A Ben Cohen Ink Comic


By Ben Cohen a “legendary master of the left field.” -BRP!

“Unintentionally misunderstood since 1975.” –Anonymous

“A big f@#k you, to the audience.” -B. Pendarvis

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Watchmen Review

At the end of the Mars scene, Dr. Manhattan’s humanity carries through more effectively in the film version of Watchmen, then in the comic. The success of this primarily CGI seen is accredited to the ensemble of an actor in a motion capture suit, his scene partner, animators, the script writers, storyboard artist, the cinematographer and the director. This is the only scene in my opinion that was appropriately more effective in telling the story then the comic version. That being said it is one of a handful of vital linchpin moments for the story and there were not many singular moments that were poorly done, but this story was designed specifically for the strengths of sequential art storytelling not for what some have suggested cinematic storytelling.

With comics you freeze moments, juxtapose theme. You allow readers to go back and ponder, or pause and observe minute details. You create simple and complex communications that can be metaphorical both in the terms of the layered visuals and words. You can tell an entire story in one panel or over an infinite number and in just like other kinds of books, you can provide no information at all and allow the reader to interpret (imagine, think) for them selves…this accurse in the “gutters.” In film, this approach makes for a challenging movie and often cannot be done; it is just not possible. In film beyond a millisecond of processing from the viewer most of the thinking for them happens after the fact in discussion or in reviewing and, yes, pausing and rewinding when you watch it on your TV or Computer at home.

The end of the Mars scene shows you the humanity, while the comic has you interject this. The showing for this singular moment is much more powerful and clear, because we are witness to it. Other scenes that take advantage are gratuitous at worst and negligible at best. The author of the comic, Alen Moore, not Neil Gaimen (as was suggested in one terrible review) has tried his best to distance himself from the film version, donating his share of the profit to his collaborating cartoonist Dave Gibbons. This is very understandable, because he wrote it in a way that was intended to make it unfilmable…as many including the director have suggested it is.

If you have read and enjoyed the comic, or studied it you will likely enjoy the movie. Those in this small club who did not like it are simply asking too much of the movie and its creators. The anti-hype of the omitted giant squid is nothing to get upset about. I certainly had my nit picks. The lack of focus on the “normal” characters such as the cops, the therapist or newsstand I felt took away from the grounding in reality that was intended in both the book and the film. We saw them, but they did not drive the story as much in the film. You didn’t get into the therapist home life. You did not get into the conservative conspiracy theories of the newspaper sales men. Both these help ground Rorschach in reality where he is not a lone wolf, but more sympathetic. Also at the newspaper stand you miss in this cut of the film reference to the boy and his comic in any great detail (but we all know that is available and will be more of a focus in the DVD). The newspaper stand has always served as a time stamp and a comment on the comic industries marketing failures and successes. This commentary is lost on the movie audience. The director Snyder, new going in it was a challenge that was likely unattainable. I even went in looking to witness an artist reach for success in the face of certain failure. It was not a spectacle of failure, but it predictable comes up short. As my friend Z@K said, it is made for those of us who loved the comic. Not for the casual audience.

All this is nice behind the scene’s nut and bolts stuff…but the truth is if you were not going to enjoy the comic you were not going to enjoy the movies. The comic was written as a critique of two things. One the Thatcher era politics in Britain, the US, the USSR and the worlds fears of nuclear holocaust. Two superhero comic books. It is an alternate universe in more ways then one, hell Nixon is president and its 1985. If you don’t like complex stories of mysteries, comments on geopolitical, critiques of pop culture, violence, sexuality, interpersonal dynamics, the human condition, history, and what could have been, than this is not the book for you. This is not the only comic to deconstruct the superhero iconography; Dan Clowes’s Eightball #23 (The Death-Ray), Chris Ware’s simple summation in his ACME series and D.P.7 in the Marvel New Universe are three of my other favorites. The last being the most palatable. When watching the film I commented during the preview of Observe and Report that it had a Tarantino feel to it. My wife commented that Watchmen was like a Tarantino version of Spiderman and every other superhero film. I did want to point out to her that Watchman predates the comic fan Tarantino’s films and the film is a critique of all of these comic superheroes (so they stole iconic elements from all kinds of superheroes when writing the book), but I am sure Tarantino influenced Snyder and I did not want to get into a chicken and egg thing. She felt it was self-indulgent and wanted to go and tell the director that they were not hot shit. She has not read the book, but that is not an excuse. I do not think she would like the book because it is disjointed…she doesn’t like that form of storytelling. I do. But if I was going at it from Mars I would not have enjoyed it, because in the film form it would have been to confusing. But I had reference points provided by reading the book to help me enjoy the moving parts, the cinematography, the acting, the sound track.

Speaking of which the film score and soundtrack was surprisingly smart. We are dealing with five decades of American history with some monumental changes, but the soundtrack along with the cinematography, set design, costume design and acting grounded each era very specifically in referential points that I thought were just as effective if not more then the book. Most of the songs were iconic and well known, but fit specifically the era they were portraying. I am not one for promoting over played songs, but in this case, it worked. The only time a song was out of place was when Jimmy Hendrix version of All Along the Watchtower was being played as we approached the climax…in 1985. This may have been a nod to the brilliance used in Battlestar Galactica with the same song. The score during the 80’s sued this Genesis/Joe Satriani vib that fit odd but perfectly for me having grown up during that time. I also felt the cheesiness of some scenes served the intentions of the stories critiques. Therefore, I over looked some oddities visually…but I could not go with the horrid Nixon impersonation. Most of the storytelling elements were pitch perfect if not put together right for a film.

All this being noted I would give it an A for effort and leave it at that.

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