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Old September 23 2010, 07:02 PM   #1
Lapis Exilis
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Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

So, rather randomly I rewatched the movie about a week ago and was reminded that I had intended to reread the book as well. I got my hands on it at the library and have almost finished.

I was one who did not find the movie particularly successful. Rereading the book I see several reasons why, though I had tended to be sceptical from the beginning for a couple of reasons:

First, having lived through the 80s I know that the general sense of the world has changed radically from the late Cold War era. Knowing how much the story depended on the paranoia of complete nuclear destruction, I suspected the film, hewing close to the original story, would feel out of touch. It did. So does the book honestly. It reads much more as highly fantastical alternate history than it did in 1986.

Second, I mostly remembered the book being a commentary on superheroes - that is it was a comic book about comic books, as much about the general idea of superheroes as it is a narrative. I feared a film would not be able to capture that quality because it was very dependent on the medium of comics themselves. This was also confirmed by rereading the book A LOT of what makes it interesting is the intertextual stuff - the book excerpts and the very famous interplay of Tales of the Black Freighter with the person-on-the-street experience within the story. The film did not reproduce these aspects at all.

However, I think the main reason the film was unsatisfying (for me) comes straight from the book. Take out the intertextual stuff (as the film did) and what you're left with is a lot of people standing around yakking about their thoughts on life. Not the most cinematic of stuff really. No wonder Snyder had to slow mo the hell out of the action scenes (besides his general fetish for that) to make them take up more of the story.

Don't get me wrong - the book is still interesting for its deconstruction of the superhero concept. It does present some intriguing ideas on how anyone who would dress up in costumes and fight crime would have to be either a raging psychotic (Rorschach, the Comedian), a narcissist (Veidt), an opportunist (Sally Jupiter), a romantic (Dan), or a god so powerful as to lose touch with humanity (Dr. Manhattan). But I think it missteps storytelling-wise in making Rorschach a little too right and Veidt a little too wrong.

What I mean is, the core narrative dilemma, which is really quite interesting, could have been, was Veidt right to do what he did? But he is presented as such as an incredibly annoying narcissist in the 11th issue that you can't help but hate him. All ambiguity is taken out of the picture because he's so obviously a complete putz. I was disappointed in that because it seems to make the last act of the story devolve into traditional superhero territory (with the twist, of course, that the mad scientist pulls off his evil scheme instead of being thwarted by our stalwart heroes). Veidt even pauses upon arriving at his hideaway to put on his silly Ozymandias costume. I know right before I enact a stunning move designed to ensure the future of humanity through a vicious sacrifice, I always like to put on gold tights and a stylish purple loincloth...

Watchmen was instrumental in creating my interest in comics, and in reading it again I can see very clearly what it did for the genre (both good and bad). But in the end analysis, I thought I'd probably see its flaws more clearly reading it 25 years later. And I did.
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Old September 24 2010, 04:12 AM   #2
Yassim
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

Lapis Exilis wrote: View Post
But I think it missteps storytelling-wise in making Rorschach a little too right and Veidt a little too wrong.

What I mean is, the core narrative dilemma, which is really quite interesting, could have been, was Veidt right to do what he did? But he is presented as such as an incredibly annoying narcissist in the 11th issue that you can't help but hate him.
I would word that core dilemma a little differently. The book seems to come a little more from the angle of examining the connection between means and ends, motives and results. If HJ gets off on violence, is he still your "hero" if he prevents you being mugged? Is Rorschach a hero, if he kills a rapist? Ozymandias clearly thinks he's a superhero. Manhattan clearly is one, but can't remember what it might mean.

In the end, right or wrong, every character but Rorschach sides with Ozymandias... I find the book paints Rorschach's demise as partly just suicide - I don't quite see the "martyrdom" that some others see.

Ozy clearly is a narcissist, but on some level, he's earned it. He clearly is miles ahead of every other character. And he's one of the first superheros to operate on a larger playing field than beating up bad guys. I think he makes a great Dr. Doom - his evil is believing in his own good... if that makes sense.

Of course it's dated. But I think it (and the Dark Knight, for that matter) holds up. I would certainly hold it up against anything else in the medium.

(I would agree, though, that the movie, by intent or just by way of mistranslation, highlighted the ... talky? ponderous? tone of the book. I would really be hardpressed, though, to name one single important flaw of the movie, though. It was dreck.)
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Old September 24 2010, 06:29 AM   #3
Gaith
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

A very interesting thought piece. Thanks for sharing it. Your suggestion that there should have been more debate over Ozy's scheme reminds me of the movie Fail Safe - have you seen it?

