Friday, March 6, 2009

The Judgment of History (and My Judgment on "Watchmen")


I alluded in yesterday’s entry to the passage of time and to the hypothetical judgment of God at some point in the future.

The latter is not something I believe in, of course, but people of all political stripes — and science buffs like my co-workers — are in the habit of saying of their intellectual opponents “history will judge you harshly.” I don’t think you’ll catch me saying that, for the simple reason that I’m not at all convinced good and truth will triumph over evil and error in the long run (I certainly don’t think the marketplace of ideas, wonderful and necessary though it is, necessarily rewards truth over entertainment value and intuitive appeal, much as people of a philosophical bent might wish otherwise).

I think most people just take a happy ending for granted — or else feel the need to anticipate one in times of anxiety. I’ll be amazed if we just keep ameliorating the damage and keep some of the pointless, pointless insanity and suffering to a minimum — and, yes, I’m pretty happy with that humble role. I’m a realist. On a related note, I’m also happy to see Matt Welch resisting the common temptation to make things rosier by over-identifying with the winning side — specifically, he, too, is giving up on the whole “liberaltarian” reverso-fusionism thing.

As for how history would judge the Watchmen — well, that, I hope, will be debated far and wide after the movie comes out today — and here’s my review of the film to contribute to the process. Surely it is no coincidence that the New York Times yesterday unveiled its new Graphic Novels Bestsellers list, which the comics site Newsarama dubs “validation.” Speaking of validation, though, I notice the editors at Reason added the phrase “serial graphic novel” to my Watchmen review. Not inaccurate — but there’s no shame in just calling it a comic book series, which it was before being anthologized. Say it loud, say it proud.


Sammler said...

It doesn’t seem quite fair to call that a “review” of Watchmen — certainly nothing to balance Anthony Lane’s compelling explanation of why I shouldn’t bother seeing it.

Todd Seavey said...

Well, look, it’s exactly like the comic and as artfully visually executed in that regard as, say, that slow motion scene where Morpheus gets shot in the leg in the first _Matrix_. If the idea of a visually-compelling and politically-charged deconstruction of superheroes (with great music and ironic use of historical and quasi-historical footage) sounds worth seeing, you should go, and if that doesn’t sound useful, there may not be much more to say.

Don’t let Anthony Lane make your decisions for you, though. He’s a real movie critic and therefore can’t be trusted. I by contrast would not steer you wrong.

(I recall a _People_ reviewer saying no one but twelve year-olds should see _Lord of the Rings_ and she, too, was so wrong as to call her intelligence into question.)

In other bigtime media news, my friend Monica Ice — wife of webmaster and Debates at Lolita Bar moderator Michel Evanchik — helped create this _New York Times_ online look at a scene from _Watchmen_ narrated by director Zack Snyder (but if it’s just not your thing, so be it):

Todd Seavey said...

Jeez, having now read the Anthony Lane review, I take back one thing: he’s _not_ a real movie reviewer. He’s just a guy who describes the whole movie while sounding vaguely snide. I don’t know why anyone reading the review would find it “compelling” rather than merely descriptive-with-an-axe-to-grind. Try _ignoring_ his flimsy veil of disdain and it sounds like he’s describing a pretty awesome film. I’m sorry he was robbed by special effects of the chance to see Billy Crudup’s “lovely shy smile,” though. I went to the film for different things.

Lane (non-comics-fans should be warned) also gratuitously gives away the ending of the movie, a sure sign that, critic or not, he is a complete asshole. So right there I have greater credibility than Anthony Lane. Might I suggest you cancel your _New Yorker_ subscriptions and read _Reason_ or instead?

P.S. I will never forget the late Gene Siskel — much as I enjoyed his work — complaining that James Cameron’s _Aliens_ was nothing more than constant monsters on the attack, to which I believe his colleague Roger Ebert added the complaint that watching it was like seeing a rock concert from inside the drum. If that sounds so convincingly bad to you that you never see _Aliens_, the loss, once more, is yours.

Todd Seavey said...

Actually, the “drum” comment may have been from Leonard Maltin _praising_ the film — but Ebert, like Siskel, hated it, which is the main point. (By contrast, they liked that revered, epic fantasy film _Berry Gordy’s Last Dragon_, since, as Siskel, perhaps not competent to judge sci-fi and fantasy films, said, he likes movies where people have glowing fingers. Ah, now _that’s_ professional film-criteria-usage.)

Gerard said...

If Richard Nixon were still POTUS in the early ’80s, wouldn’t he be serving the beginning of his fourth or fifth-not third-term in office?

Plus, why would the screenwriter/director keep the utterly dated plot-line involving the Doomsday Clock and pro-Soviet, anti-nuclear groups in the U.S., instead of at least updating it-even in an ahistorical, distorted way-a la V for Vendetta?

BTW, I agree with you, re: “graphic novels.” These are comic books. Even things like Maus and Persepolis are comics, albeit extremely sophisticated and historically relevant ones.

Todd Seavey said...

Hollis Mason (the original Nite-Owl) in fact says of Nixon “I voted for him five times.”

Getting rid of the Soviet doomsday plot, while perhaps a forgivable move, would have been as radical a move as deciding to have the Lord of the Rings movies take place in the actual Middle Ages — workable, but a significant rethink that would have in both works’ cases shattered any pretense of doing a fully-faithful adaptation.

_Watchmen_ is so close to perfect in its fidelity to the original — and so dependent upon the amount of time that has passed between the 1940s generation of heroes and the 1985 generation of heroes — that I would not wish away its period setting.

P.S. If they make billions and some twisted studio exec manages to summon a blasphemous sequel into existence (though Zack Snyder, admirably, has already said he’d have no part in such a thing), maybe you can get your wish for contemporaneousness in the form of a story about a third generation in, say, 2012 — but I hope not.

Gerard said...

Meh…I’ll probably borrow this from the library a year from now, but I’m not paying ten bucks to watch it.

For what it’s worth, I think both 300 and Dawn of the Dead are both incredibly entertaining films. I don’t quite grasp the withering criticism Romero fanboys and fangoria fanatics level at him, although that’s probably because I’m not one of them. To me, he took the bare bones of a very interesting zombie epic and turned into a great blockbuster, sans cheesy ’70s esthetics and atrocious, B movie acting.

Sammler said...

Mr. Lane’s arguments, while snidely made, were very plausible to me after such recent movies as Wanted (which I believe you called “dark and stupid”) — or for that matter Kill Bill or Sin City. These are films which, rather than raise the comic book to the point where it has something to say about life, instead set about trying to reduce life to the depth of a comic book.

I do regret giving the impression that I might subscribe to the New Yorker. The review was linked from Marginal Revolution.