but he’s no better or worse than Keanu, I guess.) Also rumored, Thomas Jane as the Comedian, and, as Rorschach, Little Children‘s Jackie Earle Haley. That’s actually not half bad.
Breaking a few weeks ago now, AICN claims to have the skinny on the initial casting of Zach Snyder’s version of Watchmen. Rumored as the Nite-Owl, Patrick Wilson of The Alamo and Little Children. (He’s a bit buff for the role, frankly. I’d expected someone a little more gone to seed, like John Cusack or even Tom Hulce.) As Doctor Manhattan, Neo himself, Keanu Reeves. (Um, ok. I don’t really see that working. Then again, I don’t really see anyone else working either, this side of Gollum-style CGI) And, as Ozymandias, much-avowed Watchmen fan Jude Law. (That’s pretty good, although somebody like Aaron Eckhart would be even better.) That’s it so far, other than that Snyder — who won’t deny these casting rumors — has promised he’d get Gerard Butler of 300 in there somewhere. (Why bother? I don’t remember any character who’s supposed to YELL…ALL…THE…TIME.) At any rate, that means Simon Pegg as Rorschach is still a possibility, if one that is very, very remote.
After last night, I gotta say I’d have much preferred to see a Paul Greengrass Watchmen. Still, I’ll give him this: Zack Snyder knows his audience, and has inserted a test image of Watchmen‘s Rorschach in a new Internet trailer for 300. (And, for the record once more, I’m totally on board with the commenter in that AICN talkback who suggested Simon Pegg for the part.)
“The truth is, ’300′ to the studio is a graphic novel movie. It’s not a movie that they necessarily understand exactly when I pitch it on paper. They feel in some ways the same about “Watchmen.” They don’t understand why it’s not ‘Fantastic 4.’ I have to remind them that it’s much more ‘Strangelove’ than it is ‘Fantastic 4′ which they don’t like hearing, but they believe that I know, and in that way, it helps.” 300 helmer Zach Snyder checks in with the status of Watchmen.
Word officially comes down that Garth Ennis’ Preacher is being developed for HBO by Mark Steven Johnston (Daredevil, Ghost Rider) and Howard Deutch (Grumpier Old Men.) Not the most exciting development team in the world, but it’s nice to see HBO get into the comic game. (And if Zack Snyder’s take on The Watchmen falls apart for some reason, as so many earlier attempts at it have, a 12-hour series on the Home Box Office would be a good place for Alan Moore’s magnum opus.)
“1985′s a problem for people. The Cold War’s a problem for people. But these are things I’ve been trying to [tell people] would be cool. I like that Richard Nixon is the president in it. I think that’s important. Those kinds of things tell you exactly what kind of movie this is – it’s not Fantastic Four, you know.” 300 director Zack Snyder offers a brief update on the current state of CWatchmen.