24 February 2009

Watchmen jitters

It's a comic book about pop culture as viewed through a comic book, so I didn't see the point of making a movie. But I saw the trailer, and it looked phenomenal.

— Joss Whedon, in the March 2009 Wired
I feel exactly the same way. I was very nervous about it, but the trailer won me over. Now I'm nervous again:
Peter Suderman: Is Zack Snyder's Watchmen a Failure?

I’m becoming increasingly worried. I’d always had worries about Snyder, who managed to make the should’ve-been-awesome 300 and turn it into something ridiculous at best, and more often than not, unbearable. But everything I’d seen and heard until recently had me tentatively excited. Now, the first clips have started popping up online, and they’re dull, flat, and unengaging. The one action scene we see appears to be a student film by a some raver who just saw The Matrix for the first time. And this review at Hollywood Elsewhere pretty much confirms everything I’d worried about, calling the film a “staggering failure.”

I haven’t seen it yet, so I’m still rooting for it to succeed, of course, if only because Alan Moore’s original graphic novel is legitimately one of the best graphic novels ever, and one of the more ambitious and rewarding pieces of pop art in the last thirty years — and it deserves better.
That's the rub: if the movie fails it not only reflects poorly on the fine piece of work that is the graphic novel, but it reflects poorly on the entire medium of comics because Watchmen is such an exemplar of the field.

I don't think those clips were as terrible as Suderman does, but they were ... uninspired? I also like 300 more than Suderman. It was vapid in the extreme, but the art direction gave it an aesthetic that makes it worth watching, almost a painterliness. (By which I mean it's distinctly not animation or CG, but it's so completely affected it's no longer photographic either.) Of course prettiness is not nearly enough to carry a movie like Watchmen.

I like a lot of movies (300, the Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, The Fountain, the latest Hellboy, etc.) that are admittedly fairly bad, or at least not very good, just because I think they're pretty. More than being pretty though, they have their own distinct style which permeates the entire movie. There's a consistency and totality to their aesthetics that I can really get into. If you were to take a single frame of an establishing shot of, say, an outdoor cafe from 99% of movies, you wouldn't be able to tell if that frame was from any of a hundred comedies or romances or even spy films or action flicks. They all look the same. But take a frame from something like Hero (which is both beautiful and a fantastic movie), and every single one screams "I am from a wuxia film; I am from Hero!" I love that.

If you're also into watching movies because they're pretty I'd recommend off the top of my head Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, and Koyaanisqatsi. They're all good movies, but they're also all gorgeous. Sit down with a hookah and a bottle of wine for that last one and you can let your mind flow right out of your ears.

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