24 March 2009

back on topic (or, why I've come to my disdain for Battlestar Galactica)

Vanessa and I have been making our way through the portions of the show that I like (miniseries, S1, S2, Razor, and the first few episodes of S3 - we're on the first disc of the "Season 2.0" DVD at the moment), and I thought it might be good if I tried to get back to my titular popular culture rantings by attempting to explain, in a long form, why I don't watch Battlestar Galactica anymore, and why I don't care (this could be the first in a series of complaints about television shows that I used to like, but don't anymore - maybe I'll do one on Lost).

Actually, I didn't plan to care from the get-go. Why would I give a shit about a remake of Battlestar Galactica, even if it was spearheaded by the architect of some of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation ever, Ronald D. Moore? Who would be able to say, let alone do, anything interesting with the impossibly cheesey, wanting-terribly-to-be-Star-Wars source material that was the original Battlestar?

Of course, when I saw my first episode ("Bastille Day," the showing of which I was dragged to under vehement protest), I quickly reckoned I was wrong. Dead wrong, in fact. Moore & company did what the best remakes/reimaginings/covers do (Tool's "No Quarter," The Magnificent Seven): they took what was best from the original material, and twisted it into something... different. Something significant. Something their own. Sure, it was a little heavyhanded, but aren't most of the best episodes of Trek, no matter the era, just the same?

And this Galactica (BSG from here on, to save time) was fucking dark, man. No compromises. When Apollo got beaten down by dozens of Tom Zerek/Mark Rudd's (or William Ayers', depending on who your favorite member of the Weather Underground is) flunkies aboard the prison ship, you could feel every. single. punch. That's what you get with that faux-doc style that BSG apes from Bourne so well: the fantastic anchored in the real. Real people disagree with each other, even hate each other. Even when things are bad, or at their worst, people still find ways to hit rock bottom and keep digging. Colonel Tigh. Starbuck. Case closed.

That's what made Adama and Roslin such fascinating and magnetic characters. They never lost sight of the real stakes of the situation, and nothing, nothing was going to get between them and giving humanity its best chance to survive. Not friction between civillians and the military, not fuel, not supplies, not democracy, not even their closest friends and family would distract them from that most important of missions: keeping as many people alive as possible.

"Hand of God" is, and was, without question, my favorite episode of the show. It was practically perfect in every way, bringing things to a head with such aplomb, such tangible joy (Helo figures out that Caprica Sharon's a Cylon, Baltar's uncovering more of what might be in store for him, the combat scenes that've mostly only been hinted to so far finally get a chance to shine) that I couldn't help but be swept up in it. Plus, and this was kind of a key thing, the story started at the beginning of the episode, and ended at the end of it. I miss that in this post-24, post-Lost world, television shows that understand what an "episode" really is.

I watched the rest of the first season pretty much in order, from "Bastille Day" forward. Then I watched the minieries (out of order, but sue me. I didn't care at first). The miniseries is good, I think, in that it doesn't really fuck (frak) around or waste a whole lot of time. Most of the questions it raises are interesting (particularly the stuff about fate, which is different from religion, in my mind - Baltar, Sharon, even Adama's speech where he says that you can't run from the things that you've done anymore... or something), and it shows us what the show will consistently be best at: the space battles. While some people (most people, probably) will tell you that Galactica's at its best treading in the waters of moral ambiguity and questionable judgment, I will say that, for me, the only thing the show did that didn't start to grate on me after a while was have spaceships shoot at other spaceships. And, I think it got better at it as it went along.

Season 1 moved at such a breakneck speed that it was virtually impossible to avoid getting pulled in. All the right elements were there: intrigue (political, military, and romantic), action, less-than-subtle-social-commentary-that-I-thought-would-get-better-as-the-show-went-along, dynamite characterization, and a hell of a lot of interlocking short- and long-term goals (which any show flat-out requires for any sort of longevity, particularly in this post-Buffy and -Angel world we're in). When the Chief, Cally, Baltar and he-who-would-eventually-be-Vader's-secret-apprentice-in-The-Force-Unleashed crash-landed on Kobol, BSG Sharon found out she was a Cylon and shot Adama not once, but twice, on the bridge of the ship, Apollo and Roslin got arrested, and Starbuck found Helo and Caprica Sharon (later, "Athena," I think)... Man, that had to go on a list of awesome season-ending episodes. It could not be denied.

