Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen? Mostly Idiotic Movie Reviewers...

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?

Apparently, nuclear destruction has "dated badly" (according to an NPR review)

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.


JMR said...

i eagerly await being able to see this on dvd (unfortunately, it's too early for the drive-in).

what amazes me is how polarizing this film has been. this is actually very heartening. any film that has such vocal critics (on both sides of the fence) is worth my time.

side note: i didn't feel that ang lee's "hulk" was misunderstood. while it had a some really great moments, "hulk" suffered from poor editing and storytelling choices. there were actually four acts instead of the proper three (nick nolte turning into the absorption man at the end was completely misguided and superfluous..."hulk" needed to end with banner's battle with the military in the desert). furthermore, the scene at the end between eric bana and nick nolte needed to preceed the desert battle (it's brilliant, but in the wrong place). finally...hulk poodles? ultimately, i felt that ang lee, as great of a filmmaker as he is, was the wrong person for the material.

p.s. check out the latest over at my blog...big stuff going on.

ewaffle said...

I think you highlighted one of the the problems with the quote from Corlisss, "swatch-man". Much like advertising copywriters, movie reviewers don't have much space and they like punchy, memorable phrases, Although looking at one's watch "three and a half times" is neither.

Writing that Watchman seemed "dated" is probably just one of the tools in the lazy reviewer's kit. As is anachronistic which is can be another way of saying "I didn't like the movie but I don't know why."

The parallel between the reaction of characters in the movie to the outcome of the plot and the reception by reviewers is brilliant--and another reason why critics are superior to reviewers.

Gilligan said...

Chick - a great review of movie reviewers.

People want Harold and Kumar not Troilus and Cressida. Shallow entertainment has its place, but it should be dessert not the main course. The brains of the critics and the public subsequently have atrophied and grown fat on movies that are the mental equivalent of Cheez Wiz and Pop Rocks.

coffee said...

i haven't read the comic series, but i can't imagine them packing any more into one movie even if they wanted to, which is good for me, makes me feel like i got my money's worth

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Chick, great piece

Chick said I thought The Watchmen was magnificent and I did too, and I, for one, never looked at my watch/cellphone lost and mesmerised as I was in the film.

One of our local reviewers (name and shame time, Robin Duke)criticised the film because it used the song Hallelujah and used Cohen's version rather than the X Factor version... that, to me, shows the level of some of these people... this from someone who aspires to be an amateur reviewer!

I saw something online, having a go because 99 red balloons was playing in a restaurant. Now gentlemen (and ladies of course) of a certain age will remember that, at a certain point in the 80s, you couldn't move but here the power pop stylings of Nina.

BTW, iro of Catwoman, at least it had Halle's wiggle... another cause for Hallelujah.

Uranium Willy said...

I saw your twitter message you were deleting it and Facebook. Maybe can reconsider a little as I am just learning to use it all. There are a few perks after all. I sort of hate it all too but I am beginning to see there is some value.

And I have to admit I have always heard of The Watchemn, the comic book, but I still have no clue what it is all about. I am certain I will see when I see the bootlegged DVD here in China.

Chick Young said...

Gentlemen, thank you all for your feedback. And, Gil and Ed, couldn't agree more!

Joe, I didn't think The Hulk was "misunderstood" - just sort of "out of the box" as your observations confirm.

Lastly, @ Bill. I am not killing them right away but SOON. Sorry man, just can't get into the social crap! I tried though!

Uranium Willy said...

I think because of mt being located in China the social thing is something I am trying to compromise with. I am not thrilled with some of it but I manage to stay in some contact with my stepson who is stationed somewhere in Afghanistan for example.

No problem we know where to find each other if a zombie holocaust breaks out.