Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes

Well me, obviously.

Twice now.

Once on the BIG screen at IMAX who tout their movies with the tagline - “Trust us......SIZE DOES MATTER!”

and once in Village Cinema's Gold Class, “mmm why yes - bring me the double wagyu burgers with tomato jam, cheese, lettuce, with onion relish served with shoe string fries and garlic aioli. Then for desert I’ll have the mixed berry cheesecake with grand marnier compote and mascarpone with my coffee, bring it out 30 minutes before the end”. For complete menu click here.

What did I think, - let me set the scene

Watchmen has been described, as the Moby Dick of superhero graphic novels and it must be a novel since it was included in Time Magazine’s 100 greatest novels of all time, Click here for the full list. Though with Phillip.K. Dick’s Ubik on the list a Mind-fraking component must have been included high on the priorities for selection. Watchmen used tropes and tabulae of images in the way big screen cinema had been using them for years and so it was this graphic novel that challenged the way such novels were perceived at the time. For the movie to have the same impact it would have needed to do cinema in a way that drew on the techniques of other media.

Reading it in 1987 would be different to reading it now. I don’t know if it was in the 80s the US, UK and to a lesser extent Australia seemed to be facing economic and social woes that gave rise to an atmosphere of imminent collapse. Maybe it was my itinerant sharehouse lifestyle complete with transitory screaming random housemates, the marginal paying, time-shifted macjobs we all worked, the sense that the 20th Century was circling the drain of history that made the existence of masked vigilantes and indifferent world shattering forces as not only believable but indeed required. This and the increasing belief that the future held an absence of any shinny jetpacks, moon bases and hot android women added to a feeling of hopelessness and despair that the comic/graphic novel captured.

So Watchmen, though I didn’t realise it at the time, was the fear stink of sweat, semen, and blood of an era coalesced into a thick slab of a slowly crumbling paper.

Watching Zack ‘300’ Snyder’s WATCHMEN unfold on the big screen I was seeing a significant, much contemplated and beloved chunk of my youth up there in homage. That just doesn’t happen to me, usually its all boomer aging or gen Y angst.

BIG props to Zack Snyder who I can only imagine must as big a fanboy as the rest of us given how he lovingly recreates the novel. Almost every scene is a fractal of the complex story and panels worthy of framing.

The casting was for me spot on. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Supernatural’s John Winchester) as Edward Blake/Comedian, Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs/ Rorschach being my stand out favorites only because they were my favorites in the novel.


Anything with Rorschach

Is that what happens to us? A life of conflict with no time for friends, so that when it's done, only our enemies leave roses”.

"It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us".

Rorschach could have been a poet. Okay maybe a crazy, super-violent poet, but a poet.

For me the two scariest parts of the film are

when Dan Dreiberg is standing in the midst of a riot plaintively decrying

What's happened to the American dream?” And the comedian smiling as he turns back from knocking down a protester with a smoke round (technically non-lethal) answers “It came true. You're lookin' at it”.

Dr Manhattan’s old colleague Wally Weaver is on a talk show and calmly and sanely says: “I never said the superman exists, and he's American. What I said was God exists, and he's American. If that statement starts to chill you after a couple of moments consideration then don’t be alarmed. A feeling of intense and crushing religious terror at the concept only indicates that you are still sane”.

No its not in it.

Yes I think the ending they went with still works

Damn I did want to see that squid up on the big screen though.

But even in my most fanboy hopeful I KNEW they couldn’t keep the same ending.

For those who have read the novel you know there was NO WAY after 9-11 any studio would make a movie that recreated the first 8 pages of Chapter XII on the big screen as haunting and eerie as it could have been done up on the big screen.

The reviews and box office are mixed and I have read a lot now.
For an surprising take, check out some of the reviews here, really check them out.
It shows that Christian doesn’t mean fundamental, bigoted and narrow minded. A few provided an insight from a religious perspective on the movie that gave me a different but valid viewpoint seeing it as a morality play, a discourse on the materialist and the divine, etc.

Then of course some are just plain bat-frak crazy too, especially as they offer a section titled ‘comments from Non-viewers’ for those who want to say something WHO HAVE NEVER SEEN THE FILM.

Some of the comments/complaints in the reviews are about the violent and graphic nature use the scene in the prison saying “....By the way, the guy could have easily cut through the bars on the other side, since Rorschach's cell was quite wide. This is what I mean when I say excessive violence… there's often no point whatsoever other than to shock the audience, which makes it somewhat similar to the 'horror' movies of today”.

This is mistaken on two levels:

  • Thematically -it helps reinforce the brutal, callous nature of the criminals that Rorschach faces everyday.
  • Mechanically -as they are constrained for time they want to cut the least number of bars. They could cut through the bars further down but to make a sufficient space to allow access would mean cutting 3 bars twice, top and bottom. Instead they could cut the arms and get access to the two bars around the cage lock. Cutting two bars and the lock falls, cage open.
It’s a case of cutting through 2 arms is faster than cutting twice through a jail cell bar.

*****SPOILERS OFF*************

What will people who've never read Watchmen even think of this film? What will it be like for them to sit through these crazy, violent, colourful three hours and not recognize almost every line – almost every image? Will they be utterly baffled, bored, or totally love it?

Perhaps if the economic downturn continues and this coming decade brings with it the every increasing hopeless and despair that the 1980s held then the movie will be reassessed.

Is Watchmen a good or bad movie? I have no idea.

I’m going to go with the words of Matt Selman, The Times on-lines nerd in residence.

“I stand powerless before the Gods I once worshiped in my attic bedroom, now moving and talking and fighting and loving on a giant screen. And I find myself unable to judge them”.

But remember if for nothing else Zack ‘300’ Snyder deserves our thanks (and nothing would say thanks better than going to see it a few more times) for preventing the studio’s from committeeing the novel to death. Because for all the movie's magnificent follies we could have ended up with this:


  1. I thought the movie was great except for silk spectre and night owl - they went with people who looked spot on to the characters when they should have probably looked at acting ability as well. visually fantastic. Rorschach was by far the best part of the movie. finally a comic adaption for (apparent) adults.
    that you tube vid was a find and a half

  2. Gotta catch the movie and probably buy the graphic novel again