The above paragraphs detail, for me, what I'm going to refer to as the "rise" of Battlestar Galactica. With a couple of little hiccups along the way, I'm going to start addressing the "fall," and I'm going to begin with what I think most damaged the show for me: the jump in the episode order following the first season's conclusion. For illustrative purposes, I'll begin with a list:

Season 1 - 13 episodes
Season 2 - 20 episodes (with a 3.5 month break in the middle)
Season 3 - 20 episodes
Razor TV movie (technically the first 2 episodes of S4)
Season 4 - 20 episodes (with a 6 month break in the middle - not entirely their fault, due to the Writer's Strike, but still. It also started 1 year and 1 month after the conclusion of Season 3)

On paper, 7 extra hours of television probably doesn't appear too demanding/affecting, and, at the time, was terribly exciting to me and my friends as now-dedicated fans of the show. "7 more episodes of Battlestar for Season 2? Fuck (frak) yes!" However, that decision (which I'm sure was motivated more by $$ than anything resembling "art") gutted what I've said before (and will likely say again) was most noteworthy about the show, that it was lean and mean. 13 episodes don't give you any time to fuck (frak) around, not if you have a plan (which it sure seemed they did in that first season); you have to accomplish precisely what you set out to accomplish. That set the tone for the show; the plot moved forward in every episode, sometimes two or three times. Galactica, unlike every other show on television, wasn't interested in wasting my time in the pursuit of more advertising dollars. A few episodes can bog a show down terribly (take Season 3 of The Office versus Season 2), but when a show races ahead the way that first season of BSG did? Forget about it. Season 2 would remind me only perfunctorily of Season 1.

[ASIDE: Okay, fine, I'm ascribing a level of artistic and moral dedication to an industry, and a network, that's been scrambling for dollars from the moment it was birthed. I understand that doesn't make perfect sense, or much sense at all. What I'm complaning about probably ranks up there on the level of "retooling," if it ranks anywhere at all. Shows, and people, and networks, change - "Sy Fy," right? However, dear reader, when a show is called "the best thing on television," when its stars go to the UN building to talk about human rights and their program's relevance to our society today, it had better be one bulletproof fucking (fraking) show. I had better not be able to poke any holes in it that I'm not willing to overlook/forgive, and those holes sure as hell better not be able to deflate it to the point that it starts to come back to earth. I'm the first to idolize something when I love it; I'm rarely interested in seeing my false deities crash and burn in front of me. This isn't being written out of spite. Well, it is, but not because I feel a need to be the douchebag that ruins Battlestar for everyone. Now that it's over, I just feel like I can finally say my piece. END ASIDE]

I found little compelling about the first half of Season 2. I never thought Tigh was a strong enough character to carry storytelling weight on his shoulders (and don't even get me started on that wife of his... I know you don't have to like characters in order to enjoy watching them, but when they're as flat-out uninteresting as Ellen Tigh, and eventually get resurrected in one of the stupidest scenes I've ever seen in any television program, ever (I'll admit to watching the "Catch the Frak Up" segments on the SciFi webpage, and to catching snippets of episodes online, and to reading synopses online - IMDb's synopsis for the final episode is a thing of nerdy beauty)... I get it, she brings out the worst in her husband, and without Bill Adama around to counter her, she becomes some sort of low-grade Lady Macbeth. And she sleeps around. And she's the final Cylon model (I was utilizing my "low readership = I write what I want" philosophy right there). So what? Make her interesting. No? Shit.

I didn't like how the show came to a dead stop for episodes on end while the fleet lingered around Kobol, and Starbuck/Helo/Caprica Sharon kept dinking around on Caprica while they "tried" to get back to the ship. Sure, we might've lost Sam Anders (a likable character in a show with far too few of them), and the Lucy Lawless fauxumentary episode, and maybe even "Downloaded" (the first step towards humanizing the children of humanity, you say? An excruciatingly important episode, you say? Fuck (frak) that, I say. Beginning of the fucking (frakking) end, I say), but if they were that important to the story, they would've found a way to work them in during a 13-episode run. We for sure would've lost "Black Market" (sadly, I would be willing to sacrifice Bill Duke), but not "Scar."

