Saturday, March 07, 2009

Watchmen: A Lesson, but for What?

Watchmen is finally in theaters around the country, and I've been one of those annoying Internet presences who read the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel in high school and has been anticipating it for years and blah blah blah.

From the beginning though, I had a heavy heart when it came to the film adaptation. Alan Moore himself once said: "You get people saying, 'Oh yeah, Watchmen is very cinematic,' when it's actually not. It's almost the exact opposite of cinematic...I didn't design it to show off the similarities between cinema and comics, which are there, but in my opinion are fairly unremarkable. It was designed to show off the things that comics could do that cinema and literature couldn't."

The very act of writing Watchmen was one of hubris, an act to define comics as an essential medium for telling stories, and here we are twenty-three years later with an even bigger act of hubris, condensing and translating that work into film. I remember reading Watchmen and thinking that it would take at least $120 million to make this movie, which is essentially a dour character study. Not only did a studio pay $120 million for exactly that, studios fought over the right to do so. And as audacious a business move as that is, even though it breaks the record for most shots of blue genitalia, Watchmen ends up feeling safe.

Previous record-holder for M.S.o.B.G.? The Wings of the Dove.

So I really like this graphic novel because of its operatic scope and ponderous themes of identity, sacrifice, and heroism against the tense backdrop of the end of the world. Why wouldn't I like a film version for which a capable action director commits to a two-hour-forty-minute cut of a hard-R adaptation that stops at nothing to please fans of the original?

Because, no matter how faithful a film version is to the book, there's no reason for a film version to exist.

That was the overwhelming sensation I was left with as Snyder's Watchmen faded to black. Objectively--aside from a different but still satisfying ending--nothing was cut out that I missed. I had smaller problems with it: Malin Ackerman's performance was wooden, most of the music cues were obvious, and there's not an ounce of subtlety in the whole thing. Unless you call bloody severed limbs and an ass-clenching, laughable sex scene subtlety.

Could have been worse.

That being said, it's a pretty great movie. Synder's frame rate juggling adds some palpable explosiveness and momentum to the action, the tone is consistent--even as the film jumps across characters and time periods, and there's an almost anal-retentive attention to detail that re-creates the dystopian alternate reality that Gibbons fashioned so well.

But what does the movie achieve? I don't see the value in directly translating one version of a story to another; yet, ever since X-Men in 2000, that seems to be Hollywood's goal: be as faithful as possible to remain sacred to the fans and then rope in everyone else with name recognition and the buzz those fans bring. 

Is there anyone who loved the book but somehow felt incomplete until he saw the same exact thing on the screen? Is this more of a tactic than anything else? If you don't change anything, you can't be criticized? Is that your plan, Snyder?

Let's not shit ourselves about Snyder's artistry. He directed this too.

The fans Watchmen is trying to reach seem happy, which is what's important in the end. Plus, Warner Bros. and Paramount (and Fox now) are making money, which is important to them. But what do carbon copies of other properties say about cinema? On one hand, the movie version of a story is treated like the ultimate validation of it, as if a story isn't worth telling unless you can tell it in a movie. On the other hand, treating the original property with such absolute reverence that you don't alter it at all short-changes cinema. We'll always have the original book, TV show, earlier film, or board game. With all the dedication and money behind Watchmen, we're still left with very little art, very little exploration. I'd like Zack Synder to be judged on his own vision, not the one he has recreated.

Throughout its journey to movie theaters, Watchmen was treated as if it was sacred, but by claiming that it wasn't good enough as it is, that sequential art was not the perfect medium to tell its story, aren't we admitting that nothing is sacred?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

If the NFL Front Offices Were Fourth Graders Trading Football Cards at Lunch

While other professional sports leagues are hemmorhaging money, the NFL is thriving, and it's mostly because their business model makes no sense. Especially when it comes to the free agency season that began this week, the average fan needs an M.B.A. to follow his favorite team's moves. For years, the Players' Union played Rihanna to Commissioner Tagliabue's Chris Brown, and they're still paying the price, as the most dangerous, life-shortening sport has the least job security. When I heard a fan complaining today about how the Eagles could not re-sign defensive bullwark Brian Dawkins, I decided we had reached an impasse. To make sense of how teams can release franchise players with no warning and trade Pro Bowlers for fifty cents on the dollar to get under some nebulous cap number, I think we need a relatable analogy. That's why TANBR brings you "If the NFL Front Offices Were Fourth Graders Trading Football Cards at Lunch."

