My good friend Erik and I went to see The Watchmen yesterday. Erik has written his initial, sort of knee-jerk, reactions (which are beautifully realized for only having an hour or two to digest the film). I have my own of course - but rather than discuss the film, I'd like to talk about something on which a portion of film studies is based - and that's reception.
I concur with my friend on all of his points. But, something bothers me greatly about The Watchmen. It has nothing to do with the film per se - it has to do with the general reception of the film. I'm confounded by the wishy washy, iffy, tentative, "you should pass on this one" reviews that I have encountered. Now, I have said over and over that I could give a rat's ass for movie reviewers and to this I emphatically hold. But, as we walked out into the bright sun yesterday, I remember saying to Erik that there seemed to be, to me at least, an odd similarity between one of the film's storylines (namely that the people of the world weren't ready for a particular truth regarding the outcome of the plot) and the reception of the film to date (only a week I know). I thought that perhaps The Dark Knight would have - to a degree - primed mainstream audiences for a certain amount of intellectual craft in their superhero films. The genius of The Watchmen lay in its adult (i.e., sophisticated) treatments of sometimes complicated plot and story elements - I felt that this SHOULD have been a major selling point. Here is a thinking man's superhero film. Here's The Thin Red Line vs. Saving Private Ryan. But therein lies the rub - for just as The Thin Red Line was unjustly maligned as "boring", "stupid", and "it sucked" by the popcorn gobbling masses - so too is The Watchmen receiving such witless/idiotic criticisms. What it comes down to is this: I think that The Watchmen is too smart for the average viewer and too slippery for your average critic. Just like the citizens aren't ready for a truth, the viewers of the film can't handle an intellectual superhero movie (Ang Lee's The Hulk befell the same fate). Well, what can one expect from a brilliant, ground-breaking 12 issue mini-series that is a treatise on the cruelty of human existence. SO, for the record, I thought The Watchmen was magnificent. But, I'm not done quite yet.
Alan Moore's guest spot on the Simpsons a few years ago predicted somewhat accurately the mainstream reception of The Watchmen. Too complicated - Watchmen Babies would have required less thought...
Do these whiny reviews of The Watchmen (one, in particular, claimed that the reviewer looked at his watch three and half times during the film, a valid criterion apparently of "good" and "bad", but at least it was his wristwatch [an icon of the film] and not his damned cell phone) in some way confirm or at least lean towards an affirmation that intellectualism is indeed very dead today? Erik pointed out that one "critic" claimed the film to be "dated" or "embalmed" in the 80s. What the fuck does that mean? Uhm, It takes place in the 80s. Is that really a valid criticism anyways? Gee, Glory feels dated, a little too "Civil War" for my tastes. I am certain that he was probably referring to the idea that thermo-nuclear war is just so "yesterday." Now what this film needs is a terrorist threat - yeah, the film would have resonated far more if there was a terrorist threat! PLEASE. Terrorism is NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING compared to nuclear war (one of the valid reasons the world polices nuclear proliferation - terrorists really shouldn't have those... but then again - who should?). There is nothing to terrorize in the aftermath of nuclear strikes...
The Watchmen dramatizes an age old dialectic of man vs. nature (a common theme in Moore's work and a common theme to many of the finest literature, cinema and philosophy of the last two centuries). The idea that human beings can harness the very energy of the sun is the greatest philosophical mind-fuck in history. As Eisenhower said - "from the musket to the small cannon to the hydrogen bomb in a single life-time" - well, that's moving pretty quick folks. This dialogue of man overpowering nature, taming nature is central to Moore's work - "If nature were to shrug or to merely raise her eyebrow then we should all be gone..." Have a look below at the 4:19 mark below to about the 9:00 minute if you please (thanks).
Richard Corliss of Time magazine said "...this Watchmen is more like a swatch-man." and I prefer not to hazard for sure what exactly that means, but I have an idea and I don't think it's too flattering. He also offered "It certainly contains its share of popcorn breaks: hit the concession stand whenever Dan and Laurie start their mooning." Wow, that's just harsh. To be fair, Corliss found some things to admire, but like most reviews I read - The Watchmen got DOGGED. I guess, according to the majority of reviews I peeked at, the world needs more shallow entertainment. So, Catwoman II anyone?
The film receives the coveted highest ranking: The Klinger Statue of Liberty. Reserved for films that are of considerable significance in advancing the art of cinema - or at least that's the case in this man's humble opinion.