I particularly like that in "Scattered" it's revealed that the Galactica's computer is less advanced than even Star Wars' beloved R2-D2. R2 units, it's stated in the Essential Guide to Droids, can hold multiple sets of hyperspace jump coordinates in their active memory. The Battlestar Galactica, though, can only hold one set, and apparently purges all the others once it's made a lightspeed jump, requiring them to return to their previous location and recalculate the numbers if they want to go anywhere else (like, say, find the rest of the fleet). Kudos, Galactica. I think that's even less advanced than some of today's nuclear submarines.

The second half of S2 was a marked increase in quality, thanks to the arrival of Bizarro Jerry [the Battlestar Pegasus, and the "Big Bad Harv" to Adama's District Attourney Dent, Admiral Helena Cain (formerly Ensign, and later Lieutenant, Ro Laren on TNG and Lynne Kresge on 24, Michelle Forbes)]. Like the best zombie movies (or anything that inverts the "other as enemy" conceit in favor of exploring what it means to have dissent in the ranks), the Cylons all of a sudden stopped being the most pressing threat. Instead, our humans had to watch their backs to make sure the new humans didn't stick some sort of military-issue knives in them (particularly when Cain transferred Apollo and Starbuck over to Pegasus, and installed her own guy as deck chief on Galactica). Sure, they had to put that all aside in order to take out the Resurrection Ship (one of the flagging good ideas the show had before the end of the season), but that just ratcheted up the tension even further.

I also reached a turning point in my feelings for Gaius Baltar, and, more significantly, Imaginary(?) Six, when he went aboard the Pegasus to interview their Cylon prisoner. Face-to-face (sort of) with a tortured, barely-functional "sister" of hers, Imaginary(?) Six flies off the handle, screaming at Baltar about the abused woman with whom he's confronted, about how no one has the right to treat anyone else this way. She makes a decent, if generic, argument against prisoner torture, until you remember that this is the mental imprint of a woman who was a prime player in the genocide of fucking (frakking) humanity. Once you help wipe millions (billions?) of people out, you've lost the moral high ground. Period. And Baltar never even considers throwing this back in her face (I guess he wouldn't, but still); some fast-thinking genius.

This actually ties directly into one of the other things that frustrates me greatly about the show, the legions of missed opportunities. Sure, Baltar and Imaginary(?) Six don't throw down over what actually constitutes moral behavior, not to mention superiority, and maybe if I asked Ronald D. Moore about it, he'd tell me that was intended to spark conversation among audience members, but I'd just call it lazy. [ANOTHER ASIDE: I've never read an interview, listened to a podcast, or emailed Ron Moore about the show. Perhaps he's addressed these issues I'm raising. I don't care. END ASIDE] But, this storyline failure isn't really what irritates me the most. The fact that they ran through commanding officer upon commanding officer of Pegasus, until it became more than clear that the plan was to put Apollo in charge of his own Battlestar, sacrificing who knows how many interesting stories about trying to move on, to reunify the last pieces of humanity, or even just more awesome space battles (!!!) in favor of advancing a plot point that, in retrospect, doesn't really matter, that's not even the most aggravating thing.

What still chaps my ass is what they did with what was, at the time, one of the most amazing plot twists I'd ever conceived of. Instead of following the year that humanity attempted to make the best of a bad situation on New Caprica (and, truly, all the positive comments in the world with regards to Adama forcing Roslin to accept the outcome of the election, for good or for ill. One of the best moments of a character being true to himself in TV history, I think), in the waning moments of the S2 finale, BSG jumps ahead a full year, to the Cylon occupation of the human settlement on New Caprica. Anders and Starbuck, married. The Chief and Cally, married (with a baby on the way). Apollo and Dee, married (and both working aboard the Pegasus). When the Cylons come, the Battlestars get the fuck (frak) out of there - an interesting coda to Adama's initial desire to fight the war to his bitter, bloody end at the show's start, leaving the rest of humanity to fend for itself until they can come back for them.

