Friday, March 13, 2009

I understand that Watchmen is a film that wants to beat you up and rape you. So go see it...twice.

Attention comic book readers! Do you have anything planned for this weekend? Are you thinking about going to the movies this week, maybe taking in Race to Witch Mountain (A big muscular guy! Superpowers!) or The Last House of the Left, the latest completely unnecessary remake of a horror classic?

Sure, you could do that…if you hate comic books! Don’t you realize it’s your duty not only to go see Watchmen in its first week of release, preferably during its opening weekend, but to also go back and see it again this weekend?

That’s the message of this “Open Letter From a Watchmen Screenwriter” written by David Hayter, which I only exaggerate slightly.

It is, hopefully, someone pretending to be Hayter, saying things for comedic effect, but it sure seems genuine, which is hilarious/depressing. I suggest you go read it in its entirety if you're going to proceed. I'm going to parse it below, but not every single word, so, to be fair to Hayter, you're probably better off reading what he said as he said it first.


Writes Hayter:

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.

In all honesty, I’m sure reading a reviews of any movie you make an be extremely frustrating, given the amount of time and energy one must spend making them (Hayter said he’s been working on it since 2000).

Of course, I’m sure it’s frustrating to everybody who makes any movie, or anybody who works really hard on anything only to see other people not appreciate what they’ve done, or at least not appreciate it in the way or to the extent they would have liked them to.

Hayter’s certainly correct that one needs to read Watchmen the graphic novel (or is he talking about a novelization of the movie?) repeatedly to suck all of the levels of meaning out of it, although “faintest grip” is perhaps overselling how complex it is. It’s definitely overselling the complexity of the infinitely less complex film. Maybe you need to see it repeatedly to get everything that’s there to get about it, although since many of the multiple meanings that might be there are from the graphic novel you’ve already read more than once, that seems kind of unlikely, doesn’t it?

I’ve only seen the film once, but I don’t feel like I don’t even have the “faintest grip” of it. It wasn’t exactly Inland Empire, you know?

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.

Again, to be serious for a moment, I’m sure Hayter doesn’t have the proper distance or objectivity to appraise a work he spent eight years of his life intensely involved with.

But man, these are some pretty easy questions. Ask anyone.

Is it Apocalypse Now? No, but it did allude to/homage/shamelessly lift from it at one point.

Is it Blade Runner? No, no it is not Blade Runner.

Is it Kubrick? Ha ha ha ha!

Oh, were you serious? Then no, no it is not Kubrick.

Is it Starship Troopers? Mmm, maybe, if it’s lucky. Both are exceptionally violent and gory for science fiction movies, both are adaptations, both have political messages.

This is a movie made by fans, for fans.

Oh, well there’s your problem right there. Have you ever read, say, fiction 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.

Hundreds of people put in years of their lieves to make most studio movies, of course. Granted, a lot of them aren’t always committed to retaining the integrity of their source material.

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.

Oh. Well, this film didn’t do any of those things to me, other than make me think—but mostly about the nature of adaptation and movie-making in general*.

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.

Hmm, I went to the bathroom during the Rorshach vs. the pedophile scene, did that show him chopping up the guys brains and balls? Because I suppose then there really was literally a brain and balls in the movie. Otherwise, I don’t remember seeing any.

I’m not sure what to make of if the second weekend isn’t boffo, “they will never allow a film like this to be made again” argument.

How is that a bad thing, exactly?

Never another Zack Snyder movie, meaning someone else will have to remake old zombie movies, adapt Frank Miller graphic novels in the style of other directors’ Frank Miller graphic novel adaptations, and use graphic novels as storyboards?

Never another movie based on an Alan Moore written comic, sparing us future LXGs, From Hells or V From Vendettas?

I assume he means one of those two things, because if he simply means movies aimed at adult audiences that are based on graphic novels, well Ghost World, American Splendor, History of Violence, Road To Perdition, Persepolis and 300 all got made okay before this. And it’s not like all of the superhero comics adaptations are aimed at kids these days. Or maybe he just means an R-rated superhero movie? In which case, we won’t see any more superhero movies with ultraviolence and a funny sex scene with them?

Well, I can live with that, I suppose.

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.

Whew. I'm off the hook then. I didn’t hate it, but I don’t think I’d want to spend another three hours and $5 on it either.

I don’t know that I’d call it “risky,” exactly, since the main risk seemed to be adding a great deal violence to one of the best-selling and best-reviewed comics of all time.

And here’s the classiest part, where he ends by comparing members of the audience to a rape victim in the movie who later has consensual sex with her attempted rapist and has a daughter she loves:

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 Grassy 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.

Yeesh. That bit actually kind of makes me wish I didn’t go see last weekend.

*I'm still putting my thoughts about it together. I'll probably post a ten million word review-ish type thing of the movie here tomorrow night


CoreyBean said...

That last bit was just plain gross.

Mana G said...

I'm with you; I now feel dirty, and angry at myself, for having seen the film in the first place. I imagine that was not what the writer intended to make me feel.

Hdefined said...

Nothing Hayter says bothers me, for he is the voice of Solid Snake, and thus will always be my hero.

Frequency said...

Watchmen as a literary work is overrated. As a comic book is great, but dated. As good as the stupid giant squid was of a plan, we now know it was dumb, cause there was no nuclear holocaust.

Anyway, the movie is there and even if the added violence was unnecessary and had an awkward sex scene, still it was a faithful adaptation and the graphic novel had a lot of silly moments too. Alan Moore is not very good writing romance.

EDP said...

I have to agree with Frequency. I waited too late to read "Watchmen," and while I totally get its importance, I don't think it has aged well. Alan Moore has some fascinating ideas and deserves his props (see "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen") but I don't revere "Watchmen" the way many of my friends do. But way to go, Jackie Earle Haley.

