Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dancing Under the Yellow Sun

Last night on Dancing With the Stars, The Guy That Was Naked In The Sex in the City Movie (I'm sorry, does he have a name?) danced the salsa to 3 Doors Down's "Kryptonite" (not a salsa standard, I reckon) and ended the routine by taking off his glasses and ripping his shirt open to reveal a Superman-esque logo. With so many celebrities getting injured as a result of their participation in this competition, was this song a declaration of his endurance -- or a bid to star in the next Man of Steel film? If it's neither, it was pointless.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Who's Watching Us Watch Who's Watching the Watchmen?

A week later, the Internet buzz about The Watchmen, and I've read many fans' reviews and impressions of the movie. They're all exactly the same. While many fans seemed to like to film, they can't help but criticise the original material that was omitted. Honestly, after years' worth of various inspirations and incarnations in pre-production, Zach Synder has created a film that goes out of its way to please steadfast fans and appeal to a blissfully ignorant mainstream audience. One part Forest Gump, one part X-Men, The Watchmen is a story that explores how history would differ if superheroes really existed, and now if they faced age and prejudice. While fanboys mettle over the minutiae of the film's forsaken details, I'm more interested in the piece's timeless ramifications. Over twenty years later, the dark corners of politics and pop culture that inspired Alan Moore still exist, and how would 2009 look in the world of The Watchmen?

First of all, the primary catalyst in Alan Moore's plot is the superhero as the has-been, with each of his Watchmen fulfilling the obvious various roles left when their iconic status dissolved. The Night Owl is the most realistic result, as he lives a meek life that silently regrets but functionally copes with its devolution, like a retired police officer. The Comedian is his polar opposite, living as an extravagant citizen yet obviously haunted by his past, particularly as the weight of his actions and their consequences occur to him in his old age. Dr. Manhattan is the personification of human achievement and therefore represents the inevitable product of mankind's own quest for power and celebrity, consequently both revered and misunderstood. Silk Spectre is his proverbial Tammy Faye Bakker, the first lady trapped by her leading man's reputation, not to mention her mother's legacy, which results in rebellion. If being a superhero wasn't against the grain, she'd garner some other controversy, again like Tammy Fay, or overcompensate with her own quest for authority, like Hillary Clinton. Rorschach is the wild card, like the child actor that refuses to quit and in fact proves himself by embracing the other extreme. Obviously, Jackie Earle Haley related to the role.

From the damaged child star to the retired cop, these archetypes in contemporary society and pop culture are just as vivid and significant today as they were in 1985, and Ozymandias is the best example and most pivotal to the Watchmen's story. At the beginning of the story (I really can't say "comic" or "film," because this plot now transcends either medium), Ozzie is depicted as a brilliant eccentric, hanging out in front of Studio 54 and negotiating his action figure line. Yet, we know behind the scenes he's really a mad scientist with twisted, benevolent intentions. Did Alan Moore know in 1985 that he was foreseeing George Clooney's career? Think about it -- George is a paparazzi darling, yet just recently he spoke with the Vice President in Washington about international affairs. We live in the kind of world where a celebrity feels influential in worldwide crises. If superheroes were real, they would always be on TMZ, and with that kind of attention, could their egos settle for foiling mere street level crime? The humility of Superman is so idealistic, it's unrealistic. Sean Penn stars in a movie about gay rights, and he's become a gay rights activist. How many times would a real Batman thwart the Joker before deciding to go all Erin Brockovich on companies that profit from poisonous chemicals?

The context of The Watchmen story is secondary to its characters and their history. Whether it's a giant squid or a nuclear bomb that destroys the city, the timeless appeal of Alan Moore's script is its heroes' respective resilience, made easier to understand through his frequent allusions and parallels to Hollywood and pop culture. From his opening credits onward, Snyder effectively changes world history by just dropping the stunning visuals of the superhero into the middle of America's Golden Age, and he pulls no punches with how ridiculous some of them looked. That image of the Minutemen is akin to watching The Wizard of Oz today; we know it can be done better, but the charm of how cinema began respects its humble beginnings. Yet now we know that Judy Garland wasn't a perfect person behind that mid-western smile, too. Like a comic book becoming a movie, whenever something takes on another face, we tend to prefer what we're used to seeing. Sometimes, we'd rather not watch.