Knight at the Movies Archives
Director Zack Snyder's big screen adaptation of "the most popular graphic novel of all time" is a bloated curio
Who do you suppose, out of the literally hundreds of behind the scenes technicians that worked on the computer graphics
spectacular Watchmen, got the enviable job of creating the blue penis for the character of the big blue superhero Dr. Manhattan?
Not only created it but got to make it flop up and down in scene after scene as Dr. Manhattan is shown striding around earth and
later, when he can’t be bothered with humankind anymore (or a black stretch bikini to cover his not too big, not too small, just right
third leg), Mars? Will the head of one of those special effects houses that specializes in making movie “magic” one day scan a
resume from a prospective computer geek that reads “created genitals for Dr. Manhattan on Mac 0S81927 Spinart 3000 program?”
That’s eventually where my thoughts drifted as the endless bloated botch that is Watchmen played on and on and on again. Clocking
in at just under three hours but feeling more like five, Dr. Manhattan’s appendage was the most striking visual out of hours worth
that I walked away with (what red blooded gay male would suggest otherwise?). Not that there aren’t beautiful images and
compelling moments here and there. But really, it’s that floppy blue dick (and the rest of Dr. Manhattan’s equally memorable,
though, CGI created body), Patrick Wilson’s shapely ass, a quick shot of a lesbian character and her lover in bed after being
murdered “for crimes against nature,” Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach with his genuinely creepy constantly shifting mask, and
Matthew Goode as the bisexual (at least that’s the vibe I got) character Ozymandias dressed in perfect 1980s drag – purple jacket
with padded shoulders, skinny tie and giant sized gold leaf pin – that I recall. The rest – not so much.
At about the two hour point in the movie Dr. Manhattan, once Dr. Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup), tiring of all the fuss on earth (where
it's circa 1985 and the threat of nuclear war appears imminent), decides to take up residence on Mars. Not long after he transports
his onetime girlfriend Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II to be by his side on the orange planet. But Laurie (played by Malin Akerman,
perhaps the least compelling actress in movies today) has dallied with Dan/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) in big blue’s absence and the
two have gone out in their superhero get ups and kicked some criminal ass so Laurie’s not really so into Dr. M who can predict the
future – but only his own – any more. “Can’t you just tell me how all this ends and save us the time?” the Jupiter asks Big Blue
impatiently. At that point, Laurie was reading my thoughts exactly.
The inherent problem with director Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of what we have been told repeatedly is the “most popular graphic
novel of all time” is that the script by David Hayter and Alex Tse doesn’t take into account the millions of movie goers who have NOT
read the “most popular graphic novel of all time” and haven’t a clue as to how the myriad characters fit together or why we should
give a rat’s ass about any of them. A very long credit sequence attempts to fill in some of the backstory – a group of costumed,
masked crime busting vigilantes known as “the Minutemen” seem to have appeared on the scene sometime around 1940 becoming
heroes in the process. But for reasons I could never fathom the group were banned from continuing with the crime fighting and were
forced to hang up their costumes.
Apparently, this played havoc with the psyches of all of them. Further, some of them had children who also dressed up in costumes
and masks and fought crime. This second group called themselves “the Watchmen” but they too, apparently, were stopped in their
tracks once the government had no further use for their special abilities. But what exactly were those special abilities? From what I
could discern, the only one with a qualifying “superhero” talent was the aforesaid Dr. Manhattan who was not part of the original
group but was the leader of the second group after being morphed into the big blue guy after a laboratory accident went wrong in
Laurie/Silk Spectre II is apparently the daughter of the original Silk Spectre (aka Sally) (played by Carla Gugino) who was almost
raped or maybe was raped or went willingly with The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The Comedian (aka Edward Blake) chomps
on a stogie nonstop and is a horribly violent, nasty, cynical type – the badass of the group (or groups – I think he was in both). The
Comedian gets murdered in the opening sequence which takes place in 1985 in the first of many, many gory fight sequences (the
hyper gore and stylized violence here echo Snyder’s previous CG spectacle, 300).
The rest of the picture alternates between Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), the certifiably crazy Watchmen with the cool, shape shifting
mask, trying to figure out who killed The Comedian and wants to kill the others and the backstory of each of most of the
superheroes (again, if that is what they are – it’s never clear if any of them have super powers or just like getting into drag). In
between, there’s a subplot that involves world domination by a super villain (who gets a James Bond like super villain lair in
Antarctica) and a desperate effort to prevent nuclear war between the U.S. (still headed by Richard Nixon, heading into his fifth term)
and the Soviet Union. The historical alterations also include cameos by Kennedy, Kissinger, Ted Koppel, Pat Buchanan, and former
Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca who gets it right between the eyes.
The mixture of 20th century culture references and history making events and characters is great fun at first and the music on the
soundtrack supports them (everything from Simon & Garfunkel to Nena singing “99 Luft Balloons”) but eventually the historical
fantasies wear out their welcome as they aren’t particularly involving and have nothing to do with any of the main characters. Every
13 year-old boy’s fantasies (gay and straight) seems to be incorporated into the material along with the historical whimsy and not
surprisingly, very little of it makes much sense. The slapdash material causes the movie to move in fits and starts, going off into
those superhero backstories one moment and heading off into sidebars so often in another that the film never finds a proper tone
as it lurches about. And did I mention the ever present dark side of the superhero mythology and the constant psychobabble about
soulless mankind that seems to return (and whine) over and over again in the material, dragging down the movie every time it tries
to enervate the audience?
On the plus side, the movie is a technical marvel – it’s beautifully shot, art directed, scored, costumed, etc. – but even memorable
scenes like the eerily beautiful sequence in which we get Dr. Manhattan’s backstory (scored to the gorgeous music Philip Glass wrote
for the wonderful 80s documentary Koyaanisqatsi) – get lost in the seemingly endless plot deviations (the film could have easily lost
an hour on its running time).
Sure, the movie’s not so subtle homoerotic content will draw in gay viewers as it did Snyder’s 300. But contrast the simplicity of the
117 minutes of that movie – Gerard Butler and 299 other bikini clad warriors defend the honor of Sparta against an invincible army
until they’re all killed – compared to Watchmen’s convoluted 163. That’s an awfully long time to expect a lone blue cock (attached to
an admittedly spectacular body) to remain entertaining – especially one that’s not even real to begin with and never gets hard.
Watchmen could have used lots and lots of trimming and a fluffer to boot.
Much Ado About Not So Much:
Expanded Edition of 3-06-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.