Sunday, March 15, 2009

There is only one other

Identify these quotes. Tell me what they have in common.

1) I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life - anybody's life, my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.

2) I heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says Life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says "Treatment is simple. The Great Clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor... I am Pagliaci." Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll On snare drum. Curtains.

The first quote, I expect many science fiction fans to get. The second, only recent movie viewers may get.

Their common factor is that, according to the biggest fans, both quotes are non-canonical. The first quote is the voiceover narration from Decker (Harrison Ford) in Blade Runner. That narration, in the original release of the film, has been discarded in the subsequent versions of the movie, especially the "Final Cut" edition. The second quote is from the insane vigilante Walter Kovacs a.k.a. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) in Watchmen. That quote was made for the movie; it is not in the graphic novel written by Alan Moore.

I, for one, liked both quotes. I thought the narration placed Blade Runner solidly in the world of film noir, and made that future world comprehensible to people unfamiliar with science fiction and cyberpunk. (Like my girlfriend at the time, an English teacher with no imagination and little literacy.) And the quote from Rorschach nails down the philosophy of this movie, which is not the bitter cynicism of The Dark Knight nor the campiness of Batman and Robin.

What I'm saying in a roundabout way is this: Watchmen is in the same class as Blade Runner. It's not "as good as" or "like" or any simple comparison. But like Blade Runner, it takes time out of action sequences and histrionic emotion to think about ideas. That is rare in Hollywood movies of any kind, especially in this megacorporate world. (Warner Brothers and Paramount had to share "ownership" of this movie; very interesting in regards to the corporate villains shown in the movie.)

I don't have to tell you about the story of Watchmen. A thousand reviews are out there already. What I do have to say is that this movie spends a great deal of time inside the minds of the characters. They aren't simply reacting; they are thinking as they react. They are people you come to understand, even the ones you don't wish to sympathize with, even the ones who shock and disgust you.

I saw the film with two friends of mine, both very heavy science fiction fans, but with very little understanding of the comic. They were as mesmerized as I was. One, who leans towards Limbaugh, was absorbed by the most repellent character in the story, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan,) who as he blasts a crowd of college protesters with a shotgun, says "God damn! I love working on American soil, Dan. Ain't had this much fun since Woodward and Bernstein." And yet...who ends up sobbing about his life and his bad choices to his worst enemy.

The other friend was mesmerized by the characters. She watched with awe as the latex-clad and sexy Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) calmly shoved a knife into the neck of a murderous thug and did John Woo martial arts stunts, but still was a vulnerable, troubled woman. And amazingly, my friend never noticed that in many scenes the blue-glowing Dr. Manhattan (voice by Billy Crudup) had his penis unashamedly in view. "I was looking at his face," she insisted.

The film is as sobering as the graphic novel upon which it was based. Yes, many things were changed and simplified, but nothing essential was lost. Especially not the climax, and especially not the last scene, which gave the original story its impact.

Alan Moore has his reasons for not signing his name to this movie, or the other movies made about his creations. I just don't think they are good reasons. And for those who keep complaining about Moore not getting the credit, it's obvious he doesn't want it. He doesn't even seem to want the attention he has gotten for disavowing Watchmen. But then, you have to wonder what he's done since that could even hold a candle to it.

Just like Blade Runner, I don't expect Watchmen will get its due at the box office. Amazingly, Disney's pale, limp remake Race to Witch Mountain has surpassed the box office of Watchmen in its second weekend. Its success and its fame will belong to history. This is a film I expect to own and treasure when it comes out on DVD. There aren't five theatrical films in the last year about which I can say the same.