Here's my problem: at this point, the show was clearly going to be about the Iraq occupation, only it made the ballsy decision to cast the characters with whom we were most invested as the occupied, not the occupiers. The "Resistance" webisodes were fascinating, and I'd put them up against almost anything else the show had ever done. They asked a very heavy version of the "What if?" question, and got some good answers (particularly from Duck - the Wash-looking suicide bomber - and Colonel Tigh). I was prepared for an interesting occupation, except that, at the beginning of S3, they pressed the reset button. Admittedly, Galactica & Pegasus' rescue of humanity was fucking (frakking) amazing; the show deserved the special effects awards it won, unquestioningly. Baltar gets left behind with the Cylons, and Lee sacrifices his command to save Galactica, and humanity. Once again, the fleet's on the run, with only the Galactica and its rag-tag crew to defend humankind from the Cylons.

All well and good, except that I refuse to accept the fact that you can press the reset button again after having pressed it so soon (actually, it seems like they pressed the reset button a few times during S2, and the first parts of S3. There are only so many dramatic, show-altering twists that I can take before I stop caring, and the show becomes Lost or 24). It's just like a Brett Ratner ending ("Don't like this one, bro? Then try this one, or this one! It's all good; it doesn't matter anyway!"). And from there, well, my interest waned, and quickly. I didn't care that Baltar uncovered dissent among the Cylon ranks, I don't care that Starbuck and Anders were going through some stuff, and I sure didn't care about the "revelation" of the remaining Cylon models. I mean, come on.

After this, after sidestepping what could've been a total redefiniton of the show (here's my thought: if it was all going to wind up being the same anyway, why not just make the S2 finale another hour longer, and end up with humanity on the run again? There's not a single part of the first few episodes of S3 that couldn't have been done in flashback, and this way the show wouldn't have had to lie to me), it just meandered until I totally gave up (around the time Starbuck "died"). I stopped watching Lost because it just felt like they were filling time, too.

The show hit a wall, insofar as pacing goes, and for a show so defined by its unrelenting speed in the beginning, this was pretty much unforgivable. I mean, didn't you jump over a year of trying to make a life on New Caprica just so that you could get back to running from the Cylons, and, hopefully, towards Earth? Now you expect me to deal with... walking-through-molasses-slow storytelling (the folly of having to fill 20 episodes, and not just 13)? Fuck (frak) that. I can watch Angel, or The Wire, or Deadwood, or practically any other show on HBO (or made by Joss, for that matter) if I want to watch a show that asks big philsophical and metaphysical questions, that tries to have a relevance right here, right now.

I'm not saying that the show betrayed me as a viewer, or that it lost sight of what it was supposed to be, or anything like that. Clearly, it did enough to captivate an significant segment of the TV-watching population. Cool. If there are that many people that love it, I can step aside and not be missed.

Joss once said that, "The audience matters." To me, it just felt like BSG ignored, or forgot, that (particularly in regards to the audience for the beginning of the show). I'm not a dumb guy; I challenge myself with the media I consume (mostly; sometimes it's fun to watch the original Transformers animated movie). This has nothing to do with BSG going over my head (quite the opposite, I think; that "ham-handed" commentary that I hoped would improve from the first season? Based on everything I've read/seen/heard, doesn't look like that improved one little bit, particularly based on the series finale). It's done, and I'm done with it. Maybe I'll grow enough as a person some day to give it another chance, but, in truth, there's so much other stuff out there that I enjoy, that engages me, that I have no interest in fighting with something that I just don't care about. I've worked out what remaining emotion I had regarding the show in this piece here; that's all he wrote. Mostly.

[ASIDE/CODA #1: I bought Razor because it was on sale for cheap this past summer. I actually found it very interesting, because it added new wrinkles to what had come before. It almost made me question some assumptions I'd made, and certainly turned Admiral Cain into a more sympathic character. It also made me more furious at the missed opportunities that could've come from Baltar/Imaginary(?) Six and the Pegasus vs. everyone else dynamics that just sort of slid by, ignored. It was overwrought in parts, sure, but it felt like the BSG I loved.]

[ASIDE/CODA #2: While "frak" is fairly awesome, it's just an illustration of how hypocritical the people that police the media in this country are. If "frak" = "fuck," why can one word be said on television, but not the other? This is undeniable proof that it's the word itself that is apparently offensive, and not anything that the word indicates. Good work, arbitrary signifiers. Bad work, FCC.]

