Some more thoughts on Watchmen
I’ve been thinking a lot about Watchmen this week, which I think is a good sign, and paying attention to the online response to it. I’ve seen everything from "This movie is evil and you are evil if you want to see it" to "It puts me into a state of homosexual panic because it shows the penis of one of the characters" to "My favorite panel was not dramatized in the way I imagined and therefore Hollywood is evil and should be destroyed."
The people who hate, hate, hate it seem to fall into three groups: those who feel it isn’t enough like the comic, people who feel it’s too much like the comic, and those who cannot abide the very idea of people reading comics under any circumstances. It’s kind of strange to find, fifty or more years after Wertham, so many critics publicly denouncing comics readers. It’s one thing to say "I don’t like Watchmen because it’s long and boring and violent," all of which are defensible, but it’s something else again to say "I don’t like Watchmen because it was made to serve the needs of an audience I cannot stand."
The other movie I keep thinking about with regard to Watchmen is, oddly enough, Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. The novel Lolita was, in its time, also considered "unfilmable," and was also regarded as a modern classic. Kubrick, like the makers of Watchmen, faced a great deal of pressure from many different agencies — people who thought the novel and its audience were evil, people who thought the novel could not be served cinematically, and, of course, people who stood to make money off the final product.
While I think it’s too early to say that Zack Snyder is another Stanley Kubrick, the weird thing is, Zack Snyder’s movie of Watchmen is substantially more loyal to its source material than is Kubrick’s Lolita. Kubrick couldn’t do two-thirds of what he wanted to do with Lolita, and who knows what the movie would have been like if he had. But we now have Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, and we have Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and somehow the world didn’t end and both are still available to experience and both are more or less taken seriously by serious-minded folk. Zack Snyder, through a confluence of unrepeatable phenomena to rival the list that Dr. Manhattan recites to Silk Spectre II, somehow got more freedom to shoot his unfilmable modern classic than Kubrick did in 1962, and at much higher risk to the money folk, and whatever the outcome I think that has to be considered a good thing.
Whatever one thinks of it, Watchmen is a very dense narrative, and a very daring, ambitious piece of moviemaking — difficult, thorny and not easily digested — especially when one considers that it’s intended to be a mainstream smash and not some funky little boutique project. It is also, for better or worse, more or less the book. The people who, for whatever reason, were bored or outraged or confused (or thrown into a state of homosexual panic), I think, in the months and years to come, will find themselves arguing with their friends and haunted by the movie’s arresting images. I think they’ll start to see ideas and themes from the movie come up in their daily lives, and they’ll come back to it on DVD or whatever home-viewing options the future brings, and maybe they’ll be directed back to the book (which is #1 at Amazon this week) and maybe they’ll never completely "get" it, but at least it’s out there now to be experienced and to become part of our culture and I can’t see that as bad.
Meanwhile, David Hayter, one of Watchmen‘s screenwriters, has written an open letter to the movie-going audience. I’m going to re-post the entire text of the letter, not necessarily because I would have said it this way, but because it’s rare that I ever see a Hollywood screenwriter excited about the end product of his work:
AN OPEN LETTER FROM A WATCHMEN SCREENWRITER
So it has been five months since I saw my first rough cut of WATCHMEN, and eight days since the premiere of the film I’ve been working on since late in the year 2000.
The reviews are out — Some outstanding, others rankly dismissive, which can be frustrating for the people involved, (though I can only speak for myself,) because I firmly believe that WATCHMEN, the novel, must be read through more than once to even have the faintest grip on it. And I believe the film is the same.
I’ve seen it twice now, and despite having run the movie in my head thousands of times, my two viewings still don’t’ allow me to view the film with the proper distance or objectivity. Is it Apocalypse Now? Is it Blade Runner? Is it Kubrick, or Starship Troopers? I don’t know yet.
All I know is that I had a pretty amazing experience the two times I’ve seen it. And both viewings produced remarkably different experiences. The point is, I have listened for years, to complaints from true comic book fans, that "not enough movies take the source material seriously." "Too many movies puss out," or "They change great stories, just to be commercial." Well, I f***ing dare you to say any one of those things about this movie.
This is a movie made by fans, for fans. Hundreds of people put in years of their lives to make this movie happen, and every one of them was insanely committed to retaining the integrity of this amazing, epic tale. This is a rare success story, bordering on the impossible, and every studio in town is watching to see if it will work. Hell, most of them own a piece of the movie.
So look, this is a note to the fanboys and fangirls. The true believers. Dedicated for life.
If the film made you think. Or argue with your friends. If it inspired a debate about the nature of man, or vigilante justice, or the horror of Nixon abolishing term limits. If you laughed at Bowie hanging with Adrian at Studio 54, or the Silhouette kissing that nurse.
Please go see the movie again next weekend.
You have to understand, everyone is watching to see how the film will do in its second week. If you care about movies that have a brain, or balls, (and this film’s got both, literally), or true adaptations — And if you’re thinking of seeing it again anyway, please go back this weekend, Friday or Saturday night. Demonstrate the power of the fans, because it’ll help let the people who pay for these movies know what we’d like to see. Because if it drops off the radar after the first weekend, they will never allow a film like this to be made again.
In the interests of full disclosure, let me also point out that I do not profi t one cent from an increase in box office, although an increase in box office can add to the value of the writers’ eventual residual profits from dvd and tv sales.
But I’m not saying it for money. I’m saying it for people like me. I’m saying it for people who love smart, dark entertainment, on a grand, operatic scale. I’m talking to the Snake fans, the Rorschach fans, the people of the Dark Knight.
And hey, if you hated the film, if you think we committed atrocities, or literary mistakes of a massive, cephalopodic nature. If the movie made you a little sick to your stomach, or made you feel bad about your life. If you hated it for whatever reason, that’s cool too. I’m not suggesting you risk gastro-intestinal distress just for the sake of risky filmmaking.
But if you haven’t seen it yet? Well, I’ll just say this…
It may upset you. And it probably will upset you.
And all along, we really meant it to.
Because face it. All this time…You there, with the Smiley-face pin. Admit it.
All this time, you’ve been waiting for a director who was going to hit you in the face with this story. To just crack you in the jaw, and then bend you over the pool table with this story. With its utterly raw view of the darkest sides of human nature, expressed through its masks of action and beauty and twisted good intentions. Like a fry-basket full of hot grease in the face. Like the Comedian on the=2 0Grassy Knoll. I know, I know…
You say you don’t like it. You say you’ve got issues. I get it.
And yet… You’ll be thinking about this film, down the road. It’ll nag at you. How it was rough and beautiful. How it went where it wanted to go, and you just hung on. How it was thoughtful and hateful and bleak and hilarious. And for Jackie Earle Haley.
Trust me. You’ll come back, eventually. Just like Sally.
Might as well make it count for something.
Finally, here’s some Watchmen – inspired art I’ve found at various places around the internet.