Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Or “I Would Have Titled This ‘I Watched The Watchmen’, But It Turns Out Even I’m Not That Lazy”.
Despite losing a lot of the details that made the book the masterpiece it is, a lot of compression to the story (and shoe horning in of lines of dialogue and scenes just to have them), I enjoyed the film immensely. I went with a friend who had never read the book, so it was an interesting to find out he loved it, and that the parts of the book that work the most for all of us long time fans (okay, fine, I read it for the first time in 2002) worked for him as well. Also, I got to drop knowledge on Steve Ditko being an objectivist and how that influenced things. I don’t get to do that nearly enough.
Although he was the first (of probably many people) who may have liked Rorschach a little too much, it was nice to see his reaction to things like Rorschach’s last stand and the classic subversion of the villain’s monologue. Since I came to the book so late, it was nice to be able to share those moments with someone for whom they weren’t old hat. It was also nice to hear that he enjoyed those pivotal scenes as much as we discussed the film in the lobby, since he (and the rest of the crowd) were so placid (other than a lot of giggling during the sex scenes; there were more children in the audience than there should have been) I had no idea how this stuff was effecting them. Everyone cleared out once the film ended, too, which didn’t seem like a good sign, although the fact that the damn thing was nearly three hours long probably had a lot to do with it.
So, yeah, despite a multitude of flaws and nitpicks, I thought it hit the right notes when it mattered. That’s the thing; as many times as the niggling fanboy voice in my head said “that’s not right! That’s not how it happened in the book! Everything’s out of order!”, I found the film riveting enough that I was easily able to ignore all of that. Of course, I tend to fight like hell to block out the anal retentive fan voice any time this sort of thing comes up; it’s just that it came up more often for here than it did for any franchise hero. Which is weird, but I think that’s more due to the fact that Watchmen is a self contained; we’ve seen multiple revisions of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Batman, et al.; this is the first time anyone beyond Moore has done anything with these characters.
I can live with the adaptation overall, despite the fact that they had to chop a many details from the story and completely change some scenes entirely. For instance, it’s Nite Owl, not Rorschach, who warns Ozymanidas about the possibility of a “mask killer.” That was disappointment, solely because I wanted to hear him talk about investigating Ozy’s possible homosexuality. What’s he going to do, breakrandom thugs fingers to find out of if Veidt enjoys sodomy? I dunno, I have that idea in my head since hearing that line in the motion comic.
The biggest loss, in my eyes, is that the “man on the street” characters like the news vendor and the cops are rendered in to nothing but bit players at best and extras at worst. They left in the scene where the vendor and the kid reading Tales of the Black Freighter embrace before being atomized, but it doesn’t have the same meaning as it did in the book. I understand why they trimmed all of that, but that was one of the special things about the book to me; that those characters were fleshed out enough that you felt it when they died. In the film, the destruction of New York means less, because it’s like something out of the first ten minutes of a disaster flick; there’s no emotional attachment to anyone involved, so it’s just spectacular destruction.
As far as the change to Ozy’s big plan goes (it’s not really an ending change, is it? I mean, things still play out pretty much exactly like they did in the comic in the end), I can live with it. I can certainly live without the giant squid from the Twilight Zone (even if Sean T. Collins gave me a new appreciation for its purpose when he blogged about the comic at Savage Critic). The resolution of the Cold War came across as more pat in the film than it did in the comic to me, but it’s not like it was any more fleshed out there.
Switching gears to the performances for a moment, since I’ve been preoccupied with the adaptation; Jackie Earle Haley was great as Rorschach, even if I didn’t care for his voice. It was less ridiculous than Christian Bales’ similar Bat-voice, but I always imagined ‘schach’s voice being more dispassionate than growly, although he did use that kind of delivery when it was most appropriate, at least.
Patrick Wilson was also great as Nite Owl (even if he gets saddled with some heavy melodrama at times; to be fair, the original may go too far the other way). I was also impressed with what Jeffrey Dean Morgan did with the Comedian. He was able to make the necessary impression in a short period of time, and he really was able to bring the character life. Billy Crudup did Dr. Manhattan exactly as he should have.
I know that Malin Akerman has received some grief for her performance, and while I may be cutting her a lot of slack because she’s cute and got nekkid, I thought she did perfectly well. That she never displays Laurie’s generally bemused attitude with super heroing is a pretty glaring omission, some of that has to be down to the script, and I thought she did a solid job with what they gave her to work with. Or I’m just really forgiving towards Swedish girls.
The only actor I didn’t care for was Matthew Goode. His Ozymandias just fell flat for me. While I didn’t find the foreshadowing of his heel turn quite as bad as Rohan did, but I agree about the lack of nobility. I think it’s telling that Ozy’s scene in the opening montage/Dylan music video/blatant Cronin pandering was him hanging out in front of Studio 54.
In the end, I enjoyed the film a lot, I don’t want to go too overboard with praise for it. I haven’t really had time to digest it. I tend to be really enthusiastic about things immediately after experiencing them, because I’m not very analytical. It’s only after I’ve had time to think about any piece of work that I can properly assess it. It may years before I come to assess this thing fairly, or decide it’s the crappiest piece of crap that ever was crapped, or what have you. The sheer fact that I have not been to a movie in like 5 years could have something to do with my enthusiasm besides the giddiness of seeing favorite scenes of a cherished story on the big screen.
That said, I had a good time, and I think the film did enough right to sail well past all of the accumulated pessimism about the prospect of a Watchmen movie that’s built up for 23 years. Faint praise, but that’s all I feel qualified to give it right now, especially since I realized I didn’t bitch at it for being too much like a music video at times. Or like superhero Forrest Gump at others. Or that they cut Hollis Mason’s death entirely. I’d better not get started on all that. This damn thing’s too long anyway.
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