So the last couple of weeks I have had a couple of conversations about this post by Jason Aaron more or less telling Alan Moore to “Fuck Off” for talking shit on the comic industry and, by proxy, himself.
And while I want to comment on some things, one thing I don’t necessarily want to do is take sides. Where as I can understand why Mr. Aaron could get upset at what Mr. Moore said, I think he made the common mistake of holding a person up to their work.
What I mean is– and in my life this has happened a few times– where you meet a musician, or comic writer or artist you’re really into, and they act like a complete piece of shit. It may just have been a bad day for them, or they may actually just be rotten people. I try not to let it affect my view of their work. And while I understand it’s human nature to hold a grudge against someone who says or does something to you in person, I find it weird to get upset over a third party interview. Alan Moore talks shit. That’s what he does. At this point in his career he’s known as much for that as his actual artistic output.
That being said, there are a couple of things that have, for a while now, bugged the shit out of me about Watchmen and Mr. Moore’s dealings with the property that I am sure are going to come off as possibly a personal attack on the man. Not so: other than Watchmen, I very much enjoy much of his output, Promethea being one of my favorite series ever.
But Watchmen is its own beast.
Well, by now we’ve all seen the big blue dong, the changed ending, and the unsettling, gratuitous violence that is the Watchmen film. If you’re all really lucky you’ve also had a chance to read the embarrassing plea from screenwriter David Hayter to see the film again (Valerie D’Orazio did a nice write up on that sniveling diatribe here.) For better or for worse this movie seems to be failing on all fronts, with returns for its second week falling 67% in the US and 50% abroad. After almost two weeks it still hasn’t made up its $200 million price tag, grossing only $134 million in ten days. Whether this leads to a downward trend for films based on comic books as Hayter has hypothesized is debatable, and hopefully people can separate a terrible movie from an otherwise marketable genre.
One aspect of the film that does seem pretty effective is its marketing. Toys, posters, messenger bags, even blue condoms; Watchmen as a brand can be seen almost everywhere since the film’s release. However it’s worth noting how interesting this film’s merchandising choices are, in that they fly directly in the face of the spirit of the book. Unlike the Dark Knight, which appeals to a cross section of people, the Watchmen licensing and merchandising is really appealing to people who’ve always wanted trinkets of their favorite characters but never thought they’d get made. Merchandising of the Watchmen brand seems to betray the original work’s vision, but does that (or, should that) matter? Does a fan owe anything to that body of work or author? And if so, to what degree?
My immediate reaction is no, the fan doesn’t really “owe” anything. There’s a difference between treating a work of art with due reverence and idolizing said work; meaning, it’s possible for one to separate one’s self from the work for the sake of commercialism. I don’t recommend boycotting this film because they made a replica Rorschach mask, just as I don’t recommend boycotting the book because Alan Moore no longer has attachment to DC, who profits from its sales. When it comes to commerce obviously the studio wants to make more money on their property, which is fine, but it ultimately falls on the auteur to adapt a work artfully. I think you can separate those ideas, which this film really didn’t do, and so the criticism doesn’t fall on the merchandising aspect per se; it’s more that the film had none of the original style of the comic, which is what that book was all about: the style and storytelling. I believe judging another work of art harshly while comparing it to its original source material is completely necessary, and in this sense it has failed. By creating an accurate visual portrayal of the comic while ignoring its ethos the filmmakers have created the film itself as a product rather than art. This, then, is the real reason to not see the film.
Still, there’s something to be said about this blatant commercialization of a work like Watchmen, and indeed the fact that this film is selling commercial products as if it were a franchised comic movie is curious considering the work. Most of the items being hawked are really more geared toward the niche market of comic collectors who were never able to get these products, since Moore was never willing to go along with it. Now unlike a mainstream consumer audience most of these fans recognize how ludicrous this stuff is in face of the comic, and that buying an action figure based upon a piece of work that dismantles comic book mythology is, as a friend put it, “the type of irony that only Moore could appreciate, were he not so cranky.” But clearly there is also a market for such a rabid fanbase to have this stuff. So where do allegiances lie?