Yassim wrote: View Post
In the end, right or wrong, every character but Rorschach sides with Ozymandias...
They agree to keep his acts secret; that doesn't mean that they'd have sanctioned it beforehand or in retrospect.

What grabbed me most about the book was how there is no traditional action sequence; Ozy explains what he's done, and that's that. The movie stomped all over the delicious topsy-turvyness of the scene by having the three of 'em fight between lines. Which I can understand in the context of the theatrical, but I really wish that Snyder had shot an alternate cut of that sequence without all the punch-punch.
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Old September 24 2010, 12:01 PM   #4
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

They did attack him in the book, it's just the movie drew it out more in between the monologue.
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Old September 24 2010, 12:05 PM   #5
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

The one thing I did prefer about the film is that part of the ending (and this is heresy to many), Doc. Manhattan being the 'threat' worked better for me than a giant squid teleporting into New York.

Is Rorschach a hero, if he kills a rapist?
One of my main problems with the film is that he changes the characters of Dan and Laurie in a way that removes some of the distance the characters have between them. A Laurie who is stabbing blades into people's necks isn't that far removed from Rorschach, indeed it's almost worse in that Rorschach is clearly mentally ill while in the film Dan and Laurie kill people in a matter of a fact manner and never give it a second thought.
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Old September 24 2010, 12:13 PM   #6
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

The book was exceptional and I did enjoy the movie. The opening scenes with the fabulous soundtrack was pretty amazing actually.
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Old September 24 2010, 07:10 PM   #7
Myasishchev
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

Mr Light wrote: View Post
They did attack him in the book, it's just the movie drew it out more in between the monologue.
Yeah, in what in retrospect is the worst sequence in the book, even if you don't notice it the first time around.

It's like Alan Moore subcontracted with Chris Claremont for that one page.

JoeZhang wrote:
The one thing I did prefer about the film is that part of the ending (and this is heresy to many), Doc. Manhattan being the 'threat' worked better for me than a giant squid teleporting into New York.
Arguable, but I agree with you.

It's also a better plan from a practical standpoint, since it might have been a whole eight or nine days before the squid was revealed as a fraud.
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Old September 25 2010, 01:33 AM   #8
suarezguy
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

Lapis Exilis wrote: View Post
I think it missteps storytelling-wise in making Rorschach a little too right and Veidt a little too wrong.

What I mean is, the core narrative dilemma, which is really quite interesting, could have been, was Veidt right to do what he did? But he is presented as such as an incredibly annoying narcissist in the 11th issue that you can't help but hate him. All ambiguity is taken out of the picture because he's so obviously a complete putz.
I think the negative depictions of Rorschach and the Comedian's (who I didn't feel sympathy for, as most have) attitudes and actions do well in showing the context of why Ozy acted, what he was up against.
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Old September 25 2010, 01:56 AM   #9
Silvercrest
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

Myasishchev wrote: View Post
JoeZhang wrote:
The one thing I did prefer about the film is that part of the ending (and this is heresy to many), Doc. Manhattan being the 'threat' worked better for me than a giant squid teleporting into New York.
Arguable, but I agree with you.

It's also a better plan from a practical standpoint, since it might have been a whole eight or nine days before the squid was revealed as a fraud.
That always struck me as the biggest glaring hole in Veidt's plan. You've got all this advanced genetic technology available, and not all of it is controlled by Veidt. Who's going to stop someone from running a DNA test on the squid's brain and noticing that it's human? There's no way Veidt could keep that under wraps.

Why was the attack on Veidt the worst in the book? It seemed perfectly in character for Rorschach, and for Veidt. I admit Nite Owl's use of that laser seemed excessive.
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Old September 25 2010, 02:01 AM   #10
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

I haven't read the book, but if my understanding of it is accurate I have to say the movie ending seems preferable.

I'm not entirely sure it's fair to call Ozy a narcissist based on what we see...is it narcissism to call yourself the world's smartest man if you actually -are- the world's smartest man? I realize it's beside the point, but I kind of wonder what happens to him after the events shown...he ultimately stikes me as more pragmatic than self-righteous about the actions that he undertakes.
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Old September 25 2010, 02:47 AM   #11
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

It used to be that writers believed the best way to make readers and audiences to sympathize with a character was to show them loving someone, or having their love rejected. Nonromantic love did the trick just fine.

