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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Why did you bring your kid to the WATCHMEN film?

Watchmen movie poster

To the woman sitting behind me with her kid when I saw WATCHMEN two days ago:

Normally, I don't give a crap about the Malaysian rating system. Films that are rated 18 and above in Malaysia are mostly heavily-butchered, and tamer than most films that are rated PG in other countries. So I'm unsurprised that you overlooked the fact that this film is rated 18-PL (for overseas audience, this rating is reserved for films contain more than one element, either violence, sex or political/ religious content) and brought your kid along to see the film with you.

I have nothing against that, considering that ever since I was a child, I had always gone to the cinema with my dad. It was almost a weekly thing. Hell, I was actually with my dad when I was seeing WATCHMEN too.

However, I started feeling a little worried when your kid started making some loud noises during the Transformers 2 teaser, screaming "THAT'S DECEPTICON!! YAAAAAARRRR!". Fine, I'm kinda excited too, despite the lack of Megan Fox shots, and of course, being a mere child, I can understand that he cannot contain his excitement like I did.

But then, having read the original WATCHMEN graphic novel by Alan Moore two years ago, I knew silently, even before the film started, that you may have brought your child to the wrong film. Blame it on the film's local campaign, and the posters, and also the proud declaration that WATCHMEN is directed by the 'visionary director of 300, Zack Snyder', so you probably fell for it and thought that WATCHMEN is probably some non-stop, intellectually bankrupt non-stop action film like its Spartan predecessor.

Even though some scenes were censored in the cinemas, like Dr Manhattan's blue penis getting blurred off, or most of the nudity and sex scenes getting cut off, our dear censorship board remains much more liberal with gruesome violence, so most of the violent scenes were retained, and the burst of violence that punctuated the film MIGHT have satiated your kid's bloodlust, inappropriate it may seem for a kid to see this film. But then, it's just my opinion, you are his parent, not I.

I'm fine if you allow your kid to be exposed to all these hardcore violence in the film that wasn't really in the graphic novel, it's cool to have an open mind. I'm sure the trademark slow-mo/fast-mo action scenes that Zack Snyder tossed into the film to entertain the masses were the only parts that your child enjoyed.

But how could the kid had understood the bloody (somewhat) complex plot? The fragmented storytelling method employed in the film to flesh out the back story of each main character? Your kid had remained loud as usual throughout the film, asking questions like "Eh? Is that the Comedian? Why is he appearing again? I thought he's dead! Oh, that's the Comedian too! Is that another Comedian? Wow, that's the Comedian!"

Now, because he's a kid, I can stomach the fact that he didn't know that he was seeing multiple flashbacks of the Comedian (played wonderfully by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who does look like Robert Downey Jr.), that he couldn't understand that these were methods to show the complexity of this character, a seemingly heartless monster who had grown disillusioned with the dystopic alternative world depicted in the film (Snyder chose to remain faithful to the graphic novel and set the film in an alternative 1985 where Nixon is serving his fourth term as president and the Cold War is still looming, older versions of the screenplay were set in the present, where they had the War On Terror instead of the Cold War, but I won't even dwell into these details because, screw it, wherever it's set in is lost to your kid), capable of so much evil, yet unexpectedly human... an apt representation of humanity's ugliness and unexpected vulnerability)

I'm fine with him asking so many questions, I used to do that too when I was a child and my mind was less developed. But I cannot stand it when your child was asking so loudly and you choosing to answer him incoherently without even lowering your voice. I was befuddled, annoyed, frustrated, and trying very hard to remain courteous and not ask you and your kid to lower your voices. If I want commentary, I'll wait for a DVD so I can have a bloody director's commentary. But in truth, I'm not a huge fan of director's commentary, when I don't even like that, do you think I really enjoyed hearing you and the kid's commentary?

The 2 hour 45 minute is NOT a non-stop action film, you probably discovered that too late, along with your child. You may have been taken in by the drama, but your kid wasn't, and he was sighing and groaning and moaning really loudly. The kid showed no restraint. He was kicking my seat, he was putting his stupid legs on the seat beside me, and despite turning around repeatedly to stare at him, he seemed too thick to understand my baleful look. But can't you just keep an eye on your kid if you knew that he's such a hyperactive little monster? Can't you at least make an effort to minimize the damage the kid was causing?

