Monday, March 09, 2009

Revisit: Memoirs of an Invisible Man

A Warner Brothers film 1992

Directed by John Carpenter

Written by Robert Collector, Dana Olsen & William Goldman

Based on the book by H.F. Saint

After a freak accident, an invisible yuppie runs from a treacherous CIA official while trying to cope with his new life.

Horror master John Carpenter teams up with Chevy Chase in this bizarre effects-pushing adaptation of H.F. Saint's famous novel. Not quite a comedy (as Chase's presence would imply), not quite a horror film, and yet not quite a thriller, Memoirs is a bit of everything but not enough of anything. A fun film, but a weird one, it's not surprising audiences didn't connect with it during it's 1992 theatrical run. The tone is simply too scattered, and Chase too uncouth and indifferent a performer to keep it centered. I've always appreciated Chase's nonchalant style, but it feels really out of place here. Carpenter surrounds Chase with a bevy of quality supporting actors, but Sam Neil seems to be trying way too hard (it's almost like he's in a different movie), Darryl Hannah is just kind of there, and Michael McKean gets nothing to work with. The real highlight (at the time) must have been the invisible effects from Industrial Light & Magic. One year before Jurassic Park blew everyone's minds, ILM was tinkering with mixing CGI and practical effects on this film. Watch only if you're a fan of those involved, or have nothing better to do.

Revisit: Kindergarten Cop

A Universal Pictures release 1990

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Written by Murray Salem, Herschel Weingrod & Timothy Harris

A police officer goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to track down the wife and child of a ruthless drug lord.

This 1990 comedy is endlessly quotable, thanks to counter-programming Arnold Schwarzenegger's over-the-top action persona with a group of sharp-tongued little kids. Like many of Arnold's films the plot verges on completely ridiculous, and serves a fine helping of subverted genre cliches, including a crazed mother/son crime combo that make the Bates family look normal. A mild diversion, with the kind of dirty jokes involving kids that don't really make it into movies much anymore.

Review: Watchmen

A Warner Brothers film 2009

Directed by Zack Snyder

Written by David Hayter & Alex Tse

When an ex-superhero is murdered, a vigilante named Rorschach begins an investigation into the murder, which begins to lead to a much more terrifying conclusion.

Long considered 'unfilmable', Watchmen is one of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time, and often credited for ushering in an era of more serious, cerebral, adult-themed comic books. Hollywood took stabs at bringing Alan Moore & Dave Gibbon's time-altering, mind-bending grit fest to the screen for nearly 3 decades, with everyone from Paul Greengrass to Terry Gilliam to Michael Bay set to direct. Zack Snyder finally succeeded in producing the film, which finally hit theaters this week after much fanboy anticipation.

Fanboys like myself, who fell in the love with the graphic novel's sharp thematic and formal critique of the medium, as well as it's intense philosophical and political exploration, engrossing characters and wonderfully rich universe. Watchmen the novel is as complete a package as one could ever expect or want; a vast and detailed world with no stone unturned tenderly committed to the page.

Which begs the question -- why make it into a movie at all? Particularly one that adheres so faithfully to it's source?

Of course, that's the question I asked myself before the movie was released, and after having seen it, I'm not sure I have a full answer. From a business standpoint, I could understand why the movie was made -- large built-in fan base, a film that paves the way for grittier, more difficult graphic novel adaptations, and lots of fanboy cred for the distributors. But artistically, what are the merits? It seems there are some, but mainly the film exists as a celebration of Moore & Gibbon's work.

To their credit, Warner Brothers and Mr. Snyder have delivered one balls to the walls, full-force, hard R, uncompromising vision of Watchmen. Like the comic's creators, they left no stone unturned in bringing this epic to the big screen, inserting as much possible detail with extra care. For those unfamiliar with Watchmen's source, the film must be a dizzying experience with many WTF? moments, but fanboys rejoice: never has there been such a detailed adaptation in the history of the medium.

Snyder's visual flair and special effects prowess certainly help bring the panels to exacting life. Some sequences, particularly the Dr. Manhattan chapter, the back-peddling opening credits and almost anything involving Rorschach, are undeniably brilliant. Others, such as the Silk Spectre father reveal and the tweaked ending, lack some of the emotional punch delivered in the novel, but are nonetheless visually arresting.

Perhaps my biggest problem with the film is that it could never replicate all that the novel contains. Much of the climate of the Watchmen universe -- the nuclear war paranoia, the aggression towards authority figures, the degrading of social moral -- is reduced to blanket statements and quick set ups. The majority of the second and third tier characters present in the novel, many of which establish and elaborate these themes to flesh out the temporal backdrop, are absent here. Likewise, many details surrounding the characters origins are trimmed down, making their screen counterparts feel somewhat incomplete.

The music, too, felt jarring to me. The film deserves it's own original score, not some smattering of pop songs that vaguely adhere thematically to the action. I think Warner Brothers were a tad afraid of mainstream audience reactions, and figured if they put some huge pop hits behind some of the more audacious sequences it would make them more palatable. Maybe -- but it also severely undermined the tone. I highly doubt Hendrix would be blasting while Rorcshach and Nite Owl scourge Antarctica for Ozymandias's hideaway.

But with that said, it's amazing how much Synder and his team managed to cram into this two and a half hour epic, and it's even more amazing that Warner Brothers was willing to see through on his vision. This is one bloody disgusting, gut-wrenching, depressing, dark as hell film. It's views on humanity and social decency make Dark Knight look like kiddie play time. As does the on-screen sex and violence.

Watching the origins of Dr. Manhattan unfold on screen will remain one of my favorite cinematic moments for a long time. Billy Crudup does an amazing job and really nails the character to the T. But seeing it come alive, watching it unfold in real time -- nothing will ever compare. It's breathtaking. And that alone makes Watchmen worthy of repeat viewings.

And I definitely think I need to see it again, now that the fanboy giddiness is out of my system. It's hard to really critically assess Snyder's formal elements in that malaise. There is too much immediate beauty in the imagery to really look deep into what Snyder uses to shape the story. Regardless, Watchmen remains a unique ride, one that will (probably) never be duplicated.