McBangle said...

Wow, that last part is horrible.

BTW, it only costs you $5 to see a movie??

Melissa said...

I was debating whether or not I wanted to see it, and I definitely won't be seeing it after that comment. Not Okay.

Michael Hoskin said...

Why you gotta be a Hayter?

>Is it Blade Runner? No, no it is not Blade Runner.

Too right! Watchmen is good.

Watchmen is certain to make its budget back, so I don't see why people should feel obliged to see it multiple times. It's not as though this is the start of a new film franchise, nor is it the start of Snyder's career.

I don't know where his mind was when he compared his audience to rape victims. Maybe he wants to get Millar's attention?

John Foley said...

I saw the movie twice. I was uncertain about it after one viewing, but felt much better after the second. I'll probably see it at least one more time in the theater. I thought that all involved (save Malin Akerman and, to a lesser extent, Matt Goode) did yeoman's work. This was about as good a Watchmen adaptation as we were ever going to get.
With that said- put a sock in it, David Hayter. You had me squarely in your corner until that line about Sally coming back. Equating multiple viewings of a superhero movie with the abused woman who forgave and conceived a child with her abuser? Hahaha, what a funny joke! My sides hurt. I imagine he regrets writing that line, but how does one's mind even go there?

coffee maker said...

I loved they way they bridged different generations throughout the movie, both with props (like the floppy discs) and with music

Hdefined said...

"This was about as good a Watchmen adaptation as we were ever going to get."

Better half-assed than not at all?

Caleb said...

As a comic book is great, but dated. As good as the stupid giant squid was of a plan, we now know it was dumb, cause there was no nuclear holocaust.

I don't think I'd go so far as to call it overrated, but it's certainly quite dated. And Alan Moore did get the Cold War wrong (thank God!), but I guess most folks did (again, thankfully). My next Watchmen post will discuss the timeliness factor a bit.

I waited too late to read "Watchmen," and while I totally get its importance, I don't think it has aged well.

Yeah, I didn't read it until 2000, so it was already a mega-revered bit of the comic book canon by the time I read it. At this point, I think it's probably really hard to even experience it in a vacuum the way folks must have in the late '80s.

BTW, it only costs you $5 to see a movie??

That was a Saturday morning matinee. The AMC I went to has all sorts of different prices depending on the time of day, day of the week, phase of the moon etc. I haven't gone at night for a while, but I think it's about $8.50normally.

This was about as good a Watchmen adaptation as we were ever going to get.

There are a ton of little ways I think it could have been better (subject of upcoming post) and maybe one or two big ways, but barring, like, film geniuses given a carte blanche by the studios, I do think this is probably as good a Watchmen film adaptation that could have been hoped for.

Tasha Robinson at the Onion AV Club said something along the lines of if the things she didn't like were the cost of getting the things she did in the film, it was overall worth it.

John Foley said...

Better half-assed than not at all?

I think it's clear that I didn't find the movie to be half-assed. I wouldn't have seen it twice (at least) if I thought there was nothing there.

Yes, there are certainly plenty of criticisms that can be leveled against the picture, but lack of effort is not one of them. I'm sure they were trying to get as much information and substance into it, but the running time simply didn't allow it. I could have used at least 45 minutes more movie, but it was not going to happen.

Ultimately, the filmmakers had too many things holding them back: the complexity of the source material, the relative lack of Watchmen name recognition, the dearth of big name actors, the budget, the 1985 timeframe, etc. Ideally this would have been two movies or even three, but it's a miracle that even one got made. The one that ended up on screen impressed me despite its shortcomings. A Director's Cut with restored footage will please me even more, I'm sure.

If you hated the movie or were just indifferent to it- that's up to you. If you think Zack Snyder is a hack or you don't like his style- again, up to you. I just don't think that Snyder and company can be accused of half-assing it.

Knight of Nothing said...

I thought Watchmen was great in the way that Blue Velvet or Taxi Driver were great: bizarre, unique, violent, and indifferent to/disdainful of the audience's comfort/discomfort.

One poster wrote, "Yes, there are certainly plenty of criticisms that can be leveled against the picture, but lack of effort is not one of them." I agree; I would add that the effort was directed at faithfulness to Moore's original work and to crafting a provocative film, not to making a blockbuster. I appreciate that!

As for Hayter, well, artists say a lot of dumb-ass shit about their work (see Alan Moore). Doesn't make their work bad.

FWIW, here's my quasi-review.

Hdefined said...

"I think it's clear that I didn't find the movie to be half-assed. I wouldn't have seen it twice (at least) if I thought there was nothing there."

Er, "half-assed" implies that there would be "half" the quality there, not nothing.

"I just don't think that Snyder and company can be accused of half-assing it."

I didn't say that either. They put in their full efforts to make it a Complete Watchmen Experience by Zach Snyder. I just think that a Complete Watchmen Experience by Zach Snyder is a half-assed Watchmen.

John Foley said...


Thanks for the English lesson.

plok said...

The idea that the squid was "dumb" because a nuclear war never happened...

...Offends me slightly, I think. Nuclear war almost happened, several times. It could have happened, at any time. No one got anything "wrong", we all just got really fucking lucky.

I don't know why, but it seems like this is in danger of being forgotten, in certain places 'round the Internet.

Leigh Walton said...

Not to mention that, er, the USA didn't ACTUALLY conquer Vietnam in the 70s with the aid of an omnipotent blue physicist. The whole premise of the book is that the presence of superheroes alters the history of the world and brings US/USSR relations to the point of nuclear war.

I don't think Watchmen's credibility rests on the question of whether nuclear holocaust actually took place in 1988.