Thus, the Nite Owls are sympathetic characters as is Dr. Manhattan, suffering unrequited love. When Dan and Laurie cave in at the end, their lovemaking redeems them as sympathetic, despite being completely implausible. Even the Comedian is portrayed as having some sort of feelings for Sally and Laurie. Of course, the Comedian is portrayed as killing another mother of his child. But she was a vicious harpy who attacked him, no? Even Sally gets to look good while being motherly. Rorschach of course is the poster child for pure, innocent love cruelly betrayed.

The only word on Ozymandias' loves is Rorschach's insinuation he is homosexual. The more heroic Rorschach is, the more definitive this judgment.

The modern trend, evidently followed by Moore as well, is to make readers and audiences sympathize with characters by making them winners. The victory may be physical but it could just as easily be from being wittier or even just being better dressed. The victory could on occasion be a moral victory.

Notably, the Comedian's death was painted as a moral victory, complete with cops praising his hell of a fight. The movie highlighted this with the literally incredible physical punishment absorbed by the Comedian in the murder scene. Nite Owl and Laurie are set upon their path to redemption by beating the gang. The movie emphasized the magnitude of their victory by the extreme violence.

Dr. Manhattan's near omnipotence enthrals so much the readers and audience scarcely notice the character is extraordinarily passive, thoughtless (despite all the homilies on predestination etc.,) and rather strange. Is it really so out of the question that Dr. Manhattan wanted to dump his girl friend for jailbait? Or that he wanted group sex? The halo effect of being The Winner blinds readers and audiences to what Manhattan is. The Comedian accuses him of not caring enough to save the woman but Dr. Manhattan had been slaughtering Vietnamese and accepting their worship in effect.

Rorschach triumphs over every obstacle but Dr. Manhattan. It is quite clear his diary will be published and ruin Ozymandias' plan, as Dr. Manhattan says, which makes Rorschach's death a moral victory like the Comedian's. Dr. Manhattan doesn't get the girl and doesn't get the tragic martyrdom. His superiority unmans his shrink. Rorschach wears the Biggest Winner label.

Ozymandias is humiliated by the Comedian. We don't get to see his eventual victory. Ozymandias' plan is undone by Rorschach. Probably the crowning humiliation is the way Dr. Manhattan simply reassembles himself. Ozymandias was a fool to think for a second he had disposed of Dr. Manhattan.

The subtext of the Rorschach's superiority over Ozymandias clearly implies that Ozymandias is a giant dick. The pirate story says Ozymandias became a villain because he was a fool who took counsel of his fears. The title, referring to the Roman proberb, implies the superheroes power as such is the problem. Notably, it is Rorschach and the Comedian, the ones with no tricks or gadgets, who are the most admired. The book and the movie clearly do not think Ozymandias was ever possibly right.

The peculiar thing is, I don't believe Alan Moore intended this. I suspect the fundamental problem is that the real way to deconstruct superheroes is elementary physcis and chemistry. Tacitly assuming the fantasy universe where the superheroes exist takes its toll on the critical faculties, including the author's.
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Old September 25 2010, 05:55 PM   #12
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

I grew up in the 80's but only read Watchmen before the movie came out, then I saw it in the theater. I liked both but they were different in enough ways to see why people loved/hated one or the other. They were similar enough too to see people loved/hated them for the same reason.

The story is way out of context for anyone who was not brought up with the fear of nuclear annihilation. Even being a child of the 80's you probably don't feel the impact as much as someone who grew up from the 50's-70's when it probably felt closer than ever instead of the sudden end that we got in the late 80's/early 90's.

Being so close to the source material made the movie suffer somewhat. It's main reason for being afraid (nuclear war) is not what makes people afraid today (that's a more nebulous and vague terrorist threat or fear of other less fatal things such as the tanking economy or your future). So we're left with this lesser fear for us to understand the people of this movie.

Also, superheroes have undergone immense change in popular public opinion. They've gone from newspaper comics to comic books and adult-oriented to being seen as children-only material and relegated to a passing interest to a mixture of children and adult content with public acceptance of them, at least as far as movies go.

Comics in the 1980's and by extension, super heroes were still seen as children's stuff, not something for adults to read. The heroes in Watchmen were an exception and that made them stand out even in the growing movement of "gritty" super heroes we later got in the 90's.