23 March 2009

regarding brendan o'brien

albums produced:
Stone Temple Pilots - Core,
Purple, Tiny Music... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, No. 4, Shangri-La Dee Da
Pearl Jam - Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, Yield,
Neil Young (f. Pearl Jam) - Mirrorball
Paul Westerberg - Eventually
Rage Against the Machine - Evil Empire, The
Battle of Los Angeles
Korn - Issues
Bruce Springsteen - The Rising,
Devils & Dust, Magic, Working on a Dream
Incubus - Alive at Red Rocks
The Wallflowers - Rebel, Sweetheart
Audioslave - Revelations
The Nightwatchman - One Man Revolution,
The Fabled City
AC/DC - Black Ice
Mastodon - Crack the Skye

Albums re/mixed:
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magick
Soundgarden - Superunknown
Pearl Jam - No Code, Yield, Binaural, Riot Act, Lost Dogs, rearviewmirror, Ten Redux, the new album (2009!?)
Audioslave - Out of Exile
The Living End - White Noise
Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
Limp Bizkit - Significant Other

Albums engineered:
Kansas - In The Spirit of Things
RHCP - Blood Sugar Sex Magick

Ever want me to make a list of people I'd like to be (or meet)? He'd be up there.

17 March 2009

the expensive movie that looks like a little movie

Usually I hate it; this time I don't.

Why not? It's simple, really: Sam Mendes. Why is it that the British seem to do a better job deconstructing America than we do?

John Krasinski (whose back I will always have because of The Office) looks like he may well have found his gateway into feature films - I guessed he'd have to wait until the Cohen brothers cast him, but Mendes... I'd not yet reckoned with Mendes. I have high hopes, in fact.

The whole cast, really, appears to be something to behold. Maya Rudolph - who was just as fantastic as anyone in Idiocracy, Jeff Daniels (Jeff Daniels!!), Jim Gaffigan, Allison Janney (man, that's going to be one hell of a married couple), Maggie Gyllenhaal...

The story seems pretty standard, indie-like movie fare, but (once again)... Sam Mendes! With a script co-written by Dave Eggers! How much more upside could this indie-movie-that-isn't need?

I don't much like the Sufjan Stevens-esque title card, but if that's all I can complain about, hey, go movie.

"last house '09"

I saw the original Last House on the Left (or, Last House '72) towards the end of college, when Matt and I went on this big, years-long binge of horror movies. A lot of them have kind of blended together, to the point that I sometimes can't remember if a scene that I'm remembering is from Fulchi's Zombi 2 or Argento's Bird with the Crystal Plumage (hint: if it involves zombies, it's Fulchi), but two certainly haven't: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (perhaps a subject for another day), and Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left. I'd like to be sarcastic and say it's because of the hyper-inappropriate cross-cutting between the Keystone Kops rushing to the house to save the day (which, as anyone who has a passing familiarity with Craven's work can tell you, they don't) and the brutal, nasty stuff going down in and around the Collingwood cabin, but it's really because it had an exceptionally visceral quality to it that I'd never seen in a film before, and doubt I ever will again (I feel inclined to make a virginity joke here, but I'll leave that one to you, dear reader).

Last House '09 has got nothing on it's predecessor. It says nothing significant, isn't noteworthy for any other reason that Garrett Dillahunt's performance (which is extraordinary, as usual - does that make it "ordinary?"), and, insofar as the much-bandied-about "ending" goes, is fairly lacking.

I wrote myself a bunch of notes on my iPhone over the course of the film, but, due to the fact that I feel less than inspired to translate them into paragraphs of writing, I'll just post them, in their entirety, in the order in which they came to me:

"cigarette lighter why not in the eye

aerial view of the suv pinballing

closeup doesn't equal awkward

arbitrary nudity

swimming shot at the start is good foreshadowing

c grade paul dano [regarding the son]

there's a difference between gritty realism and manufactured gritty realism

krug wants his son to look - how does that relate to us the audience

2x stabbing - first time i've seen that in a movie?

assault is alternately well & poorly shot - so poorly edited?


dillahunt likes shooting motherfuckers in the back

no one's likable enough to generate sympathy

resetting broken nose = FUCK

stitches don't quite = fuck

oh shit the power went out

making memories

daughter surviving is lame - they should've stolen the girls' phones and been found out that way...?

justin sees -> what could his reaction say about the audience

maybe i take it back re finding out (still could've been a good fuck you we know what you did moment

c grade viggo [regarding the dad]

history of violence

cutting on your own child

this is the sort of movie that makes people hate handycam?

like a summer guest home invasion movie?

francis & emma in the kitchen

zombie fighting tool shed

no outdoors bj w/ biting... almost too bad

reverse rape through drowning?

garbage disposal

couple walked out

fireplace poker

son sees krug & sadie in bed, watching w/ gun

crazy topless bitch with shower curtain rod - mom shoots her where daughter should've burned her

husband & wife can only kill in tandem

music is vaguely john carpenter

water is...?"