I guess it might just depend on who you are. To me there’s three types of people in question: 1. the people who really didn’t understand the book, and think Watchmen merchandising is a great idea; 2. the people who get the book and recognize the issues with Warner’s merchandising, but don’t take themselves too seriously, and might even buy themselves a figure or two; and 3. the people who say “this goes against everything the book stands for, I can not support this”– the last of which probably won’t be seeing the movie anyway. It all comes down to the idea of loyalty, which is subjective, and starts the argument of what exactly it is you’re loyal to. Some fans loved the movie because the scenes, the actual words and dialogue, were close to the book’s. Others hated it because they felt the spirit of the movie wasn’t close to the comic’s at all. Still others hated it because of their loyalty to the author himself, citing Moore’s non-involvement as reason to hate it alone. I personally think your only allegiance to the author is to his work itself, and nothing outside of that. So, if you won’t see the film because the idea of Watchmen merchandising goes against the spirit of the book then what you’re really saying is it goes against what Alan Moore would want. Your allegiance to the work should be to hold it up on its own merit rather than worry about other things that are perceived to lessen or cheapen it. Ultimately, though the merchandising is egregious and the film is horrible, it doesn’t lessen the impact of my first reading of the comic nor does it cheapen its status in the comics world. It’s just this thing that failed at adapting its source material properly, which if you think about it kind of sells the idea of Watchmen as a great work.
050 Watchmen wasn’t good and here are the reasons why, or at least some of the reasons, because I mean it was shitty for too many reasons to list here
Can I just be real with you right now? Hm? I’m just gonna be real with you guys, ok? One on one, me and the collective You, we’re just gonna rap here today. I think you guys know by now that I won’t bullshit you. I mean, at least that’s my hope. My hope is that, above all else, whether I’ve fooled you into thinking I’m clever or whether you realize I’m a terrible writer, that you come away with the sense that I will not bullshit you. Because in the end if something’s a real piece of shit I will tell you it is a real piece of shit. And Watchmen, my friends, was just a muddled, embarrassing piece of shit.
Wait, wait, wait, hold on. Come back. Just take it easy. I know. I know that was tough to read but don’t walk away just yet. It may seem like my words are too harsh. I know you’ve probably already seen it, too, and you’re saying to yourself “it wasn’t so bad.” You’re thinking I’m judging harshly on some comic book nerd basis of “Watchmen as unfilmable“, the Catcher in the Rye of comics, which could never and should never be adapted for the big screen. Right? That’s what you think is going through my head; that I was just going to hate it for the sake of hating it. And oh goodness, I wish I wasn’t so pessimistic before seeing it, because even I sometimes think maybe that’s the case. Maybe it really wasn’t all that bad and I am a nerd who just wanted so desperately for this movie to fail because damn the man for stealing my childhood and co-opting it! am I right?
But I start to think rationally about it and holy shit there were so many things that made this movie just plain bad.
Before we really get into a lot of the problems this film had, the overwhelming point I feel I need to get out of the way– the 400 pound gorilla in the room dressed in latex and a garter belt– is that Malin Ackerman is the worst thing to happen to movies in a really long time. I don’t want to actually put a date on it, because if I’m like, “oh, twenty years” and it turns out she’s really the worst thing to happen to movies in like fifty years I’m going to look like a dick with no credibility, so I’m just going to say a very long time. If you pick the lead actress in your “faithful” adaptation of one of the most iconic comics in history because she looks good in a slutty outfit– fuck, I’m not saying you need Meryl Streep but you’re shooting yourself in the foot from the get-go, boss. Every line seemed forced, every movement painful. I dunno, maybe she can sing or something? Maybe she’s like Beyonce, where she got the job because she’s a famous singer, or maybe she’s a popular model or something, and I’ve just never heard of her before? But I can guarantee that she was not chosen because she “best fit the role”. Of that I am 100% sure.
She wasn’t the only shitty actor in this flick (though she was clearly the worst.) Carla Gugino (Sally Jupiter): bad. Matthew Goode (Ozymandias): bad. Even Crudup didn’t wow me. Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley, fucking nailed it, like really hit it out of the park. He was Rorschach. But even there I found problems– sometimes his mask was so distracting in its movement that it completely took me out of the movie. I like that they put in the effort to make the mask morph, but it was just too much. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian was watchable, but obviously not on screen for very long. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl was good, but did not physically give the impression of a middle-aged out of shape ex-hero. The dude playing Nixon was more doing a funny impression than actual acting, which I’d be okay with if they hadn’t wedged him into the movie whenever possible.
But it wasn’t just performances; the aesthetics of the film were just horrendous. Ultra stylized. I mean ultra. It didn’t look gritty in the least, which they’re trying to sell you on the whole time. Maybe I’m not being clear enough… OK, so 300, right? The movie 300? It looked nice. Everybody was dirty and sweaty and gross but the film itself looked pretty. And that’s what I have to say about Watchmen. It’s supposed to be in this horrible, dystopian, on the brink of nuclear war, Nixon eighties but it just looks too nice. Everything was shiny. Sleek. The costumes looked like Joel Schumacher Batman costumes; the kind that in real life aren’t anything close to practical because not being able to move is an easy way to get killed in the superheroing business. (And I call bullshit on the people who say the costumes were supposed to be commentary on that Schumacher aesthetic because 1. why bother? and 2. if that is the case it failed and just ended up perpetuating a tired hero-movie motif.)