"While you were in the bathroom, I was rooting around in your Trapper Keeper for all your rookies. OMG j/k!"

Washingston Redskins
None of the other kids like Washington because his dad is rich and just buys him whichever individual players he wants from the card store. He never has to open packs to find the stars. Plus, he eats his boogers. Washington's parents are going through a rough divorce, so his dad is trying to buy his loyalty. On alternating Thursdays, he takes Washington to the card shop and tells him he can get whatever he wants. Washington decides on Albert Haynesworth for $100 million. His dad then throws in Deangelo Hall for $54 million, but only under the condition that the card stays at his house.

Did Mommy's friend spend the night?

Philadelphia Eagles
Like many kids who have been collecting for a long time, Philadelphia's main problem is that he doesn't have enough room in his binder for all the cards he owns. It's going to be a while before his mom can get him new plastic sheets from Sam's Club, so he has to get rid of some of his cards to give his favorite players prominent placement. He had Brian Dawkins in a center slot for years, but he has to throw the card away since the new Upper Deck series came out. He just doesn't have room.

Seattle Seahawks
Seattle was out for three weeks with the chicken pox, so he was out of the loop when he returned to the card shop. With the money he saved up over the three weeks, he bought an insert TJ Houshmandzadeh card for $45 million and hurried home. Later, when he checked his Beckett guide, he realized that he was thinking of an older card. He overpaid.

My dad had a hang-up about pogs with skulls on them and always commented on players with tattoos. Hopefully, someone out there is discouraging greasy ponytails.

New England Patriots
New England has doubles of some really good cards, so he tries to swing a few deals with other guys to unload them. Since he has a complete set filled in on his checklist though, he decides to deal Matt Cassell for Snackwell's Devil's Food Cakes. As anyone knows though, Snackwell's Devil's Food Cakes are quite unpredictable. If they're kept below room temperature by the kid with the tiny Igloo ice chest for a lunch box, they can be delicious; but if you get them from some sweaty brown bagger, they're gross. New England decides to take the risk with Kansas City but then kind of regrets it. He almost trades for Denver's Oreos but calls it off at the last minute, to which Denver says, "You're not coming to my birthday party."

Houston Texans
Houston doesn't have a father and knows nothing about sports. On a whim, he decides to start collecting football cards. On his first trip to the card shop with Detroit of all people (the kid whose parents are being investigated by DHS because he smells like pee), he finds a Dan Orlovsky on the floor near the trash. He makes the mistake of asking the owner the price of the card, and the guy tells him, "You touch it, you buy it. $9.15 million."

Not having a father.

New York Jets
Other collectors in the class know that New York is a sucker when it comes to stars at the twilight of their careers. He has a brother who used to collect football cards but gave it up, so all of his information is a few years old. Everyone thinks he can pawn a Ray Lewis card off on New York, especially since it's a hologram. After taking a close look at the card, however, New York questions its condition. Sure, it's a hologram and everything, but it's kind of scratched up and inauthentic, like it came from a cereal box or something. He thinks better of it and gets Bart Scott instead for $48 million, rubbing it in by repeating, Handi-Snacks dribbling from his mouth, "I'm so glad I didn't waste all of my money on that stupid hologram card."

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota sits in the corner, sipping from his pink lemonade 10-K and scratching up desks with a protractor. The other kids try to include him, offering great trades just to be nice, but he declines with a simple "I'm good." Everyone suspects the worst.