Tuesday, June 28, 2011

If You're Smart Enough To "Get" Watchmen, You'll Not Need Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comics!

The Good: Good story, Good voice acting
The Bad: Ridiculous animation, Pointless, Light on DVD bonus features.
The Basics: A great and complex story, Watchmen comes unnecessarily to life as a quasi-animated feature called Watchmen Motion Comics.

I'll be honest; I have been quite the champion for all things Watchmen of late. Seeing the previews for the film compelled me to go out and get the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore (reviewed here!) and I read and generally enjoyed it. But since then, I am one of the few people who have championed the film version of Watchmen (reviewed here!) over the graphic novel because it flows better and eliminates the extraneous pieces that broke up the original graphic novel in problematic ways.

What I have never argued is that any form of Watchmen is beneath the viewer or reader. And yet, tonight, I find myself feeling that way in the wake of my viewing the six hours of Watchmen: Original Motion Comic on DVD, I find myself baffled as to the purpose. This two-disc DVD set features panels of original Watchmen art animated by David Gibbons. Characters and props move through the panels like figures pulled on a string, much like Terry Gilliam's old animations on Monty Python's Flying Circus or on South Park now. Yes, Watchmen Complete Motion Comics might be the most literal translation of the graphic novel to screen, but it is also the least necessary. As it utilizes artwork from the comic book, this is essentially someone reading the graphic novel to the viewer with minimal movements within the frames. It often looks ridiculous.

For those unfamiliar with Watchmen, it is set in an alternate 1985. In the autumn of 1985, the world is falling apart at the seams. In New York City, a former super hero is killed, sparking a series of events which put the entire world in jeopardy. The militant right-wing government-sponsored mercenary known as the Comedian, thrown out the window of his apartment, inspires the last remaining masked super hero, an enigmatic moral absolutist named Rorschach to begin an investigation. After warning the other super heroes from their aborted group from the mid-1960s, the powerful Dr. Manhattan is implicated in a number of cancer-related deaths, billionaire industrialist Adrian Veidt is shot at in the lobby of his own offices and Rorschach is caught by the police after a decade of them pursuing him.

With most of the former masked adventurers taken out of action, it falls to the reluctant Laurie Juspeczyk (formerly the Silk Spectre) and Dan Dreiberg (who had previously taken up the mantle of Nite Owl when the original one retired) to pick up Rorschach's investigation. Soon, though, it appear that the end of the world truly is nigh and without the all-powerful Dr. Manhattan, Laurie and Dan's efforts forced them to rely on the world's smartest man, Veidt, to try to save the planet.

What works incredibly well in Watchmen is that it is clever, fairly well-constructed and it develops in a mature and clever fashion over the twelve chapters in the graphic novel. Each of these chapters is replicated in Watchmen Motion Comics as a half-hour episode. In other words, each original comic book is granted an "episode" and as a result, the book plays out pretty consistently, though a few minor bits are trimmed out. As in the original novel, Watchmen Motion Comics tells the story such that seeds are planted in the beginning and they develop, grow and are paid off near the end. The thing is, anyone intelligent enough to invest the patience and effort in this storyline will be able to read it. The Watchmen Motion Comics are redundant and somewhat insulting to the intelligence of the audience.

Alan Moore, who wrote Watchmen, from which Watchmen Motion Comics was adapted, makes the story complicated and this medium does nothing to make it either any more complex or more compelling. The world of Watchmen is presented in many layers, rewriting history with a strong sense of storytelling that almost requires a chart to follow it. This is because there are two crime fighting organizations mentioned in Watchmen and Edward Blake was a part of them both. In the 1940s, there were the Minute Men, costumed crusaders who fought crime. Blake joined them as the Comedian and then was part of an ill-fated attempt in the mid-1960s by a new generation of costumed crime fighters to form their own league of super heroes. The Comedian was largely responsible for that effort failing. While there are members of the later group, notably Juspeczyk and Dreiberg, who bore the names of retired super heroes, this is not terribly confusing. What is a bit more problematic is the somewhat pointless references to retired Minute Men who serve only to distract some from the main plot - though the Sally Jupiter story is integral to Laurie's character development.

Second, with the sheer number of characters involved in the various flashbacks, the artwork has moments where it lacks distinction. This is not to disparage Dave Gibbons, who does a pretty spectacular job throughout the book and Motion Comics, but some of the costumed crusaders look alike as do some of the characters out of their guises.

That said, there is only one serious problem with Watchmen; it follows too closely to its comic book origins. There is the a comic book with a comic book Tales Of The Black Freighter and that is distracting. The comic book - wherein a pirate story is used to mirror the moral decay of the world after the USSR invades Afghanistan and threatens Pakistan - breaks up several different narratives and that works all right. But when one has at least five main protagonists whose stories are broken up and intertwined WHILE weaving them between a pirate story with the same themes just kills the momentum. While I tend to want to respect the original vision and presentation of a work, in Watchmen Original Motion Comics this comes across as sloppy and further confuses the reader.

All of the parts in Watchmen Original Motion Comics are voiced by Tom Stechschulte and, to be fair, he does an amazing job with the voice acting. He creates distinctly different voices for each character, including the women, and in that way this is not a complete loss.

Still, Watchmen is impressive enough that it does not need to be read to its audience with little ridiculous pictures. The characters are interesting and the history is unique to this story. Rorschach is a perfect morally absolute vigilante whose story actually makes the reader question what motivates him. He has an absolute sense of right and wrong and evil is brutally punished by him. And if one can understand that, they don't need the graphic novel read to them through the original Motion Comics! Understanding complex characters like Dr. Manhattan (a floating blue man with the ability to reorganize matter with just his thoughts) and what inspires him to flee to Mars when the apocalypse is at hand is more complicated psychology that fans do not need read to them.

Ultimately, that makes this project unnecessary. On DVD, this includes a featurette on DC's Wonder Woman DVD project. Perhaps those who will appreciate that more would appreciate having Watchmen read to them. Either way, this seems superfluous in the face of a great graphic novel and an even better live-action movie.

For other Watchmen products, please check out my reviews of:
Watchmen Portraits By Clay Enos
Watchmen Walter Kovacs Rorschach variant action figure
Watching The Watchmen By Dave Gibbons


For other movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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