There are a lot of ways to deconstruct, analyze and read the story of both the book and movie but in the end I don't think anyone will quite agree on any single interpetation.
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Old September 25 2010, 08:24 PM   #13
Myasishchev
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

Silvercrest wrote: View Post
Why was the attack on Veidt the worst in the book? It seemed perfectly in character for Rorschach, and for Veidt. I admit Nite Owl's use of that laser seemed excessive.
I mean the second attempt, by Rorshach alone, on Page 19 of Chapter 11. Have you ever tried a two hundred word speech in the span of one punch?

Absolutely bizarrely, the first attempt on Page 17, to which you refer, is ultra-realist: Dan gets out "Adrian don't make me kgguh", one word per panel, until he gets clocked with a metal disc, during a six panel action sequence that obviously takes about three seconds, tops.

The time elapsed during Rorshach's attempt to stab Adrian with a fork is certainly about the same, but Adrian manages to monologue through it as if it were three minutes.

This sort of time-play used to be very common to comics, because, unlike in cinema, if video and audio lose sync there is no loss of meaning. Thus there's nothing really stopping an author from putting in physically impossible speech, except for their own sense of timing and tolerance level for narrative bullshit.

The undisputed master of the phenomenon is Chris Claremont; in these latter days, it's probably what he's most famous for, as opposed to long-form storytelling, high melodrama, strong female protagonists, or giving crippling emotional issues to every character. No, he's remembered as "That guy you don't have to draw backgrounds for, because he's gonna fill 'em with word balloons anyway."

This kind of tells you how successful "cinematic" authors like Warren Ellis and Mark Millar have been in transforming the "rules" of the medium. But back in the day--and Watchmen was very much back in the day, being twenty-five years old--it was so commonly used that it has its own TVTropes page ("Talking is a free action"). But can you imagine if Zack Snyder had used his trademark slo-mo during the fight, but kept Adrian talking at a normal rate? That sort of nonsense would be laughed out of town. This is probably what Moore means when he talks about comics as its own medium, and he's right.

What I can't quite determine is whether Alan Moore invoked this on purpose, as a wink toward that sort of comic writing style, or if he did it on accident, or for another reason--like he needed some kinetic element in those panels, but couldn't sacrifice the exposition he was otherwise going to put in them. Maybe it's even Dave Gibbons' contribution, although with the way Moore scripts, this is highly doubtful.

I'm leaning toward "other reason." He wasn't shy in employing the technique during the didactic scenes in Promethea, and although that's a very different kind of comic, I can see him not minding using it in Watchmen. There's also a few other examples where narrative convenience trumps physically possible speech--though they're less obvious--so that's my final analysis as to why.

Now is this trope a good thing, that should be encouraged? Or even a neutral thing, to be tolerated?

Hell no. If used in a limited, artful fashion, the trope is invisible, and that's perhaps using the comics medium to its fullest potential; but when it becomes as glaringly obvious as it was on Page 19 there, then the author is very much doing it wrong.

Edit: caveat--an exception to the rule is the Flash.
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Old September 25 2010, 08:35 PM   #14
Mr Light
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

For the scene you're talking about, I pictured Ror very slowly stalking behind him while he's monologuing, so that it would take a long time since he's moving so slow he wouldn't make any sound of rustling cloth.
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Old September 25 2010, 08:50 PM   #15
Myasishchev
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Re: Thoughts Upon Rereading Watchmen

I'm looking at the page right now.

Chapter 11, Page 19, Panel 1:

Rorschach tries to stab Adrian with a fork; Adrian blocks it with a... drink coaster, I guess.

Adrian: Was he rehearsing it, perhaps, as the motorcade reached the plaza...
...never suspecting that on the walls of world tyranny, cross-hairs watched him. [sic, should be a question mark, oughtn't it? ]

Panel 2:

Flashback panel! Back in the 1970s, Adrian is telling Moloch to come get some.

Adrian: [in caption] "We all realized then then how bad things were. I continued adventuring, but it seemed hollow.
"I only fought the symptoms, leaving the disease itself unchecked."

Panel 3:

Back to the present. Adrian pulls Rorschach's mask, either blinding him, or (as some suggest) playing on Rorshcach's obsessive-compulsiveness.

Adrian: I despised myself; my sham crusade. Knowing mankind's problems, I'd blinded myself to them.
I felt helpless against forces greater than any I'd anticipated.

...And so forth.

Maybe Adrian shouldn't have felt so powerless! After all, he's got super speed.

Seriously, three panels, maybe one full second. Say those words out loud and time how long it takes to say them. You can picture it how you wish, I guess, but it's a comic: the pictures come for free.
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