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Rant #427
(published March 26, 2009)
a movie review
by Alan Benard
No amount of money can save a movie if the script is bad. No amount of stars, no supercomputers full of special effects, no feats of directorial brilliance, can save a film if the script is bad.

The film Watchmen has, I'd argue, one of the best scripts written in the 1980s, and one of the 10-or-so best since it was written by Alan Moore and storyboarded by himself and Dave Gibbons in 1985.

Alan Moore knows jokes. He understands jokers, writes amazing jokes, tells them well. I hope that he comes to appreciate that this time, the joke's on him. By absenting himself from the glory of being this film's father, he cheats himself of the payback for all the rape he's endured over and over again from Hollywood.

Roll on the snare drum.

The remarkable thing about this film is that the comic-book script was so strong that hewing closely to it is what has saved this adaptation. And breaking from it at exactly the instant it did saved the film—as using The Giant Squid made the comic-book version of Watchmen.

In this film, the squid would have not have worked properly in the way a window-dressing bit-player the Bubastis CGI did. It would have been Jar-Jar-esque. Instead, we saw Veidt's video screens painting balls of expanding fusion-force across the centers of the world's capital cities. This had the impact of a good radio drama—you had to imagine it, and that made it so much worse.

No sane person walking out of Watchmen misses the fucking squid. Before I saw Watchmen, I compared this film to David Lynch's Dune, that most unfortunate adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel. And Mojo, who had seen it, was correct to take me to task. It isn't like Dune one whit, because, again, Dune had a wretched script. It told instead of showed. Herbert painted star-systems in your consciousness with his novel, and Lynch put typically crass, obvious, exploitive Lynchian weird shit in his film. An art-film maker got license because science-fiction was hot and miles of plastic were wasted. (Not to mention a city-dump full of unsold ancillary items.)

This time, an art-film maker got an opportunity because comic-book movies are hot. Big difference this time—we got a watchable film.

And it is rather watchable. Zach Snyder put all $75 million on the screen, and managed to avoid that big-budget movie problem of ending up having a film that obviously intercuts interiors of people talking with SFX of shit blowing up. Mostly by being lucky to have a good script, but also through that kind of meticulous planning that erases all traces of itself in the final result.

And my God, but is Malin Akerman ever hot. Jesus. Got my 15-bucks-worth right there. While we're talking about actors, I can't think of one clinker in the bunch, and catching Matt Frewer (you know, Max Headroom) as Moloch was a treat.

I loved the comic-book (graphic novel is a useless marketing term) version of Watchmen so much when I was a 20-year-old. So much. So much I wrote two tragically earnest letters (published) to Comics Buyer's Guide nattering on quite fannishly about how it had amplified, transformed and transcended the form. So much I taught it as literature at the alternative high-school I'd graduated from two years earlier. So much that I became heartily sick of it and didn't read it again for more than 20 years.

Those were heady times, if you were a comic-book geek and had spending money. The direct market was young and overheating and there was a literal explosion of wonderful and shitty comics to buy and read and board and bag and keep forever like the valuable commodities they were. Peek in to any literate middle-aged man's basement (or his mom's), and chances are there's a huge fucking pile of comic books down there, dating from 1984 to 1992.

You lads know what I'm talking about. It was pre-Liefeld, pre-implosion, and we wallowed in comic books. And now they're all worth 10 cents each. And we love them all. But especially Watchmen.

So kids, enjoy the film as much as you can and forgive us old farts our nostalgia. Forgive us the special smile we crack when we see and hear—rather than read—The Comedian answer Night Owl's question: "Whatever happened to the American dream?"

"It came true. You're lookin' at it."

Moore was a genius for answering Hunter S. Thompson's endless search for the American Dream with the simple truth that, in its purest form, it was The Minutemen shooting the Redcoats from behind trees and Sherman's burning of Atlanta and the Manifest Destiny that won the West and Enola Gay dropping the A-Bomb . . .

. . . and if The Superman had been born in 1938 or 1959, that overwhelming force that flipped over the board and changed the game forever would certainly have been The American Dream. The childish fantasy of force applied for good over evil—and it's logical extension, force becoming the evil it sought to vanquish—is, by God, the American Dream.

And its subversion is our task, one journal full of truth at a time.

Zach Snyder refreshed that message and put in the faces of the children of those middle-aged, pasty fan-boys whose lives Alan Moore changed and, if for nothing else, we thank him for that.

Alan Benard is a regular contributor to Poor Mojo's Newswire.

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