...So, there you go.

08 March 2009

phil watches the watchmen

I've said it before, and I have no qualms about saying it again: Watchmen is, in my opinion (for whatever that's worth), easily among the crowning literary acheivements of the last 30 years. I don't care what piece of prose you're putting Moore & Gibbon's book up against, Watchmen'll fight it to the bitter, bloody end, and, more often than not, come out on top. I read it for the first time about five years ago (thank goodness for that graphic fiction scripting class), and I've read it at least ten time since then. At the end of every single reading, I come away with a new understanding and appreciation for the work. I can't say that about many of the other things I've encountered in my life, no matter the medium or the message. It certainly works in the book's favor that it almost single-handedly dragged an art form universally considered to be the purview of adolescent boys kicking and screaming into maturity, but so what? Watchmen is sinister, hysterical, cynical, brilliant, and completely, utterly unwilling to submit to what most everyone in 1986 thought a “comic book” should be.

Enough people have and can recount the story's stormy journey to the silver screen that I won't waste time doing it here. The point is, Watchmen (from the “visionary” director of 300 and the Dawn of the Dead remake – Zack Snyder) has arrived in theaters, and I have experienced it. I've thought about it long enough that I think I can form coherent thoughts about it, and I'll attempt to archive them here.

Principally, I was and still am astounded. Watchmen is such a complex book, with so many branches, roots and vines, interconnected and disparate all at once, weaving in and out, over and under, that I long ago agreed with the popular conception that it was, to borrow a phrase, “unfilmable.” I didn't really see a problem with that, because it's so good as a book, I didn't see a reason to make it into what could only be a lesser movie. I couldn't have figured out a way to make it work in my wildest dreams, so thank goodness Zack Snyder and the writers of the script didn't listen to me. Watchmen is at least as good as V for Vendetta, a film I seriously respect for its ability to recognize, understand, and speak to its audience (post-11th of September, 2001, America, as opposed to Britons who'd lived under Margaret Thatcher's time as Prime Minister), and could well be superior, by virtue of the fact that its source material is better.

Just like Moore and Gibbons' book, Synder's film doesn't compromise (serious congratulations should be given to everyone involved who contributed to its eventual R rating – if they'd allowed the sex, the violence, or the thoughtfulness to get watered down enough to the point that it had become a PG-13 movie, Watchmen would have become a terrible casualty of the all-ighty -ollar, and not something that might well be an actual artistic acheivement. But, more on that later). From Dan Dreiberg's schoolboy-ish costume fetish, to the Comedian's cold-blooded murder of the Vietnamese woman he knocked up, to the giant blue wang (which was never actually “giant,” which is something I appreciate, not because of any latent homophobia, but because I've never had much interest in seeing a penis that's larger than a grown man. Or a vagina, either, but that's something for a later paragraph, as well), Watchmen the film remains just as true to human nature as Watchmen the book; losing the reverse correlation between Dr. Manhattan's humanity and his modesty is impossible to do. For a work whose principal concern is human nature, that's a good thing.

In every way, the film succeeds in bringing the world of the comic to life. All of the iconic imagery (save one thing) from the book makes its way into the film, as far as I could remember. Sure, a lot of the side stories had to give in order to keep the [initial] running time down, but everything that makes its way onscreen is inarguably essential. This is the essence of Watchmen, and it would be the perfect introduction to the world of the book if there were such a thing as a primer on Watchmen. It's great fan service, though.

