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March 07, 2009


Watchmen - The Movie Review


The short version - it's excellent, but is definitely for adults only unfortunately.

I'm not going to review the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, even though one of my copies is signed by the artist. Scandalously, I don't consider myself properly qualified, having only read it for the first time last year. I picked it up so many times in Forbidden Planet over the preceding two decades, but the price tag always made me hesitate, and say to myself "I'll just wait and get it in the sales". The sales did finally arrive, and I ended up with two copies - one signed one for the shelf, one to read.

Why all the preamble then? This is a movie review, not a comic review. The reason is so that you understand that I don't actually have a lot of the emotional investment that many other reviewers have. Comic fans 'love' this book, have been waiting a very long time, for something that the author has said was unfilmable, to reach the screen. They will tell you that the ending is different, maybe they won't like the omission of the comic within the comic story "Tales of the Black Freighter". Maybe they've lived with the characters so long that the actors will never live up to their expectations. I have none of those misgivings, and yet, unlike the majority of cinema goers, I have actually read it, so I think I'm in quite a small category of people who only quite liked the comic.

With the story fairly fresh in my mind, I went into the first day screening with some trepidation that inevitable changes would have been made to fit such a dense work into only two and three quarter hours. But Watchmen is uncompromising, and in my opinion, included everything important - everything I remember anyway.

So - to the movie. Imagine if there really were a group of masked heroes, fighting crime on the streets of New york. Heroes like Batman, not Spiderman. These people use their fists to beat up the bad guys, with a few handy tools and a flying ship, but mostly just their fists. Then imagine further that they were driven underground by an anti-vigilante movement, and most of them have retired. The action takes place in an alternate universe where this has already happened, and it's 1985, and the world is in the middle of the cold war. Richard Nixon is in his fifth term as President, and his finger is hovvering over the armageddon button.

Once masked man, Rorschach, discovers that someone is killing off his ex-colleagues, and starts to investigate. He gets a pretty poor reception along the way from his old gang, but we get a chance to see each of them with flashbacks filling in the backstory. These shifts in time, along with the alternate universe setting, and Dr Manhattan's concept of knowing the past and the future as one time, make it a pretty challenging experience, but every scene is so full of interest that even if you don't fully understand it, it's still enjoyable to watch. I've done some reading around this, and I missed a ton of references I'll only fully discover with a DVD and director's commentaries; I'm looking forward to that. (One example is a tiny scene, where a masked hero saves Batman's parents from murder at the back of an opera theatre - so this universe has no Batman).

Dr Manhattan, I mentioned him above, is the only real superhero in the film. He is a man turned superman, with massive powers over time and space. He has lost most of his humanity and is so apart from it that he doesn't seem to understand right from wrong any more. He is also blue, and naked most of the time.

Jackie Earle Haley is a revelation as Rorschach - the prison scenes are my most memorable, and his line "I'm not locked in here with you, YOU'RE locked in here with ME" summed up his anger, persecution complex, and egotistical personality so well. In the book we don't get to see him say this directly, it's much better in the film. I also loved The Comedian - a great character, must have been so much fun to play. I was a little disappointed with a couple of the others - Night Owl II was a bit too wishy-washy at times, so that when it came time for him to be hard it was less believable. And Carla Gugino I felt was wasted, all that old person makeup.

I was completely surprised by how much music there was in the film. Quite a few scenes dispensed with any dialogue and just ran a full 3-4 minute song - from Dylan's "The Times they are a changing" for the opening titles, to Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable", from Phillip Glass to Wagner. In most cases, I really liked the songs, and it was great to hear them loud in a cinema, but they didn't work as soundtracks to the film. They jarred me out of the scenes, out of the action, and made me think about the song. This isn't a soundtrack's job, you should hardly notice the music unless it's wrong.

If you've seen '300' you'll already be familiar with the ultraviolence of his fighting scenes - we get them here too.
We also get sex, and some hints at violent sex as well. And of course a huge blue naked man walking around. Was this necessary, or gratuitous? Tough call, but I would have cut a bit, and left more to the imagination. I would have made the film a '15' certificate - the '18' is going to kill the audience figures, and even the DVD rentals, and wasn't necessary. It's a shame that so many people who would have loved this film are not going to be allowed to see it, and it would not have hurt artistically I think. If a film is definitely horror, or definitely soft porn, then include everything you need and give it an '18', but maximise your audience unless there is an overwhelming need not to.

Phew, nearly finished. Conclusion - Zack Snyder has made a remarkable film, that looks fantastic. He has taken the comic, and had storyboarding help from the original artist in crafting the scenes, and it all works. It looks authentic, and I can't see any fan of the original, or anyone else, knocking it for this. It's fairly long, but I wanted more, as it's fascinating from beginning to end. I loved it, and would encourage everyone to go and see it - we need more of this kind of cinema, so we should support the people who make it.

Posted by se71 at 07:20 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2009

Fictionalised Movies I Will Never See


I started commenting on Cowfish's blog post about this, but it turned into a bit of a rant, so I extracted it to put here. He doesn't deserve my righteous anger against all things 'factual'.

He feels he has wasted his weekend watching bad films, and so is redeeming himself with a double-bill of "Frost/Nixon" and "Milk".

The problem I have with this is that I have issues with films based on real events - fictionalised. I will not willingly watch either of those films, I will actively avoid them in fact, and hope I never, ever see them.

Sure, they may be great dramas, they may have astonishing Oscar winning acting. But when I watch a film, my top reason for doing it is entertainment. Milk and Frost/Nixon are not primarily entertainment, they are documentaries that have been jazzed up a bit. So anyone watching is expecting to learn something about the people in the film, and are hoping it's an entertaining ride for a couple of hours. This is a Bad Thing. I saw David Frost on TV the other day talking about the play the film is based on, and on how he had pointed out to the writer at the time inaccuracies. He had been convinced by the writer that it was necessary to add some things to make it a more interesting story. (they completely downplay Frost's interviewing experience at the time, to make it look like he was more of an underdog than he really was). You might not think this very important, as long as they get the main points correct. Maybe you are right, but how do you know they got the main points right? How do you know they didn't embellish a few more things here and there to make a more exciting story?

If I want to learn about Frost/Nixon, and I think I would actually, I'd much prefer to watch a documentary made by serious broadcasters who attempted to tell the truth as far as they could find it. I don't want my memories polluted by half truths and fabrications in the name of entertainment. I've no real idea who "Harvey Milk" was, but if I want to find out, I'll try Wikipedia.

Films I have avoided due to dubious fictionalised historical aspects:

Pearl Harbour
that one about Tina Turner, and the one about Johnny Cash
the one about Larry Flint

err, anything really with a real person's name in the title, including all the recent Elizabeth ones.

I used to be capable sometimes of turning off this switch in my head and enjoying a biopic movie - Amadeus and Schindler's List come to mind - but I didn't take either completely seriously, and mostly enjoyed the former for the wonderful soundtrack. and sometime after Schindler's List I realised that I actually felt bad about having watched something purporting to be true, but with quite probably huge amounts of fiction in (all the dialogue for example is almost certain to be invented in these kinds of films). So much so, that I was forced to go and do some backgound reading to make sure I hadn't been mislead completely. So, why not just do the reading if you are interested.

"Let me entertain you" is what I want to hear from a film maker, not "Let me educate you with a half true story about a person's life that hightlights some issues I want you to be aware of".
Life is too short to watch things you don't trust - at least with Barb Wire, you know what you're getting isn't real :-)

Posted by se71 at 01:12 PM | Comments (3)