So I went to see Watchmen in San Diego with Cassie and house-guest Martin. Of course, I’d been looking forward to it greatly, being a fan of the book and of Alan Moore’s other work. I’m not some huge Moore scholar, but I loved Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and I’ve read some issues of Top Ten (another “what if” story concerning superheroes) and Swamp Thing, and in general I think Moore is a true artist.
I loved his novel The Voice of the Fire, set as it was in a 10-mile radius around Northampton over 5000 years of personal and community history, with each story feeding a myth or legend to the next. I come from Bedford in the UK, not all that far from Northampton, which has its own long history. It makes me wonder what dark secrets hung over the Castle Mound, or the site of the old Ford that gives the town it’s name. No worse than the dark realities of the High Street on a Saturday night, I bet.
I’m well aware of Moore’s feelings about film adaptations of his work, and for the most part they are well and truly justified. But this one felt different. Artist Dave Gibbons was on board, and the shots of sets and costume sketches that dribbled out from the production all looked very hopeful.
Friend Brian, he that built these teeth for me for Halloween, had met Dave Gibbons when he was doing the special effects for the fantastic documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore (video clip here), and when we went to San Diego Comic Con last year he got him to sign his copy of Gibbon’s own book The Originals, a retro-futurist retelling of Quadrophenia, complete with hover-scooters (for the faces) and hover-bikes (for the “dirt”), high-collar riding coats known as “mantles”, and of course, hard pork-pie hats. There was lots of props, toys, early trailers and so on to see at Comic Con, and hype was at its height. So I had high hopes for this production.
I was a little disappointed. I’m not worried about the retelling being “faithful”. It definitely was. I don’t want to be that guy, complaining about every tiny difference. The sets, costumes, effects, design, vehicles were all great.
I’m not too bothered about the change to the ending. The “squid” would have needed many more characters and scenes: the artist who designed it, the pirate writer who came up with the hellish visions it propagated in the people of New York, the massacre of the secret community in the bombing of the ship, and so on. It was easier to just stick with a “big bomb” SFX sequence and leave it at that. In fact, by making Dr Manhattan the threat instead of some “alien invasion”, you might say it was a neater and more plausible ending (if “plausible” can be a word you would use in this context).
The acting was variable. Malin Ackerman was a bit wooden, and Billy Crudup’s performance as Dr Manhattan suffered from the fact that he was trying to be otherworldly and inhuman, but instead it just came across as “talking in a lilting la-la voice”. Jackie Earle Haley was fantastic, and Patrick Wilson was excellent as well, both of them showing the necessary vulnerability.
I didn’t recall the book being so violent. Checking back, of course, I see that it was, and the film was pretty faithful to the number of punches and kicks thrown during the rape scene. Nasty. However, there were some extra nasty little bits that were added, in one case with reason, in others without. I wouldn’t mind, but it did seem to enjoy lingering on some bits.Lingering was the problem on the whole. Every line was an important, every frame was a freeze frame. In the effort to not miss any bits from the book, it seemed like they were trying to make sure that every line was highlighted and clearly signposted. Despite this, the actors weren’t always that good at making the line clear, so even I, that knew every line that was spoken and where it came from, sometimes had a hard time understanding what they were saying. Even the bits that were played for laughs (the ejaculatory flamethrower for example) got overshadowed by the films – dare I say it? – pompousness. The funniest bit was Rorschach’s initial responses, “Some nice flowers”, “A pretty butterfly”. That says quite a lot.
The fight scenes suffered from the current trend for slow-motion sequences. They wanted you to see every bullet, every punch, every breaking bone. I think that these superhero sequences would be more impressive if they were done in real-time. These people are supposed to be superhuman, even if they don’t have superpowers, so a fight which lasts five seconds and leaves five bad guys on the out cold floor is more impressive than a painstakingly choreographed and elaborately filmed violent ballet. The new Batman films have it right. *Biff!* *Wham!* *Whoosh! – “What was that?”.
I think overall that my disappointment is that now the film is out, there’s nothing to look forward to. Except for the Tales of the Black Freighter DVD. And the director’s cut with the other 30 minutes they shot…