Archive for February, 2009

The Watchmen

I have to admit that it had been a while since I anticipated a movie as much as I had anticipated the Watchmen.  As with many other nerds of my vintage, Watchmen was a coming of age novel for comic books in general, and for me.  It took the comic book worlds that had preceded it and, frankly, turned them on their respective pompous, spandex-clad asses.


Imagine a world where superheroes exist.  Where a man can have ultimate power over the life and death of another, and there is very little that can be done to police or stop him if his desires turn out to be more, ahem, human than superhuman.  Such a person could kill with impunity, rape without consequence, steal without repercussion.  In short, the only thing keeping such a being from doing these things is the fine line of a well-developed system of ethics and mores, which most of us simply do not have.

It is precisely because of the part of a superhero that is human that a true superhero would likely turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing.  We cannot expect more of anyone than we could offer of ourselves, and there are not many of us able to deal with omnipotence.  For impotence we have Viagra.  For omnipotence, well. . . .

As with the book, the movie is a very complex work.  And while a comic book lends itself to the ability to flip back to a previous point to review something missed or overlooked the first time around, a movie has to convey all of the information in a linear fashion, with obligatory flash-backs as a way to provide backstory for the main characters.  Because of these interruptions in flow, the movie at times seems to progress in fits and starts.

At times, I found myself wishing that Snyder had kept the movie at its original running time (rumor has it the original edited film ran north of 200 minutes), or that the film had been split into two separate films to allow for better exposition to occur.  In a way, I hope that Snyder will release a “director’s cut” of the film on DVD (as with the Lord of the Rings saga) to provide his vision with more depth.

This movie is not without problems.  While some of the casting is literally awe-inspiring (I particularly liked Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan and Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach), I was not as impressed with Ozymandias and Silk Spectre II (Mathew Goode and Malin Ackerman).

I would grade the book at **** Jessicas out of four and the movie at ***.  I am not certain how any director could have made the book adaptation any better and still been faithful to the original book.

Danny Boyle’s understated masterpiece, Slumdog Millionaire, has now garnered its fair share of accolades after sweeping last night’s Oscars.  This was a well-deserved pat on the back for one of the most influential and undervalued directors of recent years; creator of the fascinating Sunshine, the frightening and original 28 Days Later, and the classic and original Trainspotting.  Boyle’s genius is in his ability to imagine what has become ordinary in a new and original light, and his genius has finally been recognized by mainstream American cinema.

Take, for example, his film 28 Days Later.  At the time that this film went into production, films featuring zombies in pursuit of human prey had fallen out of favor.  Romero’s Dawn of the Dead series, while frightening and chilling in a way, depicted slow, stumbling and rather stupid zombies dragging their way after much quicker and smarter humans.  28 Days Later, which is arguably one of the most frightening zombie films ever created, re-imagined the zombie threat into something much more visceral.  One critic I read described the zombies in the film as “meat-seeking missiles” which is both descriptive and grotesque but echoes my point.

Sunshine was another case in point.  Science fiction films have become a mainstay of modern cinema, but such films are bloated with action and computer-generated special effects.  Enter Boyle.  Instead of CG, Boyle uses a projected image of the Sun to stunning effect, as in one scene a moon-sized Mercury slides across the violent surface of the star with all the crew in attendance.  The film is visually stunning, and recalls visuals from 2001 and Alien.  This excellent movie was made for a pittance in modern day cinema, $20 million, and it looks like a movie costing five times as much.

Slumdog Millionaire is a brilliant film.  It is both tragic and uplifting, beautiful and grotesque, filled with love and hate.  It is the inter-meshing of opposites in this film that give it its raw narrative power.  In the end, the audience is driven almost to the point of hysteria hoping that the young lead will win his heart’s desire.  And this is an independent film, made without notable CG effects, for a pittance. . . .

My sincere hope is that the movie industry will use Slumdog as a rallying cry to make necessary changes in the manner by which new films are made.  If such a fantastic film can be made for such a small amount of money and still be ridiculously profitable, perhaps more of the movie industry’s money should be directed toward simpler efforts.  We don’t need Die Hard 5; He’s Really Pissed Off Now, we need more independent films featuring actors we’ve never heard of, stories we’ve never seen, in places we are unfamiliar with.

Long live the indies!