All entries for Monday 09 March 2009

March 09, 2009

Watchmen

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen_(film)

Its been a while since I last posted something worthy on my blog, and even though there have been many issues cropping up, especially with the economic crisis I’ve not really felt much like actually blogging. Hopefully this, and the need to avoid planet uwcs getting completely overun by Dan will kick start things off again.

Caveats: minor spoilers & I’ve not read the comic book.

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In my opinion the film adaptation of the watchmen was always bound to never be considered as influential within the medium of film, or even within the genre of comic book adaptations, as the comic book is to comic books. When people mention The Watchmen with reverence, they consitently mention its post-modernist content (self concious and self-reflective defiance of convention) and violence. One can see both of these attributes within the adaptation, but this isn’t anything new in the current climate. It was decided before 2009 that all comic book adapations worth their salt had to delve into their characters dark past, and attempt to create interesting characters, either by setting in a wold realistic and situation enough for one to empathize with them (for example Batman fighting terrorism with technology) or by making them charasmatic enough for one to like them (Hellboy’s cigar and willingness to sticky it to Jeffrey Tambor). I can’t really decide whether it is an innate failure as a film on these grounds, or merely minorly disappointing because of its flaws – perhaps I am setting the bar a little too high.

The story itself follows a group of super heroes trying to save the world from nuclear warfare between fictionalized American and Russian super-powers in an alternative Cold War. There is much to like about this scenario, the dangers are to humanity, by humanity, rather than a threat caused by a super-villain. The heroes themselves are second generation, allowing the story to deal with the issue of having to live up to the expectations of ones parents. The scenario itself has Nixon in a 5th term in office, having won the Vietnam war with the help of the super heroes, and American on a moral and social decline. It forgoes the now cliche’d origin-story in favour of an opening montage, possibly the best part of the film, combined with occassional flashbacks. All but one of the heroes is essentially an superior mortal, rather than an übermenschlich.

The one other hero, Dr. Manhattan, has had the mandatory radiation exposure and consequent super-powers that seem to prove remarkably statistically likely to happen in comic book stories. His character plays an important role in the film, a God with existential angst, loosing his humanity and unable to decide on what his true position in life is. I felt his story was well portrayed with the exception of a hard to swallow turn towards the end of the film. I was also highly appreciative of the use of some of Philip Glass’ score for Koyaniqatsi, since Dr. Manhattan genuinely is life-out-of-balance. Unfortunately this is really the only attempt to meaningfully reference popular culture in a level above the superficial.

Rorschach is another character worth mentioning – apart from his masked face he is essentially a prototypical hard boiled detective, complete with the kind of narration one would expect from Raymond Chandler. Unfortunately he doesn’t get all the trappings of the film noir genre, and the cynical and amoral world that exists around The Watchmen is used to neither counter point their fundamental belief in justice, nor as a reflection of their frailties in comparison with traditional superheroes.

An interesting comparison could be made between, The Incredibles and The Watchmen. On a stylistic level these have nothing in common – the watchmen is moody and dark, whilst The Incredibles is as jazzy and exciting a film as I’ve ever seen. In the incredibles, humour is naturely part of the setup, while Watchmen artificially injects bad jokes into the fabric of a serious film, fundamentally undermining the emotional payoff of several scenes. In both films, however, self-reflection on super heroes is put to the fore-front, but while The Incredibles explores Nietzsche (“When everyone is special, no one is”), watchmen looks more broadly at what super heroes would be like if they were more human, perhaps less morally absolute, afraid of living up to their parents, or unsure what to make of themselves. For me, this is where Watchmen falls down – its an interesting ‘what if’, brilliantly visualised and intelligently conceived, but I don’t want to go and see a film to gain insight into the lives of super heroes, I want to gain insight into the real world around me: people, politics, philosphy and I can’t say I leant anything meaningful about them from this visit to the Cinema.


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