If you can get past all of this please, by all means, go see the movie on mute. Because when you get past shitty acting, bad casting, and inappropriate design you still have to listen to the soundtrack. The music choices ranged from the obvious to the out of place. I understand wanting to add the songs mentioned in the original material; that seems like a pretty good idea in theory but the execution was horrendous. Just absolutely shoehorned right in. Some guy on Twitter posted something I thought was funny before the movie came out: “My secret hope: Smashmouth’s All Star plays during the ending credits of Watchmen”. Yeah well
Fall Out Boy’s My Chemical Romance’s cover of “Desolation Row” was pretty fucking close.
And YEP I KNOW YOU’VE HEARD IT A MILLION TIMES BUT I THOUGHT I’D JUST REITERATE THAT THE SEX SCENE BETWEEN SILK SPECTRE AND NITE OWL IS CRINGE WORTHY AND THE USE OF LEONARD COHEN’S “HALLELUJAH” IS WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE, ESPECIALLY IN A SCENE THAT IS AS TACTFUL AND CINEMATICALLY PLEASING AS A LATE NIGHT CINEMAX SOFTCORE PORNO. I mean who in the world thought that was a good idea? I actually was at a loss for words. My jaw dropped. People were cracking up. And oh I get it the fire that shoots out of the flying owl is like when he cums lol how funny :-*
The storytelling– ack. The storytelling is the most interesting and innovative thing about Watchmen, the comic; and it’s the element most lacking in this film. The whole thing is so fucking ham fisted and in your face and HEY! HEY! LOOK! THIS IS WHAT WE MEAN! WERE WE TOO SUBTLE? OK THEN WE’LL JUST TELL YOU EXACTLY WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT THIS WAY YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE YOUR FUCKING BRAIN FOR TWO SECONDS AND READ BETWEEN THE LINES, NO MATTER HOW THIN AND TRANSPARENT THOSE LINES ARE. I have never felt like such a fucking two year old in my life. This movie would imply something happens, then show you that it happened, and then just in case you STILL don’t get it, they tell you, in no uncertain words, that it happened. “Oh, I see, so those dogs probably ate that little g– ok, no they definitely ate her because they are showing it on screen gotcha.”; “Ah, so it looks like the Comedian was really Silk Spectre’s– oh, wait, no he definitely was because Dr. Manhattan just said it.” And here’s the thing: yeah the movie was very faithful to the original source material in a lot of ways. The problem there is that if you’re taking Watchmen: the comic and just putting it on screen without any sort of context as to what it is the story is trying to say– well, then you just didn’t do it right. And that goes for anything. If you adapt Catcher in the Rye and get Ryan Reynolds to play Holden Caufield and make it a romantic comedy you just don’t understand the work and you failed at making a film. And so instead of the deconstruction of superhero archetypes all that you have here is a step backwards; a movie that harks back to the pre-Batman Begins days when people still thought comics were stupid and were right in thinking so because all they saw was shit like this.
And I can go on: the gratuitous violence and the staged fight scenes capture everything the spirit of the book is against, and reinforce the fact that this movie was made just for the sake of being made. It was a mess, and if you hadn’t read the book I’m convinced you’d be confused because it was all over the damn place. There is no real artistry to this film, it was made completely for financial gain and notoriety. Which would be fine, except the bullshit we’re fed is that Zack Snyder loved the project so much, and that he fought to make it perfect, and blah blah blah. This is not just nerd whining, it’s obvious critique. These are problems. So maybe the issue isn’t all the people nitpicking about the movie’s flaws, but rather the people who are just accepting the flaws in a shitty movie just because they want it to be good. They think there’s some kind of justification in their being right in believing the movie would be good, and so will look at the positives and dismiss the negatives as “no big deal”. Well they are a big deal and that attitude does more harm than good, because when Watchmen 2: the Return of Dr. Manhattan comes out and DC has Judd Winick write the script and Hollywood says “ha ha remember Dark Knight? Who gives a shit anymore because this shit is dumb” you’re all going to whine and cry about how no one takes you seriously, and when that happens I want you to remember it’s because you didn’t have the balls to admit you were wrong.
If you have any of your wits about you, you’ll leave the theater after the first extremely well done 45 minutes. From there, you’ll be treated to gratuitous violence, the poorly inserted boomer soundtrack and a mind numbing sex scene that includes Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. There will be impotence jokes.