Thursday 30 July 2009

who watches the Watchmen? Eddie Campbell finally gets around to it.

'Watchmen' dominates video charts
The action hit "Watchmen," from Warner Home Video, shot to the top of the national home video sales and rental charts its first week in stores, with 36% of its total unit sales coming from the high-definition edition.
Firstly, the hullaballoo about Mahnhattan's willy was completely unnecessary, and the product of small minds. It's no big deal and I wish I hadn't commented on the comments of the fanboy forums, where far too much was made of it. There are annoying things in the movie and that isn't one of them. And there are more annoying problems with the reviews of the movie, for instance this new one:

Watchmen is too faithful to Alan Moore's book, writes Paul Owen on the Guardian Film Blog
Zack Snyder told the Guardian earlier this week that his version of Alan Moore's comic novel was 'not really a movie, in the traditional sense'. I wish it had been
At times this labour of love seemed like a shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic, with as little as possible squeezed out during its lengthy running time. Does it work as a movie? Does it work independently of its source material?... my feeling is that it does not. Anyone putting Watchmen into the DVD player unfamiliar with the comic and what it was trying to do might well be left baffled by the plot and alienated by some of its imagery and themes. Enjoyable as it is to see Rorschach snarl at his fellow prisoners "You're locked in here with me", for example, this whole jail sequence could have safely been deleted without interfering with the plot.
Most importantly, some things that don't necessarily seem ridiculous in comics – superheroes' physiques, their costumes, capes, secret identities and underground lairs – seem much more silly on screen, when brought to life by real human beings. The leap of imagination or suspension of disbelief is much more difficult to make in films than in comics. And Watchmen does not do enough to make these aspects of the film credible to the general viewer.
Separating the points, firstly: It's a very smalltown reviewer who only concerns himself with what the commonplace viewer is likely to accept. A bigger person would lead the way and casually attempt to influence taste. I would certainly have expected more from a writer in the Guardian, whether online or off.
Secondly, there is a great deal of the book that can arguably be left to one side for the purpose of a movie; Rorschach in jail is not part of that. 'Springing' Rorschach is the hinge upon which the drama turns. His refusal to give in must be pushed to its very limit, even in the face of brutal murder in jail, before decisive action is taken by others to influence the course of events.
Third, the business about the exaggerations of the comic books not taking well to the screen is palpably untrue. All action movies now are comic book movies, even those that didn't originate in the funny books, such as Die Hard and James Bond. Even the Bourne movies might as well have strip cartoon origins for all that they respect the rules of physics. The comedies even moreso. Jim Carrey is a walking cartoon; so is Eddie Murphy. The fact is that movies, insofar as they are all about spectacle, are more likely to have their antecedents in the circus and street parades than in books. Costumes and tricks of the eye are the very essence of movies, or at least one strain of them, from Georges Méliès to George Lucas. Speaking purely theoretically, a comic book is as likely to provide the stuff of a successful movie as any other source material.

Now, as to the problems. In spite of all I've heard, if the movie is weak, it is categorically NOT because of its faithfulness to the original. I found myself continually wondering if the adapters had completely understood the original. For example they retain the line "(Blake) saw the true face of the twentieth century and he chose to become a reflection, a parody, of it. No one else saw the joke" but they do not, as does the book, combine those words with the image of the Vietnamese woman bottling his face. They do show that in its proper place in Manhattan's memory, and the result is a gash in Blake's cheek. But the whole point of the act of violence was that it transformed the permanent expression on his face into a cruel sneer. Blake does not have this in the movie. Small things like this say a great deal symbolically. Blake has changed from the arrogant jocular chancer of his youth in the gaudy yellow clown suit, to the vicious cynic of a politically more complicated time. A similar amount of thought went into Rorschach's mask in the book: "Viscous fluids between two layers latex heat and pressure sensitive. Customer young girl, never collected order, said dress looked ugly. Wrong. Not ugly at all. Black and white, moving, changing shape. But not mixing. No gray." Then it turned out the woman who ordered the special dress was real life Kitty Genovese. I'll admit this is perhaps much too complicated for a film, but the business about 'black and white, no grey' says a huge amount in a very small space, and they didn't really get into Rorschach's world view in other ways. It would have made the mask a potent symbol and carried more weight than adding in the completely new action of him putting a cleaver in the child murderer's head four or five times, which is no more or less meaningful than all the other acts of violence.
Then there is Rorschach's diary. In the book the diary has the first and last words. Perhaps a crucial scene has been eliminated, to be reinstated in the director's cut, in which we see him actually writing in the diary, or perhaps I just closed my eye and missed it. Otherwise his words exist only as a voice-over, so that when an actual book-diary turns up at the end, I was a little surprised. I had presumed from its absence that it was going to be one of things they were cutting out.
Then there's all the violent stuff that has been added in, as I referred to above. In the movie version of the fight with Laurie and Dan in the alley with five thugs, we now see ten thugs and they are all brutally dealt with. One has his arm snapped in two by Dan, another gets stabbed in the throat by Laurie. I must say I was shocked. In other places, Dan is horrified at the violent acts of Rorschach breaking a thug's fingers to get info and The Comedian's violent dispersion of protesters; it makes no sense. And why do the thugs attack one at a time, apart from the cinematic need for each act of violence to be clearly outlined? In the book the point of the scene was to create an oddly humorous sexual frisson, as they lean back against the wall and the first thing she thinks of is to light a cigarette. You'd need to be a nut job to be up for humour after seeing the guy with the knife in his throat. More added violence in the attempt on Veidt's life. Not only his assistant as in the book, but now three politicos also, as Veitd ducks behind them in what looks like a cowardly maoneuvre. In the movies, meaning will always be secondary to spectacle, and the favourite spectacle of our miserable age is the spectacle of hurt.

