Blog reviews

I Pretty Much Co-Directed Watchmen

smileyThanks to the stealthy nature of this blog, I was not captured by Warner Brothers executives for spilling the beans a week early about Watchmen. Even though I saw the movie before almost anyone else in the universe, I still went last weekend to see it again. It’s that good a movie. Completed, I would say it’s even better.

I noticed a lot of the little details you miss the first time around on a movie like this.
I really dug the Batman posters in the background of one scene that took place in the 1940s.

There were a few scenes that seemed better this time, like the little get-together between the two Nite Owls. Sadly, the second scene with the original Nite Owl was cut for this version of the film. I’m sure it will be back for the DVD. The scenes on Mars, fantastic on first viewing, were even grander with the finished special effects. How did people make comic book adaptations before computer special effects?

There were two suggestions I made after my test audience viewing that Zack Snyder apparently agreed with. The first was about the song, Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen. In the test screening, he used a cover version that didn’t sound all that good. I said, why not just use the original? He did.

My second suggestion has to do with a major plot point; a surprise for anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the film yet. I won’t give it away, but I will say that there is a flashback of sorts near the beginning of the film. Dr. Manhattan puts his hand to Laurie’s forehead and forces her to “see” certain events from her past. In the original cut, you saw something that is meant to be a surprise at the end of the film. It totally ruined the surprise.

I said, why not let that be a surprise? You give away too much, too soon. Zack Snyder totally agreed with me. He said, you’re right Josh, how could I have been so stupid? And I said, you’re too hard on yourself, Zack. And he said, I’m nothing without you. And then we hugged for a really long time, but not in a gay way.

In short, I should have gotten co-directing credit for Watchmen. My fingerprints are all over that movie. I’m not concerned with the money. My foremost concern is that Watchmen be the best movie it can be, and that my name is first on the credits. Not too tall an order, really.

Thanks, Mr. Snyder, for making a great comic book adaptation. I was glad to put my hard-earned money down to see it a second time. Next time you’re making a movie, I hope you remember my essential contributions and give me a ring. You know where to find me. (Right here.)

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watchmen4   Back in October, I had the great pleasure of seeing a test screening of Watchmen. It was all very hush-hush; in fact, many people who had received invitations were not allowed in because they hadn’t filled out an online form. Security was tight, my friends. Going in, we didn’t know what movie we would be seeing. All we knew was that it was a “big budget superhero movie.” We might have been the exclusive first audience to the next Punisher movie. Fortunately, it was much better than that.

Since I had to sign a waiver, I’ve been tight-lipped about Watchmen. What I didn’t want was an elite team of Warner Brothers-trained ninjas killing me silently in the dead of night. But now that the release date approaches, I’m sure no one at “The Bros” would mind a lonely blogger speaking about their movie. Especially since it was totally awesome.

I wonder if I was the only cartoonist in the crowd that night. I have read the Watchmen graphic novel; I’m a fan. I have been severely let down by some comic book adaptations, but Hollywood has been getting better at it lately. I don’t know about you, but the original Superman was pretty bad. Sure, Christopher Reeve was undeniably awesome as both Clark Kent and Superman, but on the whole it felt too stately. Spider-Man was probably the first fun superhero movie, and since then you can’t walk into a video store without spotting a half dozen good-to-great adaptations. My expectations for Watchmen, then, were fairly high.watchmen3
Fortunately, Zack Snyder delivered. The movie follows the comic incredibly closely. There were even shots taken directly from panels in the book. Like most long-form fiction, much of the story was taken out for the movie. That didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me that the ending was slightly altered. What matters most is, if you like the movie you’re more likely to pick up the book. Who wants to see the exact same story in two formats, anyway? What’s the point of spending 200 million dollars to copy what was done already? This is a good adaptation.

The actors are not superstars, but they were obviously chosen because they fit the look of the characters. And I must say, they all did a magnificent job. I’m glad there were no huge stars – it would have just detracted from the story. It does take most of your concentration to follow the story.

Some elements of the story: before the Watchmen, there was The Minutemen. You’ve got two generations of superheroes to keep track of. (It’s like a comic book One Hundred Years of Solitude.) Then you’ve got an alternate history where we won Vietnam and Richard Nixon is still President in 1985. You also have to be aware that the present in the movie is 1985, otherwise you won’t get why everybody is so freaked out about nuclear war.

Oddly enough, I found the “real people” (Nixon, Buchanan, Kissinger) to be more cartoony than the Watchmen. They had meetings in a Dr. Strangelove war room, they talked like they were in a 1950’s war movie. Comparatively, the Watchmen seemed almost everyday in their actions.

The special effects were unfinished. I could usually tell what they were getting at, though, as there was a rough animation as placeholder. They didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. I kind of enjoyed seeing the filmmaker’s process. It also made me use my imagination, something I can’t say I do very much at movies nowadays. (I love sounding like I’m 93 in these posts.) Really, I prefer animation over live-action in general. Cartoonist bias.watchmen2

The soundtrack was unfinished as well but there was a fantastic cue for a scene involving a character called Dr. Manhattan. They used a Phillip Glass piece from the movie Mishima. It worked terrifically well, and I hope they keep it in or use something similar. The song selection was a mixed bag. The opening credits (one of the standout scenes) used Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. Then they used a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in a hokey sex scene I hope gets cut. Worse still, it wasn’t Jeff Buckley’s version, or even Rufus Wainwright’s. Was there a rights issue?

On the whole, it seemed too much like a grab bag of well-known radio songs. It isn’t that I’m against Sound of Silence, or even Simon & Garfunkel in general. I’m a fan. It’s that I already associate that song with another, very famous, movie. Mr. Snyder needs to dig a little deeper than a Greatest Hits collection for his soundtrack. Hopefully that will be remedied. But keep the Dylan in.

There were some beautiful scenes of Dr. Manhattan on Mars. They really seemed to play up his Buddhist nature. How can you detach yourself from the illusory world yet remain connected to all things? There are a few hints of this philosophical conundrum. I also thought the love story was handled well for a movie with lots of explosions. It’s not often you can get the nuanced in with the fist fight.

I give my wholehearted recommendation to Watchmen. Go see it when it opens. It is definitely a Theater Movie, one that has as many ideas, as grand a story, as big a climax as anything you will see on a wall-sized screen.

And if Warner Brothers does send me to a Siberian labor camp for having blogged about Watchmen before it opens, please send me a bootlegged DVD so I can see the finished product.watchmen1