This column is about the movie Watchmen.
I just slapped on the above headline so we could all have our loud, immature giggle at Dr. Manhattan’s gratuitous full-frontal male nudity that every single U.S.-based Watchmen message board, blog and reviewer has been having since March.
Ready, geeky ones? Time to get our sexual inhibitions out of our systems.
Huh. Huh. Huh. Huh. Hahahaha. Heeheheheheh! Dickdongpeeeenis!
But, seriously. I had a lot of reservations about a movie version of Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ landmark graphic novel that had nothing to do with whether or not director Zack Snyder would put bootie shorts on everyone’s favorite tank-exploding, atom-obsessed and alternate U.S. history Cold War weapon. Namely, that Zack Snyder also directed 300, that alternate (read: bullshit) battle of Thermopylae history movie filled with homophobia, rape, men yelling “SPARTAAAA!” rape and more rape. Add into that Hollywood’s uncanny ability to fuck up any comic book it touches and Moore’s intense dislike for a big screen adaptation (“I will … be spitting venom all over it,” he told the L.A. Times last year) and I was … well, as unhappy as Rorschach when deprived of canned beans and sugar cubes.
I mean, Moore is my favorite writer, and Watchmen my favorite book of all time. Not because everyone who has any geek credit says that, either—even if it is sometimes nice to be in the majority. When I first read Watchmen in 2008 (I know, I know, take away my geek card now!), I was haunted for weeks. Moore’s 1986 ruminations on America’s lust for and glorification of violence, quantum mechanics, Machiavellianism and the fragility and preciousness of human life on our troubled planet were provocative, and more than a little relevant to America in 2008, when the specter of global terrorism has replaced the specter of the Cold War. No other book has ever affected me the way Watchmen has, not even Moore’s other exquisite books (and damn, I do love From Hell). I don’t believe any will again in quite the same way.
It probably goes without saying that I and Watchmen’s five zillion other fans wouldn’t respond very kindly to a cinematic treatment that didn’t do the source material justice. So did Snyder’s movie?
Um … he did about as well as I could have hoped — given, especially, that Watchmen is a sprawling, epic story that would be better off as a TV mini-series, if it had to go in front of a camera at all.
Let’s start with the opening credits. As non Watchmen-fans may have already gleaned, the book takes place in a U.S. where costumed superheroes actually existed. Their existence changed the course of history substantially. Although the Cold War is still bearing down on us, Nixon is serving his third presidential term, the U.S. won the Vietnam War and the U.S. currently has the advantage over Russia thanks to Dr. Manhattan, the book’s only true superhero who, thanks to a nuclear accident, can disarm missiles and blow up tanks with a thought. The credits showed these historical alterations in a beautiful, seamless montage set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They are A-Changing.” This, incidentally, was about the time that I realized the movie would probably not suck. Thankfully, the rest of the movie bore out my first impression. Although I still have trouble seeing the 20-something Matthew Goode as the 40-something Ozymandias, none of the actors were particularly jarring, and Billy Crudup was just stunning as Dr. Manhattan — who is blue and naked, by the way, because of the accident, and because of his increasing detachment to such human concerns as the need to put on some pants.
Even though the script had to leave out several important sequences and details, it was a faithful adaptation in both plot and visualization. And if the rumors of a four-hour director’s cut are true, maybe the DVD release will be even more satisfying.
But Snyder didn’t do such a good job when it came to handling the movie’s violence. Make no mistake: Watchmen is an incredibly violent book. But from its fistfights, gunshot wounds and an attempted rape, its violence simply reflects the ugly reality of being human. Snyder, on the other hand, gives the book’s violence a pornographic intensity. We hear bones crack during a back alley, and see severed limbs and guts dangling from a bar ceiling after Dr. Manhattan blows up a vice den. And don’t even get me started on the horrible attempted rape scene between Silk Spectre and the Comedian—who is the horror of the American dream personified. In the book, this scene is shown as disgusting. In the movie, Snyder lets the camera linger on every curve of Silk Spectre’s body, every piece of discarded clothing to the point that I wondered if the straight men and lesbians in the audience were supposed to feel turned on. Memo to Zack: Rape isn’t sexy, and your straight male privilege is showing more than Dr. M’s big, blue schlong.
Still, these stupid porno moments aside, the movie is definitely solid, and respectful of Moore’s work. So would I recommend it?
To the Watchmen fans who fell in love with the book in 1986 or in 2008, I would say yes. While Moore is right to be concerned and disgusted by what he calls the “spoon-feeding” of the imagination that movies regularly administer, Watchmen is still a solid, thoughtful movie, flaws and all. For the uninitiated, I would suggest reading the book first.
And for people who can’t get beyond Dr. Manhattan’s big, blue peen? Well, I don’t really think I can help you.