Speaking of bringing the book to life, the acting in the film sets another new bar for what we can hope to see in a superhero movie (is this the only time I'll subtly indicate that it might be better than The Dark Knight, a film I might've married had it been human? We'll see). Billy Crudup's next-step-up-from-Gollum performance as Dr. Manhattan is supremely praise-worthy – he humanizes a man who becomes so powerful that he's no longer a man, which should shut up anyone who wants to complain about his acting chops for the rest of forever – and Jackie Earle Haley, him of Maniac Cop 3 and Bad News Bears fame, turns in the performance of a lifetime as everybody's favorite character, Rorschach – the fact that he's even scarier when his “face” (his mask – what do you want, he's a sociopath) gets taken away from him and he's left with his prison jumpsuit astounds me. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is magnetic as the Comedian – he made me genuinely like a facist, murdering rapist.

The real story, though, is Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II – my favorite character from Watchmen. The man jumps off the fucking page of the comic, dear reader – a tribute to makeup and performance alike. I'd heard at one point that John Cusack was in talks to play Dreiberg, and as a huge John Cusack fan, I had high hopes it'd come through. When it didn't, I felt I'd be automatically biased against the asshole that had the audacity to steal a part that was rightfully Rob Gordon's. I was wrong; when I say Wilson's portrayal was perfect, I mean that it was absolutely flawless, and above reproach. It's a case study in understated acting, and, I think, in committing to a character (but in a different way from Heath. Heath owned the role of the Joker – he redefined it – but Patrick Wilson in Watchmen is Dan Dreiberg). Wilson may as well not be present; they could've made some sort of evil scientist-type ray to shine on the book to make Dreiberg come to life, and I seriously doubt the character from the book could've done a better job.

I'd be remiss in my praise if I didn't mention Malin Akerman's job as Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II. She was the one on whom I was least sold from the trailer, but she's stellar (a bad pun, seeing as how she and Dr. Manhattan find themselves on Mars for a good chunk of the film), riding the fence between hard and vulnerable exactly the way she needed to. Matthew Goode was, well, precisely that as Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (the “slight German accent” I've read about was rarely noticable to me, and therefore a non-issue). I couldn't stop myself from comparing him to Tom Cruise the entire time; I still haven't quite figured out what that means. Ozymandias, as the character that's the least complicated (in that he articulates his motivations best), is the least interesting in the book, as far as I'm concerned. I have no issue with Goode's performance, regardless.

The big change (and the way in which I'll directly compare this to V for Vendetta, beyond the obvious “Alan Moore wrote both of them, dickwad”) from book to screen (again availing myself of my small reader base, I'm just going to write about it) is the replacement of the giant asshole/vagina monster that's dropped on NYC with a fradulent attack by Dr. Manhattan on more than a few of the world's major cities. In order to talk about this, I'm going to refer to the other major alteration that I noticed – Ozymandias' desire to bring an unlimited supply of clean energy to the world, to wean us off fossil fuels, because, as he puts it, once the resources become limitless, the need for war goes away. In the book, electric cars are everywhere, and recharging stations – which look almost exactly like fire hydrants – are just as pervasive. These don't appear until the end of the movie, and with good, obvious reason. Manhattan and Ozymandias are working on this clean, limitless energy generation system throught the film, until it turns out that it's a smokescreen (kind of) to allow Veidt to play a huge “practical joke” on humanity – get us all united against a singular threat, and keep us thinking that threat is imminent, so that we don't go around killing each other anymore. Kind of a reverse-Star Trek ploy, but with more or less the same result.

These changes update the movie for a post-11th of September, 2001, post-An Inconvienent Truth, world, in the same way the Wachowskis and James McTiegue updated V. While it still remains true to the original spirit of the work (far more than that, in Watchmen's case – despite these changes, the movie tells the same story), it renews that work's relevance. I never felt much affection for the asshole/vagina monster from the book – there wasn't much scatalogical humor in Watchmen. It would've worked well in Preacher, but I always felt it cheapened Watchmen a bit. What's the only thing better than a great work? A great work with a tiny flaw you can pick at – so Veidt's perversion of Manhattan's abilities (Manhattan = ultimate nuclear deterrent, right? Now, he really is) sits pretty well with me. It adds a new wrinkle to him (which I appreciate – he's still the least interesting, but less so now), and makes his moral position a little more precarious. Plus, in this tear-down-our-heroes culture we're living in, it (again) renews the relevance of the story.

