Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Review of Watchmen

Before I start this review, I thought I would mention, for the three people that don’t already know this about me, that I am a huge comic book fan. I’ve been reading them for most of my life, and I love them. I first read Watchmen when I was in high school, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t think it was the most amazing thing ever. Then I read it again when I was older and I loved it. There’s a cinematic quality about Watchmen the book that is fairly common in comics now but that I’m sure was astounding at the time of the release of the series. I look at reading Watchmen now like watching Citizen Kane now: you have to consider the time period in which the work was created in order to fully appreciate how ahead of its time it was.

So let’s talk about Watchmen the movie. As a movie adaptation that remains faithful to the original book, it was amazing. After years of missteps and averted disasters, and after master filmmaker Terry Gilliam called Watchmen the book unfilmable, director Zack Snyder has created a near-perfect Watchmen film. Shots were framed to exactly match panels of Dave Gibbons’s nine-panel grid, and dialogue was lifted directly from Alan Moore’s scripts. I expected this of Snyder, though, after 300 came out and was extremely faithful to its source material (so I’ve been told, as I’ve never seen that nor do I particularly care to). Snyder is a director who respects his source material, and who adheres to it almost fanatically, and that respect shone through on the screen. There were aspects of the book that had to be removed for the sake of time, but overall Snyder managed to pack so much story into just under three hours that I more or less forgave him for it. My favorite part of the film was probably the opening credits, which are spectacular in their simplicity. You can watch them in their entirety here. Each of the snapshots shown in the credits has a full story behind it, but knowing that full story isn't essential to understanding the movie. Despite the parts of the book that were left out, watching Watchmen the movie was like watching the comic book come to life.

So why did I leave the theatre with such an empty feeling?

Maybe it’s because, where Watchmen succeeds as an adaptation of a graphic novel, it fails as a movie. Watchmen the book was slow. There’s not a lot of action in the book. It’s mainly about character development and the relationships between them. Therefore, there’s not a lot of action in the movie. Unfortunately, though, a lot of the wonderful character development that makes the book so enjoyable is lost in the translation to the screen because of time limitations. As a result, I had a hard time relating to any of the characters in the movie, which is strange, since I already had a relationship with them as a result of having read the comic.

When the film ended, I just sat there. I had no idea what to say. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but this time I really wanted to have something to say. The story of the film was exactly the same as that of the book, but I didn’t think it had the same impact on the screen as it does in the book because I didn’t feel any attachment to any of the characters. The performances were all very good, save for that of the actor playing Ozymandias, who couldn’t seem to decide if he wanted his character to have an accent or not and so decided to have it both ways, which was distracting, especially during Ozy’s monologues towards the end of the film. The film was very well made. It was well-acted and well-shot. The choices of music were brilliant. And yet I still felt like it was all a little flat. I needed to connect to the characters, and I could not. I found them fascinating, but not relatable. I go to the movies because I want to feel something, and I didn’t feel anything when Watchmen ended.

All of that said, I’m still extremely conflicted about the whole thing. I thought that writing down my thoughts would help me to sort them out, and it did, to a degree, but I still don’t know what conclusion to come to. I think I enjoyed the movie. I really do. But I think I enjoyed it mainly because of what a faithful adaptation of the book it was and because of how well-made it was, not because any of the characters were engaging or because of the pace of the story. As a book, Watchmen is still a masterpiece. As a movie, Watchmen reaches for the stars but falls just a little short.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Missed It By *That* Much

Back in 2004, it was announced that Conan O'Brien would be leaving NBC's Late Night to replace Jay Leno as the host of The Tonight Show. This was a huge deal for me, as I spent many a night in the '90s and nearly all of the nights of the '00s up until that point falling asleep while watching Conan. I was excited for him to move to The Tonight Show, where I would be more likely to stay awake for the whole show.

I was also concerned about who would be taking the reins of Late Night. For weeks I thought and I thought about who should take over that job, until I came to the perfect solution. The person who took over as host would have to be comfortable performing in front of a live audience, be able to think on his or her feet, and be able to work with a staff to write new material five days a week. So who better to do that than someone who was already doing that on another NBC show, one Saturday Night Live? After all, early in his career Conan was a writer for SNL. It made sense that Lorne Michaels would pick from that tree again to find a new host for Late Night.

My favorite segment on SNL has always been Weekend Update. It just made sense to me that one of the anchors of Weekend Update should become the new host of Late Night. Think about it: writing for Weekend Update is basically like writing a monologue for a late-night talk show. My decision was made. The person I selected to replace Conan was qualified. This person was intelligent, was able to improvise, and, most importantly, was really damn funny. The choice was clear.

Tina Fey would replace Conan O'Brien.

It was (and still might be) the best idea I had ever had in my entire life. It made perfect sense, and it would be groundbreaking - the first female host of a late-night talk show. You have to remember, too, that this was in the days before Barack Obama. It was 2003 - the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama's star-making moment, hadn't even happened yet. The idea of a woman taking over a high-profile hosting job formerly occupied by a man was, at the time, akin to the idea of an African-American becoming President of the United States. It was ahead of its time. But I was set on it. If anyone could do it, Tina Fey could do it. I was convinced that she would knock it out of the park. Tina Fey was change I could believe in.

I attempted to rally people to the cause. I told all of my friends about the idea, and they naturally agreed with me. I decided that the best way to ensure that this brilliant idea came to fruition would be to begin a grass-roots campaign. Just as Barack Obama's presidential campaign utilized the internet to raise funds, I would turn to the internet to garner support for my idea. And thus, Late Night with Tina Fey in 2009 was born. The petition was a sensation, earning itself 120 signatures. Surely that would be enough to convince the NBC bosses that Tina Fey was the right woman for this job.

Of course, a lot can happen in five years. How was I to know that Tina would leave SNL to create and star in her own show, the completely hilarious 30 Rock? But still, even after that happened, part of me hoped that the show would fail in time for Tina to embrace her true destiny: as the heir to the Late Night throne. As the show continued on and proved itself to be both wildly entertaining and moderately successful, I saw my idea slip away. It was sobering, but I accepted it. Conan would still be on The Tonight Show, and Tina was doing well on her own. I was sure that whoever they chose to host Late Night would be a fine selection.

That was when the rumors started. And then it was confirmed. Jimmy Fallon would be the new host of Late Night.

A little piece of me died when that was announced. Jimmy Fallon might be the most unfunny person on the planet. He has no on-camera charisma. He's not smart. He couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag. This is who they chose? The guy who laughed in the middle of every sketch he was ever in?

Alas. Late Night with Tina Fey was not meant to be. Perhaps some day America will be ready for a female late-night talk show host. In the meantime, I look forward to tonight, when Late Night with Jimmy Fallon premieres. Maybe, if the world is lucky, a light will fall on Jimmy Fallon's head, knocking something loose in his brain, and he will suddenly become funny. The odds of that are unlikely, though. It's more likely that he'll crash and burn harder than anyone on television has ever crashed and burned. I think I'd enjoy seeing that, too.