Here is another film infected by that plague which has befallen both cinema and literature; its primary symptom being the inability of creative artists to recognize the boundaries that mark the creation of an aesthetic object. Now I know that we have long been witness to the triumph of the blurred genre, but there is a difference between genre blurring and genre ignorance. Thus, fifty years after THE NAKED LUNCH, artists can "do anything"; and this is why artists no longer know what they are doing -- publishers, publics, and audiences too, I am afraid. In this movie, the failure is not so extreme as it often is; but this is, in some ways, a disadvantage -- movies like FROM DUSK TO DAWN and I KNOW WHO KILLED me at least provide viewers the opportunity for contemptuous laughter, but when a movie comes out swinging from the opening bell and then throws a wild haymaker, instead of a knockout punch at the end -- well, that can only be a disappointment. In WATCHMEN we have a movie, and possibly an original ms. (I haven't read it) that wants to achieve literary respectability by functioning as "genre commentary" on the one hand and "social commentary" on the other; ultimately, it succeeds with neither. As to the Matter of genre commentary, we are to understand that the anti-hero who knocks out street criminals and others at random serves as a critical challenge to the moral boundaries that have limited the performances of caped crusaders. But the anti-hero has been around since Poe's narrator in "The Telltale Heart" and is practically a stock figure in Russian literature. Good Lord, you can find such figures in professional wrestling -- the Million Dollar Man and Undertaker, for example! Consequently, when we see the anti-hero, we no longer marvel at the fact that "he is" -- the only thing that interests us now is the life that made him this way -- that's the revelation that makes BATMAN BEGINS so much better than the Batman movies that preceeded it. In WATCHMEN, by contrast, all we get are superficial anti-heroic characters -- of course, little could be done to develop these characters in such a long and complex movie. True, that makes the failure forgiveable, but it doesn't make it a cinematic triumph. The other failing in this film is its attempt to provide social commentary that might lead a reader to ponder weightily on the way out of the theater. The model for this "deep thought" is organized by the "most intelligent person alive" and a nuclear scientist whose accidental exposure to radiation left him time-transcendent, galactically mobile, and (how can I put this given a general audience) otherwise "well-equipped". With so much brain power in action, one obviously expects some astonishing moral insight, but that just doesn't happen. The genius and the post-human blue giant engage in an ends-means debate that would get them kicked out of an introductory philosophy seminar -- their dialog could be dropped into an Ed Wood film. Read DARKNESS AT NOON or two chapters from THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV ("The Grand Inquisitor" and "Ivan's Nightmare") if you really want to see how such questions get examined by serious literary figures. DOn't go to WATCHMEN hoping to become a coffee-shop philosopher or some otherwise smartypants. Anyway, so much for the movie's social commentary, and this leaves us with only one question: what indeed is worthwhile in this film. Answer: Doctor Manhattan: the Blue Man. Here is a figure whose structural characteristics and moral complexity can tap the imagination of any audience member who stomachs or thrives on speculative fiction. In him, the author captures the mystery that can hold the attention of its audience. As such, he has cinematic potential that exceeds the content of the film, and I fully expect that to be exploited in one way or another long after this particular film is forgotten.
|7/10||basilherringboneiii@ - 116 reviews|
7.3.2009 - age: 13-17
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