Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Watchmen" needs to use the "parallel universe" trick


I finally saw the almost-three-hour “almost animated” DC comics spectacle “Watchmen”, directed by Zack Snyder, from Warner Brothers and Paramount together (they both pasted their trademarks onto the yellow smiley button).

Okay, this is a story in a parallel universe, where Richard Nixon (without David Frost around) is in his fifth term, with the media watching the Doomsday clock. The “story” as such has Roarschach (Jackie Earle Hailey) running around with his dynamic spotted clown mask looking for revenge, and encountering characters like Dan (Patrick Wilson, who eventually seems like himself), world’s-smartest-guy Adrian (Matthew Goode) and most of all Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), who was once an Oppenheimer-like physicist, who got zapped in an experiment in 1959, and then reassembled into a golem. That sequence is fascinating, focusing on the electricity hitting the hairs on his arms as if lit up by a loose Christmas tree wire, with his transformation making him completely hairless, recalling the notorious photoflash scene in the 1971 version of “Andromeda Strain”.

As in other movies, Hollywood again destroys New York – except that this time there is a plot involving Adrian and Manhattan to do a pre-emptive strike with a bizarre weapon to force the world into peace – the world’s biggest practical joke.

Dr. Manhattan makes some trips to Mars, where he creates a kind of “fortress of solitude”. Mars is well depicted (although the two moons look too big).

Let me note that Wilson has a great “strip” scene with Carla Gugino (better than anything in “Lakeview Terrace” or even “Little Children”).

As to the “meaning” of the movie, I’m struck by the joke. It seems, in my experience, that intellectual people who at the same time have social difficulties (Adrian is presented like a grand aspie) love to change the rules that other people have to play by – Adrian certainly does that (he looks great in lavender, as if everyone notices), leading to the real moral ambiguity of the ending.

As for “superheros”, the characters here didn’t strike me as in the “hero” league, except maybe for Daniel, who is a bit quiet most of the time, if sexy in that one scene.

My own earlier unpublished novels build on the doomsday idea from the Cold War and the Soviets. While in the Army (around 1969), I wrote “The Proles” where there is a nuke war in the middle of the novel (the whole world goes “back to the bay”). Later (as in “Tribunal and Rapture”) I experimented with the idea that Communists would land clandestinely, plant plutonium-laced truck bombs in large cities (in one pre-HIV novel a gay bathhouse is emptied out) , and then take over the remaining disorganized society which gets forced into living in communes (followed by a UFO landing in one case). The trouble is that history outlives all these ideas; history changes, leaving us to use the “parallel world” idea for movies like this.

Picture: Mars atmosphere, from Wikimedia (NASA, public domain) -- go to article on Mars in Wikipedia.

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