Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dr Vector spoils Watchmen

I just got back from the show. I loved it.

It's basically a shot-for-shot remake of the book. In fact, it's astonishing how many of the neat little details from the book survive. The whole pirate comic book is out, but I didn't miss it (and to be honest, I found it a little tiring the last time I read the book). I was also pleasantly surprised to find myself moved by events I already knew were going to happen--to laughter, to excitement, to disgust. Not to tears, but there weren't any real tear-jerker moments in the book, either. Many critics have taken the film to task for being too faithful to the book. I'm not sure how that works, but then I don't understand why most of those dumbasses have jobs in the first place. I didn't think the movie was the "embalmed" version of the book--quite the contrary. It may be a cliche, but Zach Snyder took the book and made it live. I think we may have underestimated him after 300. If it was a violent, homophobic, fascist, historically inaccurate movie, it's because it was a strikingly faithful adaptation of a violent, homophobic, fascist, historically inaccurate comic. Snyder may be a little too good at what he does.

The casting was, frankly, unbelievable. Patrick Wilson couldn't be a better Dan Dreiberg if Dave Gibbons had inked and colored him. But the show is really stolen by Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian and Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach. When I read the book from now on, the characters will speak with these voices. Especially Rorschach's. It's so perfect, it's a little scary.

The only departure from the book is at the end. The calamity that unites humanity and averts nuclear war is not the teleported-alien-plus-millions-of-psychically-murdered in NYC. It's simultaneous A-bomb-level blasts in NYC, Moscow, Hong Kong, and at least one other city (Paris, maybe?). These are engineered by Veidt to look like the work of Dr. Manhattan--they are set off by a reactor that Dr. Manhattan has been helping Veidt build, to provide free energy using whatever it is that powers Dr. Manhattan. The Earth unites not against a phantom teleporting alien threat but against Dr. Manhattan, who leaves the planet anyway for the same reasons he does in the book.

I actually thought this was rather neat. Usually when a film adaptation messes with the source material, it degrades the story by introducing Hollywood BS that is against the very spirit of the story. Witness Faramir's "story arc" in The Two Towers and the giant pyrotechnic ending tacked onto Stardust. In the case of Watchmen, the revision actually ties the story back to itself. Dr. Manhattan is a better patsy for the calamity than aliens. He's more believable, I think, in in-universe terms. He's harder to falsify, because he's known to exist, whereas I suppose there is an outside possibility that in the book universe some aspect of the creature or its appearance might break down and betray its origins in the inevitable multinational investigation. It's a better play for Veidt. If Dr. Manhattan wasn't already planning to leave the planet, having the planet united against him would give him another reason. And it's a more believable play for Veidt; instead of having to invent several totally new technologies in secret (gigaton monsters, psychic blast waves, teleportation), all he has to do is harness an existing phenomenon, and he even gets the phenomenon in question to help out. Finally, when Laurie gets pissed at Dr. Manhattan for splitting himself to do research while also making love to her, it's not just some random physics experiment he's working on--it's the very reactor that Veidt will use to trigger the explosions and frame him. So it's a neat bit of storytelling all around; it actually makes the story more coherent instead of less, which I would not have thought possible.

I know I may have to turn in my geek badge and fanboy secret decoder ring, but for that alone I think the filmic Watchmen may be just slightly superior to the book. I expect the mob with torches and pitchforks any minute. Have a nice day.

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