So I still haven’t seen Watchmen. But friends, it’s now Thursday (03.05.09) and tonight at midnight, all that will change. But for God’s sake, what will I do until then?!?
I’m sure all you avid MovieChopShop visitors (or Choppers, as I’ve just now decided to call you…or are we the Choppers?…aw, fuck it) have noticed that we’ve been particularly Watchmen-centric for the past week or so. Well, it ain’t stopping yet, friends. Before we’re all able to punch out our reviews of the film we are all hoping will be AMAZING, I’ve got one more Watchmen pre-gamer that I’d like to try and push upon all of you.
This Tuesday saw the DVD release of Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic, which ran in 12 different installments (one for each chapter of the book) which were available on iTunes, starting several months ago. Well, it’s finished up just in time for the release of the movie and it’s been put out on DVD. Now, I’m a pretty big Watchmen fan and even I felt a twinge of “Oh geez, am I gonna regret this?” when I bought the 2-disc set.
Essentially, it’s just what the title suggests. It’s every last panel of Dave Gibbons’s original illustrations from the book set in motion, moving around and coming to life from right off of the page, complete with sound effects and music. All of the dialogue is read by one voice-over actor by the name of Tom Stechschulte. The finished product is a 325-minute-long animated retelling of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. My girlfriend brought me down a little from my Watchmen: Motion Comic-induced high when she noticed the similarities between this and the technique of “Reading Rainbow.”
But, it’s really a pretty solid little package. The style takes a little bit of getting used to, but once the plot has sucked you in, as Watchmen certainly has a way of doing, you find yourself pretty swept up in it. It’s surprisingly cinematic! Once you’ve made it to the frankly stunningly put-together final five minutes of the second chapter, you start to wonder if Snyder’s film will end up being this good.
Now, the thing isn’t really 100% perfect. Not close, either. But let me start with the good and I’ll work my way into the bad.
So what’s good here? For one, the overall mechanics of its construction. You’re not just looking at the panel and it’s moving around. It really does take you right inside the artwork–it’s a piece of animation that has been very carefully crafted and very well directed. The camera pans around the panels, shifts focus, and fades and cuts to black at very appropriate and clever times. The opening shots of each chapter zoom out in a seamless flow, creating a new feel from the panel-by-panel zooms in the book. I mentioned earlier the final five minutes of the second chapter, because those in particular gave me a touch of the goosebumps.
The Comedian sits at the edge of Moloch’s bed, drunkenly ranting. In Gibbon’s original artwork, each panel changed back and forth between color tints, reflecting the changing neon signs outside the bedroom window. The way that this is edited together is flawless, adding a stirring dynamic to the scene that you couldn’t quite get from just watching the drawings sit there. This is just one of the many ways that the “motion” aspect and cinematic editing techniques enhance details within the book’s artwork that I had taken for granted.
And just because I have to mention this, after that scene, it goes straight into Rorschach’s monologue. The music builds and builds as the monologue is intercut with flashback scenes of The Comedian, leading up to the classic shot of him thrown out the window right on the punchline of Rorschach’s joke. It’s fucking mind-blowing.
And that brings me to another great thing about this: the music. The DVD credits Lennie Moore with the music, so I assume it’s original stuff that we’re working with, but it’s excellent. It isn’t particularly complex or even really varied, you’re mostly just hearing the same thing over and over again, but it’s quite moving and has a really solid means of pulling you in.
Also worthy of note is the entire characterization of Rorschach. The narrator does a great Rorschach voice and completely triumphs with the not-so-easy task of making his choppy-incomplete-sentences dialogue not sound ridiculous as spoken word. (It’s my understanding thus far that Jackie Earl Haley’s Rorschach is equally excellent, if not better, and that gets me excited!) But the slow and slightly awkward motions of the images that come off a little odd for a lot of the other characters are perfect here for Rorschach and the changing inkblot on his mask is a fitfully hypnotic thing to watch.
Now onto some of the bad. The thing about the narrator’s voice being excellent for Rorschach…yeah, that doesn’t really hold over to everyone else. As I mentioned above, this guy does the voice for everyone and on some he just seems like he’s either not trying or he’s just too used to the book-on-tape style of voice-acting to make anything sound fluid or natural. It’s an odd sort of anomaly, really. It seems as if he’s speaking slowly and clearly so that the dialogue bubbles (which appear on the screen as characters speak) can keep up, but if the dialogue bubbles are being displayed and we can read the dialogue for any clarification we might need, then why isn’t he trying to sound a little more natural? And is it just me or is his voice for the kid reading the Black Freighter comic just a teensy bit racist?
Some of his characterizations leave a lot to be desired, particularly Dr. Manhattan, who’s given some sort of robot reverb from time to time. And also lacking, for obvious reasons, is Laurie. He kinda makes Silk Spectre II sound like a tranny. And that’s not cool.
The whole time you’re just hearing what is essentially the same voice for everyone. It comes dangerously close to making the tone of the entire thing pretty flat and one-note. This is where the editing and the music help to bring it to life. In its episodic form, this could all be less noticable and annoying, but to watch it all at once or in great big chunks, it gets somewhat cumbersome.
Also, and maybe this is nitpicky, but it bugs me that each chapter includes opening and closing credits, instead of just letting the thing flow straight through as if it were a giant 5 1/2 hour-long animated Watchmen movie, which it is, kinda…just with eleven intermissions.
And there are no special features. None whatsoever. Oh no, I’m sorry there’s a “Special Sneak Peek” at DC Universe’s animated Wonder Woman movie. Which was released on DVD the same day as this. So yeah. That’s lame. I don’t know why they couldn’t have given us a look at the forthcoming Green Lantern animated film instead. The blu-Ray version also contains Zack Snyder’s Watchmen Production Diary #4, which was the one about Dave Gibbons and his involvement with the film.
Anyway, complaints aside, if you’re a Watchmen fan or, hell, even if you’ve never read it, this is a succinct and fascinating way of reading the the entirety of what is surely the greatest and most subversive superhero story ever told. Although, on second thought, I’m inclined to dissuade Watchmen virgins from looking at this, as it excludes all of the between-chapter book excerpts and newspaper clippings and such. But if you walk out of Zack Snyder’s film this Friday, saying to yourself “It just wasn’t FAITHFUL ENOUGH!!!” then maybe this is exactly what you need.
Buy Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic HERE.