And this movie is very spectacular, in many places, especially the sequence on Mars, and the owlship in flight and it is also, I would say, the best adaptation of Alan Moore to the big screen. But all through it I felt ill-at-ease. You know that feeling, when you have a visitor in your house and he's going around manhandling all your things.

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Anonymous Duds said...

Told you, you would like it.

The Rorschach writing issue is in the diretors cut as with some other meatier bits that flow better.

They did miss the point of the mask and unfortunately Kitty is not in the DC, which I had hoped.

Not sure why they removed the hand cuff and saw seen and the best monolougue in the book after thinking it had been seen in SAW, when Alan ripped it off Mad Max anyway.

The DC is a superior film, the Hollis death scene is brilliant and more importnatly Eddie Blake makes more sence as his relationship with Laurie is put back in, in the right order.

I challenge anyone to say that Manhattan on Mars is not a brilliant piece of fil making, as the whole film flirts with being truly great with some flaws.

Change its name and people would be praising it instead of saying whats wrong with it.

30 July 2009 at 04:24:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous all dazzlin' said...


He didn't like it.

Having watched it again, I reckon the film is flawed with moments of brilliance. Mainly the opening credits.


30 July 2009 at 05:22:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous all dazzlin' said...

or should I say, I don't think he liked it. Wouldn't want to speak for him.

30 July 2009 at 05:23:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Peeboo said...

hullaballoo..Manhattan's willy.
Hullo blue Manhattan's willy.

Sorry, that was completely unnecessary too.

30 July 2009 at 05:43:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Yoga Gal said...

Great review on the film version of "Watchmen", while watching that movie I wondered why they didn't do the Lord of the Rings thing and make it three movies instead compacting all that wonderful complex text of that brilliant graphic novel into one long movie that kept changing it's pace with one character sub-plot after another!

30 July 2009 at 16:06:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

Totally different topic...

Eddie, have you read Yoshihiro Tatsumi's 'A Drifting Life'? He is a manga (gekiga) artist, and the book is his autobiography.

30 July 2009 at 20:48:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

no. haven't read it.

30 July 2009 at 20:56:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from the bone-crushing, the violence is just so wrong at crucial parts in the film -- the comedian gets smashed through a marble counter in the beginning, Rorschach wedges a butcher's knife into the kidnapper's head (along with some unnecessary exposition about abuse) -- it was irritating.

Eddie, perhaps you should check out the motion comic of Watchmen.

Apart from the unfortunate choice of using the same voice actor for the female characters and some jerky animation, I found it better than the movie overall. The attention to detail like Rorschach's mask "faces" is excellent. I particularly enjoyed the foreshadowing and build-up to the climax of the book (in New York).

31 July 2009 at 00:14:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Wow Gold said...

Nice blog. I liked it.

3 August 2009 at 03:43:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Dave Cake said...

I agree with you, Eddie. The weakest points of the film were the parts where it deviated from the original. Not the plot change of the ending (which I had no problem) but the little changes to scenes that left the plot substantially similar but missed the point. The violent alley fight in particular made Dan and Laurie much creepier. And the odd way in which they made Lauries a non-smoker, but left in the part where she accidentally hits the flamethrower -- she goes from making a natural mistake, to being an idiot who presses random buttons. The little changes that played hell with the characterisation like that were the problem.

Still, I enjoyed it.

3 August 2009 at 12:43:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Sean Michael Wilson said...

Back to the different topic:
Yoshihiro Tatsumi's autobio 'A Drifting Life in Gekiga' - I also recommend it Eddie. Its a great insight into the early days of manga, and how the more mature gekiga style began to take shape.

Tatsumi is one of the main gekiga creators from the 50's and 60's (the other main ones being perhaps Masahiko Matsumoto and Yoshiharu Tsuge, though there are several others also). Its my Japanese colleague from AX anthology, Asakawa, that commissioned the original autobio in Japan and has helped steer through the wonderful D&Q Tatsumi books in English. Stuff by Matsumoto is hopefully to come soon, but Tsuge refuses translation for now. His 'Screwstyle' from 1968 is a significant landmark in the development of manga. Took it a big step into more deeply personal, surreal, exploratory areas.

Our Top Shelf 'AX: alternative manga' collection i mentioned to you before will feature a never seen before in English Tatsumi story also. Plus 32 other creators, most of whom will be seen for the first time in English. We are just finishing off the book now, and our mutual friend, Paul Gravett, is writing the intro. Its a biggie at 400 pages.

Ta, Sean

4 August 2009 at 21:37:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Gabriel G; said...

Mr. Campbell,

I've been reading your blog from time to time, for about a year at least. And I realy like it.

I just loved your text about Watchman's movie, and completely agree with each word in it.

The film could be worse -- I agree it is the best adaptation of a Moore Comic until now -- but it is deeply flawed.
But most of the rewiews are even more flawed, like the one you've picked! That's perhaps the real irritating part: to realise that most people seem to not even notice that very important things were lost in this adaptation.

(sorry for any miswritings, I'm a damn brazilian...)

6 August 2009 at 22:26:00 GMT-5  

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