Tuesday, January 12, 2010
How did I miss this movie during its theater run? Well, actually, I know how I missed it. Since my neighborhood movie theater closed last Christmas, I've been left with only the unpalatable option of going to the massive multiplex to catch movies. I hate that place, so my once weekly moviegoing habit has been reduced to going to that place only when it's something I feel the need to see immediately, and this didn't make my willing-to-brave-the-shitty-popcorn-plex list.
What a loss that was for me. I caught this the other night on HBO, and now I'm all set to go out and rent the four-hour version because I can't get enough. I wish I had seen this on the big screen, because its formidable, nearly three hour running time would've pushed my limits, but it probably would've been more than mitigated by the visual spectacle.
Though lacking in bona-fide star-power, this flick is absolutely overflowing with firepower. It is a comic book movie, so that's not everyone's cup of tea. But it also goes bounds beyond the neo-noir atmosphere of Nolan's Dark Knight and into an almost retro DePalma-sleazy territory with a gripping and gritty traditional noir, which creates a rather complex oxymoron and stylistic clash that shouldn't blend as wonderfully as it does. I mean, it takes a huge dose of suspension of disbelief to accept a gaint, glowing, blue superhero who walks around with his somehow strangely demure dick swinging free as he subdues the Vietnam war while juxtaposing that against the darkly gripping and dizzyingly dirty New York streets circa 1985. And yet, I leapt right over the line and allowed myself to be immersed in this flick.
Zack Snyder directed this monster project, giving it an authentic graphic-novel feel while masterfully using special effects, all while also keeping a handle on the sweeping narrative. The plot begins as a classic noir whodunit. It's an alternate 1985, with the US and USSR on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Nixon is still in the White House, and although he outlawed vigilantes back in 1977, someone has just murdered the Comedian. So one of his superhero colleagues is compelled to investigate. The plot, mystery, and solution unravels in a convoluted tangle, as many noirs, harkening back to the original noir "The Maltese Falcon," are bound to do. But what this movie succeeds at, where recent entries such as "Dark Knight" only pretend to do, is not just create a stylish environment populated with eccentrics, but actually twist and question morality. While Batman is tortured, there is core of humanity about him. But here, in Watchmen, the superhero Dr. Manhattan is losing his very tenuous ties to humanity as he is truly no longer human, but a sentient quantum mechanical aberration. Meanwhile, some of his "superhero" buddies are bona-fide sociopaths -- more frightening that any villain. Also, there's graphic sex. No, we don't get to see the big blue schlong getting it on, exactly, but there's blood and sex to spare here, not to mention plenty of disturbing violence and over-arching moral ambiguity.
I would love to know how Snyder is viewed in "the industry" or even by "critics" but I'm too lazy to do any real research. However, something tells me that he's not taken exactly as seriously as he should be. This is his third movie, after Dawn of the Dead (which I loved) and 300. It's easy to take pot-shots at 300, but it's also easy to see that Snyder is, at this point, a crowd-pleaser, but he's also a crowd-pleaser with style and smarts to spare. His shot selection is impeccable, both for the comic book genre and noir. He seems to understand that there's a difference between darkness and murkiness and confusion. And while all three are components of noir, it's not essential to film things so that the actual visuals are too murky to discern the precise goings-on onscreen. Instead, there's a clarity to the action here so seldom seen onscreen in modern pictures without ever compromising the atmosphere. He uses old-school techniques in updated ways, using off-kilter and sometimes dizzying shots to create the visuals that match the internal conflicts, but these angles are also often beautiful, even in their most terrible and brutal depictions.
And though I'm often not a fan of CGI -- and I'm most certainly not a big fan of motion-capture, as I generally find it creepy, it works perfectly here for the portrayal of Dr. Manahattan, particularly because he's not human. And Billy Crudup's quiet monotone drives home his creepy, disconnected removal from humans. And the graphic-novel genre naturally lends itself to spectacular CGI, but while Snyder exploits the tricks at his disposal, it's to heighten the ambience and it meshes as an integral part of the picture instead of becoming the main appeal and making it cartoonish.
Fans of Grey's Anatomy will recognize the beloved-but-dead Denny, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian.
He, uh, is quite devastating in this role, as his natural sex appeal works in tandem with the character's repellent actions as we watch him age over 40 years. The other cast standout is Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach. He gives his best Eastwood throaty-snarl and his small stature does nothing to diminish his believability as a super-force, whether he's not in costume or wearing his "real" face -- a pretty nifty splotched and shifting mask. Haley's also going to be the new Freddy Krueger this year, and I have absolutely no doubt that he's going to be terrifying after seeing this flick.
And maybe I'll actually go to the theater to catch that movie, since seeing this one at home has finally given me a shot of remorse about missing something on the big screen.