Friday, March 06, 2009

Who Will Watch the Watchmen?

Watchmen Trailer - Warner Bros

Who will watch (the) Watchmen? Well, I did, for one -- last night at the midnight show. I don't have time for a full review but a few random observations:

My daughter has been looking to borrow a copy of Alan Moore's graphic novel so she can read it before she sees the movie. Sadly, I can't find my copy, and her brother has been too buried under his backlog at work to look for his copy... and she is running out of time. I have some good news for her: the new film is incredibly faithful to the graphic novel -- it is exactly the same, almost frame-for-frame, and there is no burning need to read the graphic novel first. It's the same thing. Zack Snyder, the director, did an amazing job of sticking to the graphic novel. (He did leave out the comic-book-within-a-comic-book subplot about the Black Freighter but it came out cleanly.) If you see the movie first then skim the comic book, reading only the parts about pirates, you will have gotten the whole experience.

Snyder did allow himself one small indulgence, almost a signature. In the first sequence, an aging superhero called The Commedian is attacked in his apartment by an assassin. As his attacker bursts through the door The Comedian throws ... something (a whisky bottle would be in character) ... at the assassin but misses. He hits the door instead, knocking off one of the digits in the apartment number, changing it from "3001" to "300" -- a reference to the Snyder's previous comics-related movie: "300."

The Watchmen is arguably the best comic book mini-series ever made. And the movie version is, as I have said, incredibly faithful to the comics version. The interesting question is this: does that make The Watchmen a great movie? Not necessarily. That's not to say that it isn't a great movie -- haven't made up my mind -- just that it is an interesting question.

I've heard reviewers criticize Snyder for sticking too close to the original -- not giving the movie room to breathe -- and they suggest that it might have been better if he had updated the original a bit. I can see the point. The Teleospouse and I were the only members of the audience last night who are old enough to really remember President Nixon -- who features prominently in the graphic novel and the film -- and Moore and Snyder use images of Nixon as shorthand for big chunks of the zeitgeist of the 1970s and early 80s in a way that must have puzzled many of the twenty-something members of the midnight audience. But Snyder was right to leave the story in its original, alternate-history of another generation setting. Watchmen is a creature of its times and would not survive an update.

I takes nothing away from Snyder or his movie to suspect that the prominence of the Nixon character is one of the reasons that the movie was funded just now. The aging leftists who run much of the Hollywood film industry are looking at retirement (those who are in still good health) and Nixon is the demon figure of their youth. They can't resist an opportunity to revisit their salad days by taking one more whack at the Tricky Dick PiƱata. Like Frost/Nixon, Watchmen cashes in on the favorite animus of the generation in the 'arts' that is just entering its decline. For those of you too young to remember the Tricky Dick meme, Tricky Dick is to Chimpy McBu$hitler as Heroin is to light beer. Bush derangement syndrome has been the Methadone which with the Hollywood left has tried to get by -- but now that Bush is gone they have gone back to the real deal.