Writing about the movie Watchmen, I could easily get all geeky and go into how Rorschach is too heroic when he should have been deadpan and how Laurie Juspeczyk is too detached. I didn’t frantically read the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons last week for nothing.
Or I could approach it as if I had no previous knowledge of the source material – like most people reading this. Will you be entertained? Is it a good movie?
Being a geek at heart, I’ll take a middle approach, but, since my overall impression was one of disappointment, I’ll definitely gravitate toward telling you to keep your money in your pocket, unless you want to buy the graphic novel, which is pretty terrific.
Amidst the novel’s mumbo-jumbo about the end of the world and an aging Richard Nixon navigating his way through his fifth term, two things give the work a genuine thrill. It offers a collection of truly anti-heroic superheroes. These guys – and gals – aren’t only bad because they’re drawn that way. And it’s delightfully kinky.
Our narrator and central character is Rorschach played by Jackie Earle Haley. In the novel, he’s a bundle of villain-making back stories – his mom abused him, he was bullied. He is also given heroic motivation.
A customer in his employer’s garment shop was raped and killed while her neighbors stood and watched. Repulsed, he decides to protect others like her. A dress she’d refused to purchase from the shop – “too ugly” – had a Rorschach-like pattern. The fabric became his mask.
In the novel, Rorschach’s evil and good impulses cancel each other out leaving him opaque, fascinating. His mask origin story has been cut from the movie and replaced with moments calculated to try to make us perversely cheer for him, such as scalding a fellow prison inmate with hot oil. It’s like being asked to root for a psychopath.
One of my favorite scenes in the novel is between Laurie and Dr. Manhattan. They’re in bed together and her eyes are closed. We see his blue hands caressing her face – one hand, then two hands, then three, then four. She opens her eyes startled to see two Dr. Manhattans in bed with her. At first, she is angered, but this quickly passes as she ponders the possibilities.
In the movie, the scene is all there like panels lifted from the graphic novel and Laurie gets angry on cue, but then she drifts off and becomes distracted rather than aroused. It’s a moment that quickly comes and goes and yet it turns a kinky delight into a yawn.
So, is it a good movie? Well, it is certainly a faithful one. I haven’t seen a book copied this meticulously, ever. And it does have its exhilarating moments. Unfortunately, every detail is treated so reverently that the movie never breathes on its own. Every panel from the graphic novel has been studiously rendered. Watching the movie is like reading the book and vice versa.
But, there’s an awkward, claustrophobic quality as if its world doesn’t extend beyond those panels. A movie shouldn’t feel confined by its frame. It should feel as if you could turn the camera 90 degrees and the world keeps on going. In Watchmen, New York City seems to consist of only a handful of dark alleys and a few dozen angry denizens.
No, it isn’t a very good movie, just a malnourished one with “epic” scenes that feel under-populated and squished. All faithfulness and no faith in having an original vision make Watchmen – at 2 ½ hours – a dull movie.Powered by Sidelines