The film had its flaws, the pacing was a little off, and perhaps the Snyder-style glossiness didn't really work most of the time. But I had enjoyed most of the damned film, when there were some really transcendental moments. Like the stylish opening title montage set to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changing" (a pleasant surprise for my dad), where the alternative history of United States and the costumed superheroes are shown in a series of nicely composed static shots.

WATCHMEN's much-heralded opening sequence
Or Dr Manhattan's origins, a series of flashbacks that, to me, were some of the most surprisingly poetic and affective moments of the film. (Since I had loved the same scene in the graphic novel, I had looked forward to how it would be translated to big screen, I wasn't disappointed at all) I am, after all, a filmmaker too, so there are times when I would try to study a film closely, absorbing the technique, understanding the craft, drawing it for inspiration, and the two wonderful moments of the film had left me quite dazzled, and I was more than a little thankful that the child had been silent then. The performances aren't uniformly great, like most, I think Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre 2) and Matthew Goode (Ozymandias) were quite underwhelming, but based on the reactions from the audiences, I think they were just as taken in as I was by Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley's performance as Rorschach. Such an iconic character, and so brilliantly performed! I like his monologues, and I thought the Rorschach voice he did is much better than the Batman voice Christian Bale did in The Dark Knight. And he made the most of the moments he got unmasked. I think it's a towering performance that can be mentioned in the same breath as Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker, or Robert Downey Jr's as Tony Stark. Performances like his, along with Jeffrey Dean Morgan's, and Billy Crudup's (Dr Manhattan) are what elevated the film. Unfortunately, just as I was appreciating these aspects of the film, your child continued making a nuisance out of himself, and your phone actually rang. It RANG! Gosh, did you NOT read the numerous warnings of turning your phone to silent mode before the film started? I mean, do you choose to deliberately ignore that so that you can annoy the crap out of me when your phone suddenly rang while I was trying to enjoy the film? It was probably just an honest mistake, but it was hard for me to remain calm when you yourself could not set a good example for your child, talking almost just as loudly as he did, making oh-so-obvious observations for him ("OHHHH! So The Comedian is the father of _________!") As if the boy gave a crap, I'm sure his attention had wavered after The Comedian got tossed out of the window, sheesh. It is a little unfair of me to single you out for this, since there were a couple of other audience members who did stupid crap that annoyed me then, you know, like stupidly writing text messages on their shiny mobile phones? Is being considerate a foreign concept for local cinemagoers? But because both of you sat right behind me, I was most bothered by your kid's appallingly monstrous actions. What a way to pull a Rorschach, 'no compromise even in the face of Armageddon'. You would continue letting him terrorize other cinemagoers? Can't you just educate him and tell him that it is basic courtesy to, you know, be as quiet and less distracting as possible in cinemas so that a poor guy like me can just concentrate on watching the film? The more annoyed I was with your child, the more apparent the flaws of the film were to me. Like the aforementioned problems with pacing, and the less-than-stellar performances from some cast members. I normally don't try to compare a film to its source material, preferring to appreciate it for what it is. Zack Snyder's flair with visuals is all right in reproducing many moments of the graphic novel, but I did get a little worn out by his trademark slow-mo/ fast-mo action scenes, and I had wondered whether remaining so faithful to the text was detrimental to the film. Some of the best adaptations I know are those where numerous creative liberties were taken, in order to maximize the potential of film as medium, like, say, THE DARK KNIGHT, or LORD OF THE RINGS, or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, or, ah, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. These films work not because they are slavishly devoted to the text, but because filmmakers opt to explore and experiment with the films, expanding upon certain things that were barely mentioned in the literary source, and cutting away those that won't work as well in a visual medium. It's great that Zack Snyder didn't create something disastrous when adapting such a difficult source material. It's a commendable effort. This is probably the best adaptation of an Alan Moore work, I think Snyder had made a good enough film, it's just that for me, because he was so faithful to most parts of the graphic novel, anything he tried to change stuck out like a sore thumb. And even if I disregard the existence of the graphic novel, the film, as visually stunning as it is, is quite hollow to me. (As for you, the woman who sat behind me with your annoying child. When the credits ended, I chose to remain seated so you could make a graceful exit without me having to confront you. It's not that I'm non-confrontational, just that I find it better to preserve this for my film review.) That's all I have to say. What do you guys think about the film?