Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Watching the Watchmen Worthwhile?

Watchmen just came out on DVD, so here are my thoughts.

I haven't been able to actively take part in this summer movie season, since my finances have been dismal of late. Seeing movies in theaters was straight out. I'm an Objectivist, so that means no illegal downloading, but from what I've heard I haven't missed much. I've heard as one by one each new project was hyped to death only to reach a disappointing climax with its eventual release.

So I find myself in a rather unusual position. Watchmen is the first movie I've seen of the season and I already can tell it will probably be the best. Yes, the Watchmen that makes a mockery of everything Steve Ditko stood for using variations of the very characters he brought to life.

Nite Owl is still a pathetic sad sack everyman (unable to escape the fate of his long-lost blood brother Spider-Man). Rorschach is still more like Travis Bickle than John Galt. Ozymandias is still the twisted pragmatist "hero" of the story. And Dr. Manhattan is Rand's indestructible robot.

And yet, there is something that connected with me about the film, despite all that. It was an amazing adaptation, taking just as much from the source material it possibly could (some even saying I tried to take too much). All the characters are nuanced the plot puts a number of big ideas on the table and doesn't always (ever?) sort them out for the viewer. Most of what I said about The Dark Knight applies to this film as well. This fact is rather ironic since the source material of this film along with The Dark Knight Returns helped revolutionize the comics medium just as I hope these films will some day revolutionize the superhero genre in all mediums, especially film.

After seeing The Dark Knight last year I couldn't bring myself to watch Iron Man again. Iron Man was a great example of working a formula to perfection designed in such a way that an Objectivist and a hardcore altruist could both walk away from the film and feel their worldview validated. Watchmen takes chances and isn't afraid to sometimes alienate viewers, sometimes it's afraid to take a strong stand on the characters themselves within the story, but it never flinches from portraying them as they were meant to be.

The Dark Knight and Watchmen, much like their four-color predecessors, are rewriting the formula and redefining the rules of the genre. Are they always doing this in ways I am happy with? No. I could see many elements of both these works leading into a direction I'm not comfortable with, but that's just the thing they are leading. In the sense of a companion term I once tried to coin to go alongside the word hero, the makers of these works of art are champions. They are cutting new paths through the artistic wilderness some wonderful and some frightening. The question this begs is, if we are really that unhappy with the direction which these new paths lead, how much longer shall we stay on the sidelines and allow only others to be the ones doing the cutting?