#75 - The Rest of the Story
1918 - 2009
Howdy, Superfriends. Welcome back to the Electric Theatre. I’ve got two reviews for you this week, including the first reader-suggested entry of Tales From The Queue. So let’s get to it, shall we?
NOW IN THEATRES
There is an inherent danger with going to see a movie based on a book you’ve read. No matter how hard you try, on some level you will be comparing the movie to the book instead of allowing the film to work as a unique experience of its own. This is exacerbated if you intentionally read (or especially re-read) the book prior to seeing the film as a kind of preparation. I’ve done it myself many times but I don’t think I’ll be doing it anymore. It stacks the deck so that you’re not seeing the movie with unbiased eyes.
Bearing this in mind, I realize there is no way that anyone will ever believe me when I say I went into Zack Snyder’s Watchmen with as open a mind as possible. Yes, I’ve read the original graphic novel. More than once. Even so, I spent the days prior to going to the movie reminding myself, “This is not the book. It’s a movie. Don’t think about the book.” I took my seat in the theatre ready to enjoy the movie.
Snyder’s track record didn’t discourage me. Dawn of the Dead was infinitely better than I thought it would be and 300 had impressed me as an entertaining, albeit utterly mindless, bit of fun. I had set aside my concerns that he was not the right man for the job, since that brought the book into play. All I was thinking was, “I’m seeing a new movie from someone whose work I have for the most part enjoyed. Entertain me.” Watchmen failed to do that. I didn’t enjoy it as a movie and I certainly didn’t enjoy it as an adaptation of the book.
I’d be lying if I said that I completely banished all thoughts of the book from my mind during the film. Snyder’s religious adherence to the text makes it all but impossible. The movie is stupid faithful to Alan Moore’s text and Dave Gibbons’ art, which begs the question, “Why bother seeing this if you’ve read the book?” It offers nothing new thematically. It’s not enough just to see the comic brought to life. I have an imagination. I can make the pictures move in my head if I want to. More and more, I hear the makers of films like this, The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, and even Twilight justifying certain decisions by saying the fans would kill them if they changed something. Well, let me be the first to say, fuck the fans. The fans don’t always know what’s best for them. The fans thought Michael Keaton was a horrible choice to play Batman and he turned out OK. The fans wanted George Lucas to make more Star Wars movies and that wasn’t a very good idea. The fans have been all over the map on J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie and the latest trailer looks so good that even über-Trekkie Bill Hunt is excited. Sure, sometimes the fans do know better. But more often than not, there’s a reason why they’re fans and not filmmakers. And I say this as a hardcore fan myself.
The problem with Snyder’s reverence for Watchmen is that it results in a movie so sprawling that by the time we finally get to the finale, there is absolutely no sense of momentum or urgency. By this time, we’ve had so many tangents and flashbacks that the audience has to be reminded what any of this has to do with the murder of the Comedian that started the film. A truly visionary director would have found a single through-line to focus on amidst the book’s labyrinthine plot threads. Snyder tries to do too much and ends up diluting the entire thing. I’ve never seen an audience have less of a reaction to a scene of mass devastation than I did here.
On top of this, Snyder slows things down by showing virtually every action sequence in slow motion. The effect should be used to draw our attention to important events. Here it’s used so frequently, it has no meaning whatsoever. Worse yet is Snyder’s use of music, which ranges from pedestrian to ham-fisted to wildly inappropriate. (Can we call a moratorium on the use of “99 Luftballoons” in movies? No one is going to use it better than in Grosse Pointe Blank.)
Certain elements of the film do work. The movie looks great thanks to director of photography Larry Fong, production designer Alex McDowell and costume designer Michael Wilkinson. Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson are all top-notch as Rorschach, the Comedian and Nite Owl, respectively. Billy Crudup makes for an impressive Dr. Manhattan. Matthew Goode is less impressive as Ozymandias, exhibiting virtually no charisma in a role that demands it. Malin Akerman, however, is downright bad as Silk Spectre. It’s a tricky role anyway, requiring someone far more capable to find its core. Admittedly, the rest of the movie does Akerman no favors. What should be her big moment carries no emotional impact whatsoever thanks to the focus on the other characters. I’d argue the moment should have been left out of the movie altogether.
