Thursday, March 26, 2009

This just in...INTERNS RULE!

Beepterns Baxter and Nina

We've had the pleasure of working with a lot of awesome and talented interns in our short time as a gallery and they just don't get enough shine. All of them have brought something unique and needed to Beep Beep whether it's ideas, energy, too much work, or just a smile. They don't get thanked enough for all their hard work, so if you see one (and believe us you'll know one when you see one) go up to them and say "Hey, you're awesome. And supercool. And so very much better at everything in life than I am."

Cuz that's what we say to them everyday (right?)

Watchmen Review

Be warned of two things: One, this isn't really about art, although I do consider comics art. Two, I've got a lot to say. And Three, if you haven't read or seen Watchmen (probably both), you shouldn't read this.

I just saw Watchmen for the second time.

I should first preface this with some backstory. I first read the comic in 1993, seven years after it's initial release. I was eleven years old and had just started reading comics like X-Men and Spawn. I had never even heard of Watchmen which at the time held nowhere near the status it does now. My friend Bryan had gotten it from his cousin and brought it over to show me the dead dogs and sex scenes. It was the first thing that I would now consider to be adult that I had encountered at the time.

I've read it many times over the year, always marveling at the shear complexity of the characters and their relationship to each other, the use of symbolism in text and image, and of course the ridiculous and intricate plot. More than anything it's use of circular storytelling where the idea that begins each chapter is revisited at the end (and further recapitulated as the story progresses), has influenced all my writings.

When I heard that they were finally making a film, I was neither excited or annoyed. It would be impossible to do a single film of the whole comic because it takes many hours to read and unlike a novel where the text is condensed into images and thus time saved, Watchmen already had both. I think if it was done in a miniseries of 6 or 12 episodes (twelve being a symbolic number in the comic as well as the number of chapters) it could have worked. But now the movie's been made so that probably won't happen.

Honestly, this is best possible film version of Watchmen I can imagine. Considering the difficult task of condensing the comic, I though the movie did as good a job as possible at keeping with the source material. Essentially it removed all the details, side-characters, most of the character's back story, and some miscellaneous scenes simplifying it into a smaller but definitely cohesive version of the comic. They changed some things (most notibably the monster plot), but logically that was the only way to make the film work without adding several more hours to it.The first time I watched it, I spent the entire time reading the comic in my head: comparing scenes, noting omissions and revisions. They lifted several scenes word for word from the book and completely changed others in weird ways. I don't think I actually saw any of it; it just played in the back of my mind as I compared the comic with it's film.

Tonight I actually saw the movie. I tried to drop the comparisons and decide what I liked and didn't like about it. It's never going to compare with the comic, so it should be judged somewhat objectively on its own with only a slight reverance for the comic. I made some notes on it, so here goes.

First the characters in no particular order.

Comedian - looked cool. They definitely had the look and the attitude down. He got a decent amount of back story although his relationship with Laurie is pretty much left out (more below).

Dr. Manhattan - Easily the best thing about the movie version. Every scene involving Manhattan looked amazing. You could tell they were really into the cgi surrounding the character which is probably why some of the more human characters look cheesy in comparison. His back story and his general tone were the best of everybody's. My friend described the movie to me as "There's a lot of penis in that movie". It's true, the penis to vagina ratio is at gay porn levels in the movie.

Rorschach - Looked just like him. Sounded just like I imagined. Occasionally acted more emotional than him. His back story is the centerpiece of the comic and definitely gets the shaft in the film. The main part of his origin with the kidnapping and the dogs was totally butchered. They missed the visual of the dogs completely, and the significance of his transformation from weirdo to psychopath is sort of washed over. They replace the bleakness of his realization that people are irredeemable with this violent knee jerk kind of reaction instead (more on the violence below.)

Nite Owl - Part of the three backburner characters. He had the least origin story in the comic (his time shared with Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl), but he's the most relatable out of everyone and I think they conveyed that well. He looks just like him too until he puts the costume on. He kinda looks like all the modern movie superheroes (Batman espescially) but that's to be expected.

Silk Spectre - Dramatic shift in character. She's supposed to be jaded, spiteful, and generally kind of bitchy because of her relationship with her mother and the man she despises / her unknown father. The whole "Comedian is my father" was left out until the last minute (and revealed the first time you see her) but they didn't build it up at all and then acted like it was a big suprise. Along with the big payoff in the comic, the Mars revelation is the big stunner and I thought they pretty much missed the gravity of the connections between Laurie and her parents matched with her connections with Jon and Dan. She kind of takes over Nite Owl's role as the normal character we can all relate to instead of the splintered wife of God that she is. Costume looked ridulous but they nailed her in plain clothes. Missed the smoking though.

Ozymandias - Easily the worst of all of them in appearance and in background. They leave out his whole origin, all the mystique of the super genius that makes him so compelling, and most of all the mystery. They use a shadow effect on him and give him a few choice lines that paint him as a villain from the very beginning instead of buliding him as the most unlikely choice. The moment he reveals his "master stroke" in the comic is what makes the whole thing worthwhile, the event the whole story has been building toward. It would have been impossible to include the monster part of the plan, but I think they could have focused on him just a little more to give that moment more of a "OH SHIT!" kind of response that 11 year old me once had.

The other characters were left out, but understandably. One of the best choices was the intro montage over "Times they are a changin" which gives the audience the Minutemen background without having to go into too much detail. I missed the kid and the newspaper guy, the psychiatrist, the two cops, and especially the Nite Owl I and Silk Spectre I moments. Oh well.

Man where was this scene?

So that's the characters, which are really what makes Watchmen so compelling. My only other critiques of the film are some of the choices made within the film.

The superhero thing - Watchmen is a critique on superheroes, a post-modern approach to an American institution of storytelling about superhuman crime fighters. The only one with powers is Dr. Manhattan and he can hardly be categorized as a hero. The film definitely falls into some of the superhero movie standards of storytelling and action. The extended fight scenes in the film, which I'm sure are necessary to appeal to a broad audience, miss the point of humanizing superheroes. The fights turn them into these Daredevil kind of cats when what makes them interesting is that they're really just normal people who kind of fight crime but aren't unstoppable. The fight with Ozymandias in the comic is short and efficient which makes him more of a baddass because he so effortlessly fights off Rorschach and Nite Owl. In the film it drags it out but achieves the exact same effect as a few backhands, a giant cat, and a dish toss does. Plus it gives him time to explain himself which is what that scene is all about.

Sex and violence - The comic is really violent. I mean the death of New York alone is on it's own level. But in the film they speed up a lot of the scenes that need more character or scene development and up the ante on the violence to replace those things. Why does that dude get his arms cut off? Why are guts hanging from the ceiling? Why does the bone the dogs chew have a shoe attached? The images in the comic are way more poignant and less over the top than in the movie, but I guess they were too subtle compared to the 300 violence. And then there's the super softcore sex scene which was totally unnecessary, oddly long and explicit, and was one of the few times I laughed while watching the movie.

The symbolism - They kept the eleventh hour and dark comedy bloody smiley references in but left out Nostalgia, Black Frieghter, Pale Horse / knot head punks / anarchy, rorschach blots, the nuclear blast image of a couple embracing and a few others I'm forgetting. Acutally there was some reference to a couple of those, but far less prominent than it could have been. The nostalgia perfume linked with the flashbacks wouldn't have been hard to include. I guess this is more nitpicking than anything, but including some of the recurring visual clues throughout the film wouldn't have detracted from the storytelling or made it any longer for that matter.

Okay that's it no more. The good thing about the movie being decent is that hopefully more people will read it. And hopefully they'll make a movie version of this next: