Watchmen – A (Very Long) Movie Review

When Watchmen came out in the mid-Eighties, it revolutionized the comic book industry.  It gave us an angle on “super heroes” that had practically never before been investigated.  It had nuance, complexity, characterization, pacing, and, most of all, it utilized the comic book format and played to the strengths such a genre allows.

After hearing Zach Snyder had been attached to direct the long-in-development film version of Watchmen, I liked it.  300, another comic book adaptation, had style, charisma, and seemed to honor the source material while displaying the director’s indelible talent.  In fact, I lauded Snyder’s first Watchmen trailer here:

https://scottwilliamfoley.com/2008/07/24/first-reaction-to-the-watchmen-trailer/

and I offered him praise when he released the first images of his Watchmen characters here:

https://scottwilliamfoley.com/2008/03/07/a-reaction-to-the-first-look-watchmen-photographs/

However, I cannot avoid the fact that while I felt certain I would love Snyder’s Watchmen, I simply found it too mired in detail, silly, and even a little boring.

Now, before you declare me Satan, allow me to explain.

Snyder’s version of Watchmen is nearly identical to the comic book in terms of story, dialogue, and framing.  We’ve all heard how Watchmen creator Alan Moore detests the idea of his works being adapted to film, and Snyder made it clear from the beginning that he hoped his version of Watchmen would please Moore and remain true to the source material.

Well, it remained true to the source material in terms of nuts and bolts, but Snyder forgot one very important fact – the source material is a comic book.  You see folks, comic books are very different from movies.  First of all, comic books require a lot more effort on the part of the audience for obvious reasons.  Secondly, pacing, illustrations, word balloons, and narrative boxes play a crucial role in the comic book format as well.  They all come together to create an experience.  Also, the Watchmen comic book spanned twelve issues and employed incredibly complex layering.

In other words, what works in the comic books doesn’t work in the movies when closely copied.

Consequently, my biggest disappointment in Watchmen is that Snyder mistakenly tried to remain so precisely true to the source material that he seemingly lost all sense of self in the process.  Everything I loved about 300 disappeared in Watchmen.  Other than the slow-motion fights, I saw nothing indicative of Snyder.  It literally looked as though the Watchmen comic book had, in a way, come to life, but without the passion of Moore’s storytelling.

Initially, I was excited to see Snyder’s take on Watchmen.  I didn’t expect nor want a frame-for-frame interpretation of the comic book.  The comic book is a separate entity that can never be translated to film simply because of the medium for which it originated.  I’d hoped Snyder would take the source material, bend it to his own sensibilities, then inspire his audience to give the book a try if they liked Snyder’s adaptation and thus discover the brilliant writing of Alan Moore.  Instead, Snyder literally endeavored to transform sequential artwork and dialogue to film and lost his own unique talent in the approach.

And because of Snyder’s unrelenting efforts to remain true to the comic book version, I felt his film became too reliant on detail and back-story and thus became – dare I say it – a little boring.  Remember, Moore peeled away later after layer of his intricate story over a span of twelve issues – the equivalent of twelve months.  Snyder took all of that and crammed it into two and a half hours.  Unless you were well versed in the comic book, I honestly have no idea how you could follow the film, much less enjoy it.

Furthermore, I felt the film, at times, just seemed a little silly.  Remember, once again, in the comic book, you’ve got essentially one artist drawing the characters, the backgrounds, the settings, and so on.  So, in effect, everything “fits.”  Everything looks similar to a degree.  In the film version of Watchmen, I’m afraid these characters looked very awkward next to each other.  A movie featuring one of them alone?  No problem.  Putting them all together, especially when set against a very realistic world just looked a little goofy to me.  Other silly aspects included the in-costume sex scenes, Kung-fu Rorschach, and Dr. Manhattan’s muscles-upon-muscles.  I’ll get to Ozymandias in a moment …

Now here comes a slight spoiler: the lack of any “real” villain caused this film to get lost along the way.  Yes, I realize it’s a murder-mystery, but, unlike the comic book, I didn’t feel the “clues” were well placed, nor did I believe the realization of who the “villain” was held enough impact.  Again, what worked very well in the sequential art medium simply didn’t convert to film.  A movie such as this needs to deliver a “villain” much sooner in the story.  I felt the “mystery” of the Comedian’s murder got lost in the mix somehow, yet it was the driving force in the comic book.

And now let’s talk about Ozymandias.  Once he arrived in costume near the end of the film, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was willing to give the outfit the benefit of the doubt in the early still photographs, but he just looked ridiculous when captured in movement.  I felt like we were back to the Batman and Robin costumes – those sculpted, rubber muscles.  The grim and gritty violence preceding his big scene were all but negated by the sheer buffoonery of his appearance.  And don’t tell me he was supposed to look asinine.  They could have stuck to the original costume with its flowing fabrics and gold if they were trying to accomplish that – and it would have reinforced his Egyptian and Alexander the Great motif.  You can’t have graphic sex and people’s arms getting cut off on one hand and sculpted rubber muscle suits on the other.  They simply can’t coexist.

That’s not to say that the film didn’t have its moments of victory.  Jeffery Dean Morgan as the Comedian could not have been more perfect.  His undeniable charisma when coupled with the Comedian’s savagery created a character that repulsed me, yet I loved him at the same time.  He looked the part, acted the part, and I believed he was the Comedian.

Jackie Earle Haley also nailed it with Rorschach.  His natural face and size went a long way to convincing me he was the iconic character, and his voice, body language, and general creepiness in the film scored big in my mind.  And thank goodness they got his mask right.  I could have watched a movie starring Rorschach alone and been very happy.  Again, I felt Kung-fu Rorschach pushed it a little, but I can overlook that due to Haley’s magnificent interpretation.

I think we can all agree Dr. Manhattan had to be just right for this film to work.  I’m afraid he wasn’t.  Yes, the unnatural glow, the eyes, the particles surrounding him, his “powers” – those all came off wonderfully and seemingly broke new ground in special effects.  However, his over-the-top muscular frame distracted me, and Billy Crudup’s tiny, tiny voice simply didn’t fit the character.  I understand the importance of Dr. Manhattan lacking inflection and emotion in his words, but Crudup’s voice was so small, so earnest, that it just didn’t sound right coming out of Dr. Manhattan’s mouth.  And let’s not argue that his “Arnold” physique represented his achieving “perfection,” because the juxtaposition of his frail, self-conscious voice served as to much of a clash for that defense to succeed.

Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl failed to move me one way or the other.  In the comic book, his was the main connection to the human condition – he was the one who represented us all.  In the movie, he simply didn’t matter.  Instead of coming across as modest and reserved, Wilson gave us tepid and inconsequential.  And when his halfhearted character suddenly became a bone-breaking machine it slammed the movie to a halt and felt “wrong” in every way conceivable.

Which brings us to the movie’s other star – Silk Spectre played by Malin Akerman.  I’m not familiar with Ms. Akerman’s previous work (though I’m told I saw her in The Heartbreak Kid), but until these moviemakers start treating women in comic book movies as more than sex objects, I’m afraid actresses like Ms. Akerman won’t have much to work with – not that I’m convinced she could have done better even if given superior direction.  (By the way, I realize the irony of asking moviemakers to treat comic book women as more than sex objects when most of the comic book industry is guilty of the same indiscretion, but I truly thought Moore presented a well-rounded, multifaceted character in Silk Spectre that was not adequately reflected in the film.)

As far as Matthew Goode as Ozymandias, well, he was apparently doomed from the beginning.  Wrong look, wrong costume, wrong “vibe,” wrong everything.

Now let me commit the ultimate act of sacrilege by admitting that I actually liked the film’s version of Ozymandias’ critical act against humanity better than the tentacle monster of the comic book.  Everything about the comic book worked in my mind, except for the monster.  I always found it too clichéd and beneath Moore’s sophisticated imagination.  I felt the film’s climax made more sense and I applaud Snyder for at least putting his stamp on the story in that regard.

So while Watchmen was well-made from a production standpoint, and while its special effects were incredible, and though it surpassed my expectations in regards to the Comedian and Rorschach, it failed to capture the passion of the source material and Snyder committed the one mistake that I said would doom Watchmen – he denied his own cinematic sensibilities and unique talents in favor of attempting to create a literal translation of a work that simply cannot be exactly translated to film.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ll never forget when I first read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I knew Alan Moore was a god among men in the comic book world, but even I wasn’t prepared for the majesty of his storytelling, the potency of his intelligence, or the power of his inspirational imagination.

Thus, when news surfaced that a new League adventure called Black Dossier was in the works, I could not wait–COULD NOT WAIT–until its release.

Finally, after more than a few delays, it was unbound, and while I won’t say I’m disappointed in it, I don’t love it as I did the other two League volumes. That being said, I respect Moore all the … more … for Black Dossier.

Alan Moore is not afraid to create art on his terms, and his terms alone. While Black Dossier does not have the charismatic story or sheer excitement of its predecessors, it absolutely pushes the limits as to what has traditionally been accepted in comic books the last several decades.

For example, Moore has said for quite a while he’d like to write a comic that made use of 3D glasses, and so Black Dossier does (no worries–glasses included). There are postcards, comic strips (like in the newspapers), excerpts from single spaced files with handwritten notes upon them, unreleased editions of works written by popular authors or featuring well-known characters, and pamphlets. Seventy-percent of this book literally duplicates the innards of a dossier. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Consequently, I feel I also must comment on the exorbitant amount of nudity in this book. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has always been a book for mature readers and on par with an R-rated movie. Like every other aspect of Black Dossier, Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill challenge conventions, and I admire them for that. However, even I found the level of nudity gratuitous. For some characters, the nudity made perfect sense when looked upon in a historical light (of which Moore is an aficionado), but at times it seemed the nudity was thrown in for simple orneriness. In other words, this is probably not a book you’ll want your children to get hold of. And if they’re unfamiliar with Alan Moore and his rebellious inclinations, I also wouldn’t expose it to your parents, husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends.

Even so, because of the willingness of author Moore and artist O’Neill to put forth so much effort into an undeniable work of originality and fearlessness, they earned my unending respect. However, I’d be lying if I said the nontraditional embellishments were enthralling. True, they work in a roundabout way to complete the overall story, but in the end, taken as a whole, the story wasn’t terribly interesting, and the accompaniments served as an impediment to an already deficient plot. My disappointment originated from the impression that the plot served the concept, rather than the concept serving the plot.

As an artist, I absolutely loved the boundaries Black Dossier annihilated and believe Moore and O’Neill should be looked upon as artistic liberators. As a reader, though, I found Black Dossier dull and plodding.

V for Vendetta – A Movie Review

I think Alan Moore’s creation, V for Vendetta, is a masterful work, so I had very high hopes for the film version of the comic series.

I did not go disappointed.

I realize V for Vendetta has gotten mixed reviews, but I thought it was very well done.  Because the Wachowski Brothers were involved I expected the excess of the last few Matrix movies, but they restrained themselves quite appropriately.  V for Vendetta was rather understated, in my opinion, and I felt it was nearly accurate with its source material.  Sure, some changes had to be made because it is a mainstream movie and because it came out two decades after the comic, but the soul of it remained true enough.

Natalie Portman did a surprisingly good job and Hugo Weaving deserves some sort of an award for his portrayal of V.  I don’t know many actors who can convey emotion without their face ever being seen, but Weaving pulled it off wonderfully through subtle body language and voice inflection. 

The action was superb, the sets believable, the dialogue fairly crisp with some awkward moments, and the editing was well done. 

Alan Moore, V’s creator, is notorious for his disdain for movie versions of his work (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell), so much so that you won’t see his name attached to the film anywhere and he gives all his proceeds to the artists of his work, but I truly hope he was moderately satisfied with this movie. 

The only problem I had with the film was that its message of rebellion was slightly water-downed compared to the original, and probably with good reason, but I think most people who stop to think about what they’re watching will realize the existing parallels to today’s political and social climate.  However, I believe most people who are even minutely conservative will find plenty of controversial moments in V for Vendetta.

V for Vendetta – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ll admit it . . . I picked up this classic by Alan Moore more out of curiosity for the upcoming movie than for the many good things I’ve heard about it.

I’ve got one word-wow. This graphic novel is beyond mesmerizing. I suppose this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise considering that Alan Moore rarely misses with this genre. I literally could not put V For Vendetta down.

It’s the story of a post-apocalyptic England. It’s the year 1997 (keep in mind this was written in 1983) and the world as we know it is gone. Warfare has destroyed much of Western Europe, and it is only after a fascist political party steps up to take control over a lawless England that some semblance of order resumes. However, things quickly go wrong and the people of England move from lawlessness to total oppression. I’ll leave it up to you to draw the comparisons to real life.

One man, however, rises above it all to become a hero of the people. He is a champion of Anarchy, saying that he believes people should voluntarily rule themselves, and he seems quite insane. However, he fights to defeat the oppressors, and so we cheer for him. He may have been one of our original anti-heroes in the graphic novel medium. His identity is a mystery, as is his source funding for his elaborate operations, but he fights against the tyrants ruthlessly, using what many would call terrorist methods. Again, as you can well imagine, this brings up many philosophical questions.

The art is adequate, though I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but the dialogue and plot are exquisite, as is the tone and pacing. Moore has gone on the record as saying he has not been happy with the film interpretations of his work, so much so, in fact, that he now refuses to have his name attached to them. Let’s hope that the film version of V for Vendetta pleases this modern day master of the graphic novel literary form.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volumes I and II – A Graphic Novel Review

I’m one of those people who saw the film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen long before I ever read the comic books. I once thought the film was awesome, but after having the read the original stories, I now realize the movie could have been so much more! What’s so extraordinary about this league? I’m glad you asked…

Let me catch you up to speed if you’re not familiar with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The stories take place in England in the late 1890’s. The characters are icons of literature such as the Invisible Man, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, and Alan Quartermain. The government of England assembles them to battle extraordinary circumstances within its borders. The first volume deals with a famous villain who shall remain nameless, and the second volume deals with a Martian invasion, ala the famous tale by H.G. Wells. Both volumes are rife with literary allusions, so an old literature nerd like myself was flying high throughout.

The author of these volumes is the eccentric but highly respected creator by the name of Alan Moore. He’s brought us many classics, but he is most widely known for his masterpiece, the mid-eighties magnum opus known as the Watchmen, which is largely responsible for moving comics out of the “comics are for kiddies” paradigm. He is obviously a connoisseur of the literary classics, for he has so many references to works of literature throughout these volumes that two companion pieces have been produced explaining the dozens of nuances found within (think of it like Breaking the Da Vinci Code for Dan Brown’s ultra-popular novel). Although his writing is at times disturbing, Moore is an expert at what he does and his stories are always captivating. The further characterization of such classical characters and bringing them together in such odd situations and having them interact, well, it’s completely delightful.

The artist is a man named Kevin O’Neill, and I was largely unfamiliar with any of his previous work. However, his style is perfect for this type of story, and his careful attention to nineteenth century architecture and dress is phenomenal. Again, like the author, some of his drawings are quite provoking, but they are all magnetic in their execution.

I would completely recommend these two volumes for a reader wishing to break into only the best of comics in their trade paperback form. Be mindful, however, these comics were not released as mainstream works, so they don’t play by mainstream rules. Very gory scenes, matched with the first and only actual sex scene I’ve ever seen in a comic book, requires an open-minded and tolerant reader. You won’t be disappointed in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I’m quite certain of that.

First Reaction to the Watchmen Trailer

If you read my reaction to the Watchmen “first look” still photos released some time ago (https://scottwilliamfoley.com/2008/03/07/a-reaction-to-the-first-look-watchmen-photographs/), you know that I’m totally supporting Zach Snyder’s efforts with Alan Moore’s seminal series.

The first thing I’d like people to understand is that no one will create a “by the book” interpretation of Moore’s groundbreaking work.  The best we can hope for is for a Hollywood director to stay as true to the source material as they can while infusing their own artistry and panache.  Zach Snyder employs dazzling visual effects, and, judging from the trailer, he’s staying true enough to the original work and “look” to satisfy this writer.

However, by no means do I suggest this movie will ever serve as a replacement for Moore’s work.  I implore everyone to read the book before seeing the movie, because there really is nothing else like the book out there.  It’s influenced artists for decades and will no doubt continue to do so.

But with that being said, Snyder’s trailer looks to blend his personal style with Moore’s original characters and story enough to please old and new fans alike.

You can view the trailer (astutely coupled with The Smashing Pumpkins’ “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning”) by clicking on this link:

http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/watchmen/med.html

Black Dossier by Moore and O’Neill – A Book Review

I’ll never forget when I first read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  I knew Alan Moore was a god among men in the comic book world, but even I wasn’t prepared for the majesty of his storytelling, the potency of his intelligence, or the power of his inspirational imagination.

Thus, when news surfaced that a new League adventure called Black Dossier was in the works, I could not wait—COULD NOT WAIT—until its release.

Finally, after more than a few delays, it was unbound, and while I won’t say I’m disappointed in it, I don’t love it as I did the other two League volumes.  That being said, I respect Moore all the … more … for Black Dossier.

Alan Moore is not afraid to create art on his terms, and his terms alone.  While Black Dossier does not have the charismatic story or sheer excitement of its predecessors, it absolutely pushes the limits as to what has traditionally been accepted in comic books the last several decades.

For example, Moore has said for quite a while he’d like to write a comic that made use of 3D glasses, and so Black Dossier does (no worries—glasses included).  There are postcards, comic strips (like in the newspapers), excerpts from single spaced files with handwritten notes upon them, unreleased editions of works written by popular authors or featuring well-known characters, and pamphlets.  Seventy-percent of this book literally duplicates the innards of a dossier.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Consequently, I feel I also must comment on the exorbitant amount of nudity in this book.  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has always been a book for mature readers and on par with an R-rated movie.  Like every other aspect of Black Dossier, Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill challenge conventions, and I admire them for that.  However, even I found the level of nudity gratuitous.  For some characters, the nudity made perfect sense when looked upon in a historical light (of which Moore is an aficionado), but at times it seemed the nudity was thrown in for simple orneriness.  In other words, this is probably not a book you’ll want your children to get hold of.  And if they’re unfamiliar with Alan Moore and his rebellious inclinations, I also wouldn’t expose it to your parents, husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends.     

Even so, because of the willingness of author Moore and artist O’Neill to put forth so much effort into an undeniable work of originality and fearlessness, they earned my unending respect.  However, I’d be lying if I said the nontraditional embellishments were enthralling.  True, they work in a roundabout way to complete the overall story, but in the end, taken as a whole, the story wasn’t terribly interesting, and the accompaniments served as an impediment to an already deficient plot.  My disappointment originated from the impression that the plot served the concept, rather than the concept serving the plot.

As an artist, I absolutely loved the boundaries Black Dossier annihilated and believe Moore and O’Neill should be looked upon as artistic liberators.  As a reader, though, I found Black Dossier dull and plodding.