Friday, March 13, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

The much awaited Watchmen movie is worth the waiting for. Based on an award winning graphic novel (meaning collected comic series) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-1987), it translated well to the big screen. It is about an alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is a third time elected President of the United States, and about a world that is on the point of destruction by nuclear war between the United States and USSR.

The movie starts with a rather long introductory credits which fill in details of this alternate timeline from the second world war to the 1980s. Then the movie proper started with the murder of an aging vigilante who called himself Comedian. The Comedian belonged to a group of vigilantes who came together masked to fight crime and do good. They are Nite Owl 1, Rorscharch, Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Ozmandias and Silk Spectre 1. At the time of the murder, almost all have retired, even Nite Owl 2 and Silk Spectre 2. Vigilantes have been outlawed.

By flashbacks, the characters are fleshed out by showing what they have done and what they are doing now they are old and retired. At first glance, it may be a story about what happen to superheroes when they grew old and retire.

Without revealing the plot and storyline, the movie brings to mind what Plato has written in The Republic about the philosopher-king and his elite whose primary purpose is to do good for their society. What happens if the only way for this good to be achieved for the society is for the philosopher-king and his elite to do evil; like murder and manipulation of people. In other words, does the end justified the means?

This is the question I struggled with when I watched The Dark Knight. In order to preserve Harvey Dent's good reputation and hence the good of Gotham, the citizens of Gotham must never know that Harvey is also the evil Two Face. Batman took the blame for all of Two Face's murders and thus became a hunted outlaw. This was a decision between Batman and James Gordon. A lie has to be maintained for the good of Gotham.

A similar issue arises in this movie. The USA and USSR is on an inevitable nuclear war on which the survival of the human race is in doubt. To save the human race, is it justifiable to commit murder, kill innocent people, deceive and manipulate friends? This is an obvious conflict between Kantian philosophy (the end never justifies the means) and consequentialism (the end justifies the means). The movie is slow moving in parts but cleverly directs the viewers to its inevitable conclusion. I can only sit in stunned horror at the end as the enormity of the plot unfolded. This is a good ending for a movie.

For a movie book based on a comic book, there is little fighting but a lot of conversation, a couple of sex scenes (censored, of course) and a glowing naked blue man walking around. I do not think it is a suitable movie to bring young children. Not only is it very long (about 3 hours), it is draggy at parts. In fact I was distracted by the other movie goers having their own conversations. I believe they are bored.

Nevertheless, I am looking forward for the DVD to come out which I believe and hope will be the four hours long version.




Blogger anthony said...

seems the dvd will only be 3 and 1/2 hours long, only having about 30 more minutes.

my daughter watched the movie with her newly-won fans of watchmen but was disappointed with the movie. in the words (as close as i can remember) of one of her friends who tagged along to watch the movie, 'if you have not read the book, you won't understand much of the movie. if you have read the book, you will be disappointed.'

one sore point was the deletion of many scenes of the psychiatrist's interview of Rorscharch. in the book, this is very well done as it slowly reveals how Rorscharch became who he was and how at the end of the interview, it is the psychiatrist who is the one being dissected apart!

most of the news vendor's scenes are also omitted in the movie and whatever they show in the movie lacks coherence.

the movie of course focused too much on the romance part and silk spectre cannot act but only played the bimbo part to perfection.

Ozmandias is played by a too young fella. in the book, he is much older, a contemporary of the others.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Anthony,

It seems we need to talk about the hermeneutics of movies. Do we exegise a movie on its own merits or on the book it is based upon. Note that the credits mentioned that it is 'based' upon and is not the book itself.

I do grant that the movie differs from the graphic novel in many ways. However it is a narrative in a different media.

At the moment I am having some intense discussion with some Bible Presbyterians on the Manga Bible on a similar issue.

I will like to hear your views on this. Maybe we can teach a course on this together :)

11:13 AM  
Blogger anthony said...

your comments are true, that's what i told my daughter. treat the movie as a different genre from the book. the book could tell the story at a more leisure pace with its twists and turn. movies on the other hand has to cater for the audience according to how the director interprets it. in this case, the director, in order to sell the movie, has to recourse to the old formulas that sell. unless a director makes an avant garde movie.

on manga bible, i have seen the book but never like it (since i don't dig manga in the first place). of course, it is an acceptable way to reach to a level of youths who grow up with it. just as some of us oldies growing up with fantastic four and hulk from the 60's. teach a course? i don't think i'm an authority on that!

2:00 PM  
Blogger anthony said...

you can read my daughter's two reviews of the movie (and coming from a die-hard watchmen fan).

3:25 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Anthony,

Thanks for the links. She does good reviews.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Paul Long said...

What do you think of this review?

3:11 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Paul,
The review? An excellent object lesson in missing the point.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Paul Long said...


This would be the very conservative Christian view of today's movies ...

3:36 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Paul,

Yes, it is a good example of biased, reactive, non analytical thinking. All the scenes the writer described are present in the Bible (maybe except the child biting off another's ear and the anti-American part).

Yet, in spite of all the horrors described in the Bible, we accept that the Bible have a message for us. Why can't we look for the message in the movie? It seems we are so caught up by the media that we have no time for the message.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Charis said...

Well, I'm going to see the movie again. And again. Because it's like the graphic novel - you can't possibly capture everything in there in one read. There are plenty of layers in the movie as well, and lots of things hidden around the place that shows that the filmmakers really did pay attention to the book after all.

Despite all the movie's shortcomings, it did do a pretty good job of translating the book to the screen, and it's not a movie that everyone is meant to like anyway.

So "disappointed" is not the word to describe my reaction to the movie. "Ambivalent" would be a better choice. Only a second, or third, viewing will tell.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Charis,

Welcome. Like you, I intend to see the movie again and again as I unpack the various levels of meanings. However I am waiting for the DVD version. Maybe the director's cut and commentaries.

6:55 PM  

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