Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Who knew? Apparently Time magazine regards this comic book as one of the 100 best novels written since 1923.

This factoid, as well as the exquisite trailer (Ok - especially the part with Billy Crudup as the nuclear-infused, cerulean blue, totally naked and hot Dr Manhattan) prompted me to see the movie. I haven’t read the book.

It’s had mixed reviews. Dr Manhattan’s blue penis provoked particular comment in the USA (Did I mention Dr Manhattan spends a large amount of the movie starkers?) Us Euros are clearly far more relaxed about such matters. Apparently, in the book the penis is quite small, like a grecian statue’s. The problems of translating this to screen are obvious. On the one side, male nudity is still taboo in the culture. On the other, one has the vanity of the actor to respect. The result is, the CGI penis on screen is massively larger than that drawn for Dr Manhattan in the novel, but the filmakers are quite subtle in its deployment. It doesn’t call attention to itself at all. I think this is a positive approach and quite healthy.

The length (almost 3 hours) didn’t bother me (you didn't think I was still talking about the big blue penis, did you?)- although the storyline did lack pace. I applaud the sophisticated, indirect, flashback style of explication. Classically, one of the problems of this style is its potential to stall the plot. I don’t think that was entirely the case here - the plot stalls mostly because the director Zack Snyders can't resist showcasing the beautiful design and the camera just spends too much time on the scenery (which admittedly is gorgeous - one of the real triumphs of the film; it kept me going through the 3 hours). Also, Snyders said in an interview that he ramped up the sex and violence - again, gratuitously lengthy fight sequences keep the plot from moving forward and actually sometimes actively distract from important plot points: the framing for murder of Rorschach, for example, is almost lost in the lengthy violence of his arrest.

Never have I seen a more excrutiatingly embarrassing sex scene - so bad the audience giggled. The silver lining is that surely this will now end the screen career of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” - the most clunkingly blatant and intrusive of a screed of banal music choices. Overfamiliar music just calls attention to itself and once again distracts from the action, slowing the whole thing down.

The graphic novel is a product of the late cold war, and was regarded in its day as innovative. The morally complex, dark universe is certainly a rich context for the story (one thinks of Hamlet, or the work of Graham Greene). However, complexity here becomes confusion: I lost interest in the issues at stake for the characters and the climax left me completely uninvolved. I don’t know how much of this is inherent in the original book and how much is the adaptation’s fault.

Catch it on a large screen if you can - the visuals demand it. The BFI Imax screen was amazing.

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