I still don't think Snyder's going to qualify as anyone remotely on the cutting edge of American film directors until he makes something that's his own (Dawn being a remake – a 28 Days Later-ified remake, nevertheless – of one of the five most important American horror films ever made, and 300 and Watchmen extraordinarily faithful adaptations of comic books), something that springs out of his fervent visual imagination. However, I'm much more a Zack Snyder fan after Watchmen than I was after 300 (I thought 300 was obnoxious, frankly, both in its adherence to its source material and in its overuse of slow-motion). It's a much more thoughful movie, one that appeals better to the brain than to the balls (interesting word choice there, Phil, given the virtually all-male cast of 300 and the sexual dynamics that drive Watchmen). Plus, there's far less slow-mo (it's still there, and I still don't like it, but it's like Paul Greengrass' shakycam from Supremacy-United 93-Ultimatum, in that I believe he'll get better and more judicious with it as time goes on).

I'm going to do my level best to get my complaints (such as they are) out of the way here at the end. Mostly, it's the fact that the movie, with few exceptions, is basically the comic book slapped onscreen (“slapped” conveys a carelessness that I don't really mean to imply – this was a well and carefully crafted movie. I don't think that's even up for discussion). [ASIDE: I've said before that the (apparently) most universally disliked of the Harry Potter films – Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban – is my favorite of those films, because Cuaron didn't just slap the book onscreen the way Chris Columbus did with the first two. He made an actual movie adaptation from the book. I think Azkaban really was, and remains, the only Harry Potter movie made for fans of the books, because it took the framework provided by book – a book that virtually everyone in the audience for the film knows well – and plays around with it. There are gaps in the story that can only be filled with a knowledge of the source material. The movie doesn't unfold in the painfully obvious way that the other movies do. It takes advantage of its medium – film, in case we've all forgotten – in the telling of its story, a medium which is different from its source. That's why I like it best. END ASIDE] Watchmen doesn't really break free of the confines of the book except in the opening credits sequence (which, I'll say again, was absolutely beautiful), and I think that hurts it somewhat. The book is, well, I'll say languidly paced at times, and that's part of the reason I thought it'd never get made into a good film, because, given the sort of movie Watchmen'd have to be, it could never embrace that pacing, have the confidence to let the story unfold as it is wont to.

Clearly, I have underestimated Zack Snyder (and the screenwriters) in this regard, for his film has (though I am loath to repeat myself, here we go again) nothing if not fearless fealty to its source material. But, therein lies the Achilles' heel. I wrote before about my initial reaction to the teaser trailer, and about how I asked Matt for his reaction (thought it looked cool, but didn't know what was going on, and he didn't really care as a result), and I don't think there's much that I took away from the movie that'd give me cause to work to change his opinion. Because the film is so carefully wedded to the book, it unfolds the way a fan of the book (like me) knows it will. I wasn't confused from the start about who each of the weird costumed people were; I knew we weren't going to uncover the “Secret Origin of Dr. Manhattan” until, well, a lot later. I knew we were going to get attached to the Comedian only to have him disappear because, well, he gets killed at the outset. I bring no neuroses about the way in which the story unfolds to the screening, because I already know. The same can not be said for people that don't know Watchmen already. I spoke to plenty of people who could only say that the initial trailer “looked cool,” because they didn't have a reason to be excited about seeing Nite Owl, Silk Spectre and Rorschach in action.

To put it another way, I don't think the movie does a Watchmen neophyte any favors. It doesn't hold your hand. Though, that's not really a complaint. If anything, it's a compliment, for far too few films these days have any sort of confidence in their audience. Snyder's made a film that's ruthlessly loyal to its source material, but in doing so, he may have done exactly what I wanted as a fan of the original material, and as a filmgoer (and -maker): he's made a coherent movie out of Watchmen. And, in all fairness to him, it was likely far too great a task for any filmmaker to distill that monster of a story into something that zips along for 100-120 minutes and drags everyone in the theater, experienced and virgin alike, along for a spellbinding ride.

I honestly think the director's cut might be able to do that, even if it is 4 hours long (oh, and before I forget, let me reiterate something: this is a seriously R-rated movie. Which it should've been. But, by virtue of the fact that it's limited its audience, well, there's a reason for that. Which is worth keeping in mind). Here's to hoping it gets released in theaters.