Unlike a lot of Watchmen fans, I have never thought the book to be unfilmable. When Terry Gilliam was attached, I was genuinely excited to see what he might do with it. Brian K. Vaughan, an excellent comic book writer in his own right, had a quote in the latest issue of Wired magazine that summed up my feelings perfectly. He said, “It’s like making a stage play of Citizen Kane. I guess it could be OK, but why? The medium is the message.” Watchmen is a commentary on the superhero genre, a genre that has long been specific to comic books. With the exception of Darkman, there is not a long history of superheroes specifically created for movies. Sure, there are more superhero movies than ever but a lot of them are already doing a fine job rethinking these iconic characters for the real world themselves, especially Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Perhaps the saddest thing about Watchmen is this. If I had never read the graphic novel, Zack Snyder’s movie would not inspire me to pick it up, the same way the Harry Potter movies don’t make me want to read J.K. Rowling’s work. I just don’t see the need. I’m probably wrong about that, the same way that someone who won’t think it necessary to read Watchmen after seeing this movie will be wrong about that. Who watches the Watchmen? Nobody needs to. They should read it instead. (* *)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
First off, thanks to everyone who has sent in a recommendation for this new feature. I’ve been getting a wide range of stuff, everything from recent sleepers to classics to what would probably be considered B-movies. I love it. Keep ‘em coming! I will watch anything and everything that is recommended to me (providing I haven’t seen it before and it’s available on disc) and review it here. I hope that you’ll be introduced to as many under-the-radar movies as I will be. Remember, if you have a recommendation, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome!
Save The Green Planet!
The cinema of South Korea isn’t nearly as well known in this country as Japanese or Hong Kong fare but some exciting things have been happening over there lately. I’ve enjoyed a number of films from director Ki-duk Kim, including the horrific The Isle and the lyrical Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring. More recently, I picked Joon-ho Bong’s The Host as one of the ten best movies of 2007. But none of that prepared me for the wild ride of Joon-Hwan Jang’s Save The Green Planet!, a virtually indescribable mash-up of genres and cultural commentary.
Byeong-gu Lee (played by Ha-kyun Shin) has come to believe Earth is in grave danger of an invasion by aliens from Andromeda. He’s identified one of the highest-ranking aliens in his human guise as wealthy industrialist Man-Shik Kang (played by Yun-shik Baek). He and his girlfriend, a chubby tightrope walker, kidnap Kang and torture him for information about the aliens. But it could be that Lee is just crazy and has his own repressed ulterior motives for kidnapping Kang. It could be that Kang is just as human as you or me. Or maybe he really is an alien. Or maybe not. Part of the fun of the movie is how director Jang keeps you guessing right up until the end.
How to describe Save The Green Planet!? Well, imagine if you took Buckaroo Banzai, Repo Man and Misery and threw them all into a blender. The result might be something like this. Save The Green Planet! crosses genre boundaries every few minutes and does all of them exceptionally well. It’s funny, horrific, and even touching. Like The Host, there is an undercurrent of melancholy here that helps ground the often outlandish plot. I frequently found myself laughing one minute, then filled with sadness the next. It’s a difficult trick to pull off but Jang makes it seem easy.
There aren’t too many movies in any language quite like Save The Green Planet! Joon-Hwan Jang is definitely broadcasting on his own unique frequency here and if you can tune into his wavelength, you’ll be in for quite a trip. (* * * ½)
Thanks to Kelly Certain for this week’s TFTQ recommendation. If you’ve got a favorite movie that nobody else seems to know about, drop me a line and spread the love!