Sunday, January 31, 2010
Sunny and bitterly cold
I watched WATCHMEN last night, and, of course, I have a lot to say about it. The person who gave me the DVD thought I would either love it or hate it. My reaction wasn’t that absolute and simple. And remember, I’m not familiar with the graphic novel, so I’m coming to it fresh, without any preconceived expectations for the piece. And from my own rather odd frame of reference.
SPOILER ALERT. I discuss my reactions in depth. Don’t read it if you haven’t seen it and don’t want details. Skip to the next bold subheader.
I always felt held at a distance from the piece, very aware of being a voyeur instead of being embraced and included in the world. As someone who prefers the immediacy and intimacy of theatre to film, that happens more often than not when I watch a film — also, thanks to film school and working on film sets, there’s usually a part of me that’s looking at all the production elements; it’s a very rare piece that sucks me in completely and takes me on a journey to the extent that I’m not aware of production details. That’s the downside of working in the business. It’s harder to be fully drawn in.
I thought the look of the film was absolutely gorgeous, production values and art direction stunning. I loved the period detail and the way historical detail was woven into the film’s alternate reality. I liked most of the casting. Unfortunately, I pegged the villain in the first fight sequence with the Comedian, and got impatient with some of the characters during the course of the film for not seeing it or suspecting it sooner. Rorshach’s getting derailed every time he discovered something made sense, but the other characters’ unwillingness to see bothered me without more depth to why they wouldn’t, which ties in to a later comment.
I didn’t find enough musicality in the piece overall — by that, I mean every scene had equal heaviness. I’m not talking about adding in comedy or anything like that, but I felt the absence of scenes that swelled contrasted with quieter, more intimate scenes. The tone was too even throughout. I realize that one of the themes was that these characters don’t have lives or friends outside of each other and they’re now disconnected from each other. There was a lack of dynamic from scene to scene that made the overall arc seem a little flat. The cadences of Ozymandias, Night Owl, and Dr. Manhattan were too similar. They. Spoke. As. If. Every. Word. Had. Equal. Importance. The exception was when Dan and Rorshach have their argument that leads to Rorshach saying, “You’re a good friend.” That was pitch perfect.
In general, Jackie Earle Haley’s performance as Rorshach was my favorite, with the most dynamic, the best use of voice and physicality, and (as Haley does in HUMAN TARGET in a very different way), he finds his character’s unique rhythm and stays true to it, responding to other characters in a flow that feels completely natural. He’s also not afraid of stillness — too often actors freeze in scenes where they have to be still, but not Haley. He can be absolutely still and reveal more than most actors do at their most active. Another interesting response he provoked in me was that, while I felt compassion and understanding for Rorshach (even when I disagreed with his choices), I never felt pity. There were times I felt PITY for each of the other characters, but I felt COMPASSION for Rorshach. I can think of a whole list of actors who would have tried to make him a more sympathetic character by eliciting pity or sympathy from the audience and playing up his past as victimhood, and I think Haley made the stronger choice. Also, in the scenes where he wasn’t wearing the mask, he managed to convey enormous vulnerability in addition to his toughness, even when snarling. It’s one of those examples of the layers and dimensions you get when you put the right actor into the right role
It was interesting what the actors brought to characters who, basically, are unlikeable, for the most part. I almost felt it was like SuperHeros/SuperFlaws. Their flaws were magnified even more than their strengths, which I thought was interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian. No matter what the genre, what the role, Morgan can always be counted on for a thoughtful, intelligent, dimensional performance. Just when it seems The Comedian is irredeemable, he turns on a dime and has an insight that calls out an equal flaw that another character tries to hide. Again, I can run through a whole list of actors who would have wanted to make him more sympathetic, or just been wooden in the role.
I wanted to see more of the team’s past work together. I wanted to see how they’d worked together (or not worked together) in the past so that their disconnect from each other had more of a basis. The map scene didn’t give me enough, nor did the scenes with the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan in Vietnam. I had mixed feelings about the whole Vietnam thing anyway, but that was more because that war defined me as a person very strongly than any logical story element. I would have never forgiven Silk Spectre II and Night Owl if they hadn’t gone to get Rorshach, and I wasn’t really sure why he hung back (unmasked) when he saw them followed into the alley, unless he wanted them to get a taste of what they left behind. I assumed that was his reasoning, but I could be way off the rails. There’s talk of Night Owl and Rorshach being partners — I wanted to see that, and how that partnership broke down. If there was more on the ties that bound them and separated them, the refusal to realize Adrian was behind it all would have made more sense. Rorshach was going to get and accept and act on the truth no matter what, but there needed to be more dynamic in the others’ choice to turn a blind eye. I realize there’s a time limit on a script, and I don’t know if that was in the graphic novel, and maybe it wasn’t in the movie because it wasn’t in the novel and they stayed true to the novel, but I missed that. I also got tired of the gore after awhile. Although the violence was somewhat stylistic, I kept going, “Oh, you’re not going to do it that way, are you? Yep, you are.” And shaking my head.
The ending in Antarctica angered me. Ozymandias left alone wasn’t justice, in my opinion. I think the tiger should have reformed and ripped his throat out. To me, that would have been poetic. And really, a female antlered tiger (her name was Carla)? Really? Are we working with animal hermaphrodites here? That and Rorshach murdering the dogs (though I understand why he did it) angered me in the wrong way. Rorshach’s death also angered me, although I realize he was also asking Dr. Manhattan to end his pain. Well, that’s what I got from his eyes, anyway. Again, I could be wrong. Showing the destruction of New York City — really, can all these filmmakers who weren’t in NY for 9/11 put a moratorium on scenes showing the destruction of NYC for about thirty years or so, because those of us who lived through it and actually lost people we cared about in it have seen the real thing, and don’t want to see someone’s twisted vision on film. To me, that was irresponsible filmmaking, whether it was true to the novel or not.
The following scene with Laurie, Dan, and Sally was a much-needed breath and had some lovely work in it, but not enough to make up for the previous sequence, and the final scene at the newspaper was simply annoying. There was a lot I liked about the movie overall, and some performance details that really stood out for me, but the ending was unsatisfying. I am interested in hunting down the graphic novel now, because Stacia Kane mentioned that its ending is different, and I want to know the difference.
It’s definitely worth seeing, I liked more than I disliked, and I’m sure people have a wide range of responses to it, especially if they’re not familiar with the world of the graphic novel. And again, I come at it from a very different angle than most people.
Back to Real Life and Writing
So it’s the end of the month, which means my January wrap-up is on the GDR site. Got more done than I realized, but not as much as I wanted.
Characters are chattering in my head from different projects. It’s like tangled yarn in there, and I’m trying to gently sort it out to see who belongs in which project. If some of them don’t shut up, I’ll have to kill them off. Way too noisy.
I was frustrated with my music yesterday and mentioned it on Twitter. A guy named Blake McKibben sent me a link to one of his songs and I liked it, so I bought the album on iTunes. It’s got lyrics, so it’s percolating music instead of writing music, but I like it.
There’s percolation going on, which means a lot of wandering and muttering, but when it’s sorted, it should make the writing go more smoothly.
Heard an interesting tale on the grapevine as to the fate of a project with which I was once involved. Quite a few months ago, I was hired to fashion a pitch for a project, with the prospect that if it was picked up, I would continue to develop it for X fee. I did it, including snippets of dialogue and character, since those are my strengths, and I was paid per the contracted rate for the pitch. The people to whom my client pitched the project loved it and wanted to move forward. However, my client decided that he wanted to spend less on the writing, and slashed the fee moving forward by two thirds. I refused. He hired someone cheaper. The people who wanted to fund the overall project where horrified at the drop in quality and dropped the project.
What can I say? You get what you pay for.
Of course, the client blames me for not agreeing to work for a pittance. Bite me. The money was there in the budget and we’d talked about rates before he hired me to do the pitch. I delivered. He tried to screw me. Buh-bye.
I can’t be happy about it because ti’s always sad when a project dies in the water, but this is a case where what could have been a creative, positive experience was killed because the middleman doesn’t respect writers or writing. And it was important for me to stand my ground and not set a negative precedent.
Writing today. I’m on a site job tomorrow, but it’s more of a case of just being present in a supervisory capacity I can take the laptop and work on my writing for the bulk of the day. I think I might take another crack at trying to finish the play BLOOD SOUP for my producer before working on the three-hander. My cell doesn’t work at that site, but the last time I was there, the wireless does, so we’ll see.
Good first writing session this morning; let’s hope it set the tone for the rest of the day.