Saturday, March 7, 2009

First We Take Manhattan ...

We interrupt this long-winded screed on how we’re all gonna die to bring you a review of Watchmen, seeing as how I caught a matinee of it on opening day.

I must check with my kids to see if I’m using the argot properly, but I believe the word is:


Two-and-a-half hours of sustained “life sucks”, followed by a cynical downbeat ending. There are them as say the graphic novel is inherently un-filmable. I’m not totally convinced of that, but I don’t think Zack Snyder was the one to do it justice.

Bluntly: There’s nothing in the movie that justifies its use of the graphic novel as a base. At its best, the film only marginally improves on the source material in fits and starts -- at its worst, its use of graphic cruelty and brutality goes considerably beyond the book’s setpieces, but not toward any further illumination of character -- rather, apparently, just to be nasty.

There are a few good things in the movie, most noticeably the performances. Jackie Earle Haley is outstanding as Rorschach. Dan Dreiberg is good as Nite Owl and, as Dr. Manhattan, Billy Crudup is kinda blue. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) The ending’s macguffin is something of an improvement on the book. The opening montage is well-done, too. It’s what’s between that’s tedious.

That’s really about it. Oh -- and I liked the way Rorschach kept losing his hat in fights. Sorta reminded me of the old Republic serials in which the good guy and the bad guy would whale the living tar out of one another in each installment, breaking furniture over each other, getting pitched through windows and off bridges -- and yet neither would ever lose his hat. There was, believe it or not, a production reason for that: since most of the fights were staged between stuntmen, keeping their hats on helped disguise their faces.

And that’s the problem with Watchmen, in a nutshell. When I’m watching a movie and I’m thinking about the reasons stuntmen kept their hats on in old cliffhangers, well ... you get the idea.

I’m afraid that the question “Who watches the Watchmen?” is not going to be answered very satisfactorily in the next few weeks.

And, speaking of “nutshells”, I can’t resist wondering -- although they didn’t have, as far as I could see in the credits, a listing for “Doctor Manhattan’s package wrangler”, you know there was at least one guy in charge of that bit of CGI. One has to wonder -- will he list it on his resume?

Everybody, now, all together: “What -- and leave show business?”

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