Sunday, 29 March 2009

Attending A Showing Of The Moving Picture Watchmen

So in brief, Watchmen is fine as a film, but probably unnecessary. Let me unpack that a bit for anyone who wants to know more than a one sentence summary.

The film takes as many scenes and sequences as it rationally could from the comic[1], but, more impressively, puts forward many of the messages and themes explored in it. So we have the essential impotence of superheroes[2]; that to fight evil, we must commit evil; that those with power must be held responsible. But while we get these, most of the plot, action and soundtrack is turned up to 11 distracting us from it's message. I will demonstrate my thesis in as vivid a way as possible, by using as my example Doctor Manhattan's penis.

Once you have an 18 certificate and a naked man wandering around, it makes sense that it appears on screen. Once we got over it's more unusual attributes (it's blue! it glows!) Heckler pointed out that it's larger than in the comic. We checked when we got back and, by golly, it is.

Now the penis is CGI[3] so it's size is at the whim of the director. We might consider the scenario in which Crudup asks Snyder to endow him more generously and Snyder says "Alter a single part of the Greatest Comic Book Film adaption ever made, my Magnum Opus based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Magna Magnum Opus that I wish to alter for the screen as little as possible, because you feel inadequate? Well okay". We might consider the change just crept in from one or other sketch or storyboard picture. But more likely this decision was deliberately made by the creative team. So why?

Doc Manhattan is a force of nature as much as a character, with no limitations other than his own conscience and authorial fiat. Yet ultimately he is as ruled by fate, destiny and the impersonal forces of history as the rest of us, if not more so as he can see through the illusion of free will. Yes it's potence and impotence again; Doc Manhattan doesn't need a big penis as he has all the power in the universe; his small penis represents his powerlessness[4].

In the film, we get the lack of power, but it's overwhelmed by the sheer kinetic action of the characters; we get the time and period cues, but the music plays at full volume even when a song in the background would make the point better; and in Zack Snyder's book, there's no action sequence that can't be improved by slow motion. And that, in my opinion is why the penis is bigger; because bigger, louder, more violent, more in-your-face is the default choice.

As I said, it's good. But you don't need to see it if you've read the book, or if you've watched The Dark Knight which covers much of the same ground. If you want to see it, with everything turned up to 11, you'll probably enjoy it. So there you have it. Thanks to my talking about penises a lot I've managed to review the film without resorting to any stupid lines like "Who watched the Watchmen? We did!"

Oh, toss.

[1] Which is not to say that they haven't been altered to make them properly cinematic. Snyder and his team don't seem to have lost sight of the most important thing; making what appears on the screen work as a film.
[2] A colleague felt the sex scene was completely gratuitous; well yes. But, as it turns out, that's what the gaudily costumed masked adventurers are; gratuitous, unneeded, mere decoration. Their potence turns out to be completely powerless before the forces of history.
[3] No, it's not motion capture. Although Billy Crudup's performance was indeed motion capture, he wasn't walking around in a skin-tight-around-the-parts suit, but a crazy futuristic blue LED covered suit with a standard crutch (assuming that docu-ad I caught the last 15 minutes of wasn't lying to me). The performance is motion capture; the penis isn't.
[4] Or maybe it's easier and less embarrassing to draw, I don't know.


  1. Putting aside the issue of the penis (which I really didn't think was that big a deal), I'd like to address the slow motion action...

    This same technique was used in Sin City and 300 as well, and as I was watching the Watchmen, I found myself thinking that it may be a stylistic choice to echo the feeling of a graphic novel. When the action slows down, and pauses a moment before speeding up, it's mimicking a comic frame. This seemed most apparent to me when The Comedian was being thrown through the window. By temporarily pausing, the glass is frozen, The Comedian hangs in the air, and we're reminded of the scene as it appeared in the comic.

    But I also found that I was bored of the technique, otherwise I would have been watching the movie instead of analyzing it.

  2. Part of this blog's raison d'etre or maybe I mean modus operandi is to make knob jokes. But putting the penis aside, I too felt the slow motion was overused. Why slo-mo Silk Spectre jumping through a burning building to (as far as I recall) not-recreate a scene from the comic, rather than put in the memorable exchange from the same scene "Are you with the fire department?" "I'm Smokey the Bear's secret Mistress"? I liked the Comedian hanging in the air, and a lot of the slow motion was pretty good. But why for every action scene?

    I over-analyse, even when swept away there's a bit of my brain still ticking away asking "how did they do that?"