Sunday, July 26, 2009

Who Will Watch The Watchmen?

After what seemed like forever, Zach Snyder took the reins and managed to put The Watchmen on film. And thereafter, after much ado, I managed to score a copy of same on Blu-Ray.

I won't bother going into detail about the significance of the original graphic novel upon its release (nor in its continued longevity) nor the plot highlights nor the story nor any of that; nor will I parrot much of the same tidbits on-screen and online movie critics did with respect to the film version of this story. It's neither relevant nor an efficient use of space.

Having said all that, I was mostly impressed at the scope and the magnitude of the film. It was, more or less, engrossing and entertaining, despite its three-hour run time, and the effects and the fact that it very closely mirrored the novel itself -- in some cases, frame by frame -- really blew me away.

I don't remember the last time I saw a film and was so engaged and locked on for so long. It's not only because this film ran far longer -- almost double -- than most films do these days. It's that the story, coupled with the imagery and the far-reaching aspects of the project as a whole -- really captured and commanded my focus, sort of like watching one of the Godfather films for the first time.

It's the antithesis of a simple retelling of a comic book. But the Watchmen story -- a "graphic novel," if you will -- wasn't just another comic book. It dealt with sophisticated, adult themes: nuclear annihilation, rape, kidnapping, pornography, religion, the slow but steady decline of American society, and geopolitical unrest that genuinely threatened the human race as much, if not moreso, since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And those just top the list of this story's general themes.

The fact that the story is set in or around 1984 isn't particularly relevant, nor is the fact that Richard Nixon remained president (five terms, actually) since his initial term following Kennedy's assassination. Essentially, the film is as strongly tied to the novel as is any film you're likely to see.

Essentially, why it took so long to commit this story to film is that no one could accept the responsibility of projecting the entire breadth of the Watchmen story into a film without sacrificing packets of the story, which were critical to understanding it in its proper, massive scale. I'm not really sure how Zach Snyder, the director, managed to do so, but he shoehorned the entire story -- or the majority thereof -- into the three-hour run time. Some of the story, especially in its filmed form, was a bit ridiculous. But because this film features grown adults running around in costume -- replete with capes, masks, etc. -- the suspension of disbelief is a requirement for this film as much as 3D glasses are for a movie filmed in 3D.

Overall, if at all possible, I recommend viewing this film in Blu-Ray only because 90% of it is shot in partial or complete darkness, much as was The Dark Knight. It's not hard to see what's happening on screen but because Zach Snyder celebrates the details as he does, missing a third or more of same due to a poor source -- even a standard DVD -- will detract from the overall experience. Also advisable is viewing the movie in a proper setting with a system that can handle the dynamics of a film source that features whispers and explosions. This film makes extensive use of CGI (as much if not moreso than did his previous film, 300) but a good chunk of the CGI in this film was an ancillary but valuable part of the film nonetheless. In 300, none of the film was shot outdoors -- the skies and the surroundings were all CGI. In this film, there are endless uses of CGI but they're more in keeping with the Watchmen world (eg a New York seemingly ready to feed on itself in the absence of law, order and sanity).

I was and remain very surprised this film was green-lighted; inasmuch as I did enjoy it I could have predicted it would be a relative failure at the box office. How this could compete for dollars with any generic romantic comedy featuring Kate Hudson, Jennifer Garner, Sandra Bullock or Anne Hathaway is rhetorical; it can't and won't. What it is, however, is an epic portrayal of an epic story that spans decades and features an extremely solid cast (Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, etc.), revolutionary effects, a solid story, and, overall, will likely stay with you long after you've seen it. However, it's the kind of film that requires a commitment from the viewer, and I would advise anyone who hasn't read the novel to either do so prior to viewing or not bother at all. It's an intense retelling of a story that I really enjoyed, but it's not for everyone and while I'll view this film again, it's not the kind of easily-watchable film that will endear it to many.

