Sunday, 15 March 2009

A: I watch the Watchmen

So, was it any good? Did it live up to the fevered anticipation? In a word, yes.

While not without flaws (see below), it's easily one of the most faithful (in letter and in spirit) adaptations I've seen on the screen. Even though it's a fairly long film, I still expected a large amount of trimming and simplification, but I was surprised at how much of the detail and texture from the graphic novel has survived to the screen. Yes, the ending has been changed, but only really in letter, and not in spirit. And, to be honest, I find the film's ending actually better than the original; it's less comic-book-crazy and quite simply makes more sense.

But where does it go wrong? There are a couple of places where I think that the film goes slightly off the rails. Some of the film's issues are actually faults in the graphic novel itself, but there are other problems that the film itself has created. Firstly, although I wouldn't like to be the one wielding the editor's scissors, it probably is about 20 minutes too long. Which brings me to my second criticism. The only flab I could readily identify was around some of the violence and the "love" scene that takes place in Archie. The former violent sequences are completely unnecessary, and almost drag the film back to its comic book origins too much (they also paint the costumed heroes as almost superhuman, which diminishes the point that they're not). The latter is unnecessarily graphic (what a prude I am!) and, again, completely unnecessary. We don't need a blow-by-blow account; cinema can be subtle. I'd also be a little critical of the level of gore in the film. While the graphic novel is not without such touches, some of the scenes are really not necessary. Again, one of cinema's strengths is that it's subtle enough for things to be darkly hinted at. Finally, I have to say that it was surely not beyond the ken of the film-makers to get in a Richard Nixon impersonator that actually looked like Nixon rather than one of the mask-wearing bank robbers from Point Break. Couldn't they have asked Frank Langella? I understand that he recently finished a little film called Frost/Nixon.

But where does it go right? It opens with a brilliant montage that efficiently fills in quite a bit of the Watchmen mythos, all set to Bob Dylan's (appropriately chosen) The Times They Are a-Changin'. This is the first of several set-piece sequences that make good use of classic music tracks, and it gets the film off to a great start. The film's art design is scrupulously faithful to the graphic novel, with the only changes being, basically, improvements. The film also retains a surprising amount of dialogue or commentary from the graphic novel; obviously not all of it, but the film-makers have been very careful here. And though some of the performances have attracted criticism, particularly Malin Åkerman, I just don't see this. I thought she was perfectly acceptable, and actually made the most of what's a rather underwritten role in the original novel.

Anyway, it gets two thumbs up from me, though I am a fan of the graphic novel, but not an obsessive that seeks a level of perfection that cinema can't deliver (and which ignores problems with the source material). I can well see it being a rather confusing affair for some viewers, but that's true of many films at the best of times. And while I'm sure I'll think of other things that are wrong with it as I mull it over later, overall, and with certain caveats (including that I don't think it's the best film ever, etc., etc.), I think that the film-makers did it proud.

In passing, although C thought it was too long, it was generally well-received. To my relief!


Deditos said...

I saw it a week ago after um-ing and ah-ing about whether to read the book first. In the end I stuck with my normal order of film first for plot, book second for depth. Whether that will work for graphic novels I've yet to find out.

Like you, I enjoyed it overall, but the most disappointing part was using the cliché of a showdown in the evil genius's elaborate, palatial and remote lair. Yawn. Isn't that just the stock Hollywood third act for anything actiony? It was a big let down after the convincing grim-but-normal setting of the rest of the film. If I'd written the screenplay that's one part where I would have deviated from the book.

You're right about the distracting Nixon makeup, although the Kissinger character made me chuckle for the right reasons.

Deditos said...

BTW, now that I've left a couple of comments, this seems like the right post for this masked avenger to reveal that we vaguely know each other from real life. I'm Phil from GENIE.

Plumbago said...

My word. Hello Phil! Did you find me by accident? I've not tried to mask my secret identity too much (unlike the Watchmen), but I don't think I've blabbed my name anywhere here. Although my profile picture is clearly, if Warholy, me. Anyway, well done on finding me, and good to hear from you. How's life been treating you post-GENIE? I seem to have become higher resolution and ocean-only since then, more's the pity.

Plumbago said...

As for Watchmen, I was rather pleasantly surprised at how it turned out. As I alluded to in a previous post, the last adaptation I was looking forwards to, Northern Lights, was a classic example of how to needlessly gut a work for the screen.

I'm inclined to agree about the "third act", although both novel and film at least undercut that by cleverly circumventing the "talkative master-criminal" cliche. That, I thought, smartly offset the return to stereotype.

I don't know what they were doing with Nixon. They got good doubles for a number of historical figures (Kissinger was one of the best), but then blew it on the figure with the most screen time. Patrick Swayze with a rubber mask would have been a great improvement.