DVDs for 7/21/09 – more Watchmen, 300 plus, a pair of Godards

Rorschach - a Batman over the edge
Rorschach - a Batman over the edge
I had my issues with Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen (see my review here), but those issues aside, this is a superhero film like nothing you’ve ever seen on the screen before. The idea of costumed superheroes into the real world of global politics wasn’t necessarily new when it was written in the early and is certainly not now, but the execution of the graphic novel pushes every element of the conception to mythic and apocalyptic dimensions while acknowledging the psychosis driving so many of the characters. Watching the film again, this time less wedded to the original graphic novel and more open to the temporal storytelling of the film, I found it a more satisfying experience. And part of that satisfaction comes from the expanded canvas of Zach Snyder’s “Director’s Cut,” which runs 24 minutes longer with added footage that serves character and story rather than spectacle.

The most obvious additions are the death scene of Hollis, the original Nite Owl (it’s a beautifully executed scene that perfectly translates the scene from the novel), and scenes of Nixon and his cabinet contemplating a first strike as the cold war moves closer to going nuclear. (No, the pirate comic is not added back in – and if you saw the abomination that came out as an animated version of “Tales of the Black Freighter” then you’ll be glad its not here – but you do see a few glimpses of the pages of the comic book and the characters around the news stand). But just as enriching are the little character bits laced through the film (especially Rorschach, perfectly embodied by Jackie Earl Haley right down to his throaty, phlegmy “hrrrmmm”), and the added length provides more time to reflect on the characters, their motivation and their fractured psyches: not just the schizoid conviction and moralistic hysteria of Old Testament avenger Rorschach and the sadistic psychosis of The Comedian, a brutal Fascist beating and murdering whoever he can under the facade of patriotism, but the growing disconnection of Dr. Manhattan and quantum logic that makes him both everywhere at once and tied to the moment of human experience, and the God complex and false piety of Ozymandias, who manages to profit from his plan to save mankind while putting on a show of complete altruism and pious regret for the people whose “sacrifices” made his plan possible (aka justification for killing anyone and everyone his plan calls for). It’s more compelling than exciting, a thoughtful film swirling with metaphysics and meta-storytelling, and I find that those dimensions come through even better on home video, which is well suited to slower narratives filled with novelistic detail. The longer cut delivers just that.

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This is Not a Watchmen Review

The world doesn’t need another Watchmen review. Everyone with access to a preview screening and a web page has already done one. The world is not short of opinions and the web doesn’t seem to differentiate between considered responses and emotional reflex put to words, though you can find some of the better ones here (thanks to David Hudson at The Daily @ IFC.com for wading through the onslaught to pick out the more interesting responses).

So this is not a Watchmen review. It’s a consideration of what the film is and how it got that way: perhaps the most faithful cinematic replica of a comic book experience every accomplished.

Here is my question: why would anyone want that? I have the graphic novel. I’ve read it a few times and can pick it up anytime I want to.

I go to the movies to be immersed, impressed, awed, engaged. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen feels like a film made to deliver a sense of comfort that everything is exactly as you remember from the graphic novel. The character stories and arcs are all there, along with the complex backstories and the alternate history of America. The signature images from the comic books are all on display: the marvelous costume designs (which in some cases evoke comic-book silliness and garish impracticality of yesteryear costumed heroes), Doctor Manhattan’s Mars Fortress of Solitude, Archie the Nite Owl’s ship. In an interview Alan Moore gave to Wired Magazine, he complained that no film could get the texture of Dave Gibbons’ artwork. Maybe, but I can’t imagine anyone getting closer.

Nite Owl and Archie
Nite Owl and Archie

Yes, Snyder streamlined the story and judiciously edited out certain subplots and side-stories (notably the “Tales from the Black Freighter,” which will be released on a separate DVD later this month and is promised to be returned to the DVD release – though fans of the comic will notice that the news agent and the comic-book fan are present in a few shots). And he even dared to change the details of Moore’s original ending, twisting it with an insight so perceptive that one wonders if Moore would have done the same had it occurred to him, so beautifully does it wrap itself within the self-contained mythology and the character dynamics.

In moments like these, Snyder showed how much he understood Moore’s Watchmen. He gets the schizoid conviction and moralistic hysteria of Old Testament avenger Rorschach, the vestiges of human emotion struggling with existential disconnection in Dr. Manhattan, and the arrogance and false piety of industrialist gazillionaire Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, whose show of suffering for all the souls he kills is a piece of theater he stages like a martyr. Meanwhile his corporate logo adorns the reconstruction of the devastated cities. These details are inherent in the graphic novel, but Snyder brings them to life in a way distinctive to the movies. Matthew Goode lets the hypocrisy show through the mask of saintly sacrifice, and shows that for all his fears of Dr. Manhattan becoming a God, it is Veidt who acts like one.

Dr. Manhattan disconnecting from his human origins
Dr. Manhattan disconnecting from his human origins

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