But to answer the question "Who Will Watch the Watchmen?" count me in.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Someday, After A While

Despite the glut of repetitive coverage for the quickly-rising number of dead celebrities reported over the past few weeks, with a specific nod to Michael Jackson's shocking death, there's an article memorializing Robert McNamara, who died this morning at the age of 93, and there will likely be nothing further mentioned on this topic by any of the large news outlets, simply because the coming days will see far more Michael Jackson tribute/coverage and real "news."

However, McNamara wasn't a second-rate plug-in political hack like Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or Joe Biden. McNamara was a tough and bright guy who took us from the crusty, artificial sheen of the 1950's into the modern era. Not only did he revolutionize the way the military-industrial complex interacted with its civilian counterparts, he took the entire system into the then-emerging world of computers and organized the US military into something not just mighty but relatively efficient.

And of course there are a couple of other issues with which he had direct involvement: Cuba and Vietnam.

While most relatively alert Americans have a concept of these terms within the scope of their nation's history, far too many regard those two nations as, respectively, a tourist destination of the future (or a good source of spanish-speaking major league baseball pitchers) and an excellent source of knowledge for southeast Asian cuisine.

In the Kennedy Administration, McNamara was tabbed -- from his post as President of Ford Motor Company -- as Secretary of Defense. He shepherded the US through the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and the subsequent fallout and guided the nation's policy on Vietnam -- incorrectly receiving much of the blame the US military wound up receiving.

As to the former, to paraphrase, he suggested it was mere luck that Russia and the US didn't engage in a nuclear war over Cuba, and the latter, he said, was a failed political state during the administrations of both Kennedy and Johnson.

"External military force cannot reconstruct a failed state, and Vietnam, during much of that period, was a failed state politically. We didn't recognize it as such."

Rarely do public figures these days acknowledge their mistakes. Far fewer learn from them.

In retrospect, his death at 93 is certainly anticlimactic, for sure; it's ironic that the man who led Kennedy and the nation through such turbulent times and outlived so many of his peers was relegated to a footnote in the wake of posthumous Michael Jackson coverage.

Incidentally, there won't be a test, but if you have any interest whatsoever in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's assassination and extremely good interpretative historical fiction, the James Ellroy novel American Tabloid (2001) is a must-read. It doesn't do much for McNamara's legacy, and he will likely be remembered with increasing respect the further this nation progresses past the haunted legacy of Vietnam. Unfortunately, by relegating his passing as a mere footnote in the wake of Michael Jackson tribute coverage is extremely unfortunate and somewhat disappointing, but, if nothing else, patently American.

As I mentioned above, while the press spews forth multiple orgasms in the form of Michael Jackson coverage, it seems at once simultaneously wrong and disturbingly appropriate that one of the men who guided us here is regarded with so little significance to the modern America to which he contributed as we glorify relatively insignificant entertainers from the country, or the semblance thereof, which has emerged.

The Blast from The Future

As per usual, we had a kickin' weekend. We watched the fireworks, we spent the entire weekend together, we hung out with friends, we painted and prepped pottery, we watched Bride Wars and Role Models (I didn't get a chance to copy the Blu-Ray for Rachel Getting Married onto the drive) and, invariably, we both agree with the reading from a gent in SFO that our plans for the near- and not-so-near future are dead-on. The one thing that I regret is that she and I didn't meet ten or more years ago. Had we met so long ago, we could have been approaching our second decade instead of only five years, and neither of us would have had to put up with the trash -- aggravation and the (in)significant others that we did. Which leads me to wonder whether we appreciate one another because we're a perfect fit, or because we realized that we wasted so much of our time with such shitty people? I think the answer is, in both our cases, irrelevant...once you've wiped shit off your shoe, why bother contemplating it or remain irritated you stepped in it in the first place?

Meanwhile, we had a blast at home -- pardon me if that sounds prurient -- and if you want to get a good idea of how much fun we had alone, together, after dark, in the privacy of our little abode, here's something...interactive... (yes, it's NSFW) ;-)

Enjoy, and happy (belated) 4th ;-)