Bush of Goats

Life's too short for empty slog. ans.

The Watchmen made me watch them.

One of my best books ever is Watchmen.

As I’ve said previously, I think the context for a novel is paramount, and Watchmen and me were made for each other: I was at art college, doing student politics, loving the indie disco and developing a keen interest in recreational doorways; It was a multi-layered musing on the fallibility of ego, armageddon and the monoculture in a comic. We hung out.

I saw Watchmen the movie when it came out and I was sorely disappointed. I watched it again last week and, without the cloud of PR hype distracting from the actual thing, I thought I would right down what I thought of it.

This has been said elsewhere, but if you’ve read Watchmen, the first half hour of the movie version will make you believe you are about to see the greatest screen adaptation ever. Unfortunately, as the extended multi-layered musing on the fallibility of ego-cum-title sequence gives way to the ‘film proper’, it stops being that and becomes just another movie franchise. Don’t bother hoping it’ll improve; it doesn’t.

Watchmen the graphic novel is about a great many things, but it takes as a start point the idea that the comic books of the 50s gave rise to a masked vigilante craze: a strangely dramatised version of cops and robbers wherein committed citizens would chase down the good old fashioned criminals (the burglars, the bank robbers) and rough them up a bit before dumping them off at Police Headquarters. Some off-duty cops joined in. It was a bit like WWF.
But then an accident at a nuclear research facility creates the first actual super-human.

Dr Manhattan is a blue man with pure white eyes and no discernible penis. On the plus side, he is able to travel through time via dimensions unknown to regular people, decide to be 60ft tall (or just to be a 60ft tall penis with white eyes) and of making people explode USING THE POWER OF HIS MINDE IF HE FEELS LIKE IT. I guess that’s probably a ‘win’, overall.

What actually happens in Watchmen is I think less important than being in its world. It is a written world you can lose yourself in, but one that also comes with pictures. Instinctively, you expect this to intrude on the mind’s own theatre, but amazingly, they don’t: there are pages and pages of  effectively empty scenes, often with the fractured lapsed thought bubbles of Rorshach (the blotter-faced psycopathic PI) as a bleak semi-relevant narrative. Labouriously repeated frames of rain puddles scattered by hurrying feet that slowly simmer back down to the blank reflection. Shadows arcing across walls as cars drive by, out of sight.

These sparse frames are jazz and rainy; paintings of Blade Runner, from a paused videotape. They are a there-not-there backdrop to your mind as it wanders through the possibilities and the likely implications of the most recent twist of the plot. And echo in their form the themes of the good blue Dr. as he lives in different dimensions and does stuff both before and after it has happened .

Unsurprisingly, this comic book reinterpretation of one of film’s structural components doesn’t make it back into the film adaptation.

What the film does decide to do is elevate the largely irrelevant love story that pootles along within the book to the status of main theme. Honestly, it feels like it was edited together on the basis of a Google Keyword search. The love theme ends up providing what feels like several hours of unscripted theatre drama for actors who want to improvise their way out of a bad divorce.

In fact, the more I think about it, the idea of a google word search editing policy seems to make more sense. The fanboys (me included, I guess) are going to watch this regardless of whether it’s good or not, but if the studio can get it highly matched with ‘date movie’, then they’ll tap into an even bigger market. Who cares about the integrity of the project. This is Hollywood, numb nuts!

Furthermore, there are a couple of moments of ultra (ultra) violence that I found entirely without purpose, which I think are recreated exactly as they appear in the book (I only think this, as I can’t check: I lent my copy of Watchmen to an Italian AD who subsequently disappeared from my life, taking my original copy of the book with him. I am an idiot.). Anyhoo, the moments of violence follow on from the extended relationship improv scenes and made me inextricably angry. I felt like I was being clumsily manipulated and I still cannot for the life of me understand why these moments of inconsequential brutality are included.

I suppose one of the insurmountable problems with Watchmen the movie are also those that Hollywood itself might yet fail to overcome: an inability to recognise and translate our growing sophistication with our understanding and expectations of time into things we’ll want to do to for pleasure and for relaxation.

More and more I watch films now where I think, this would have been a better game. The things you could do with time in a game about Watchmen might be better suited to uncovering and amplifying the themes of the book and letting players drift in spaces that might somehow reveal  the deeper meaning of what you’re being asked to pursue.

Linkses:

Watchmen, the Graphic Novel.

Watchmen, the film

Saturday morning Watchmen (this is a brilliant parody: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warner execs who greenlighted the movie thought this was what Watchmen was all about. However, if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, it’ll probably just confuse things. Mum.)

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Filed under: Noticing, Uncategorized

One Response

  1. Never seen the film, but I’d like to. Only really because my favourite band covered a song to go on the soundtrack.

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