Saturday, March 07, 2009

Victor Watches the Watchmen. But Who Watches Lee Iacocca?

The other day I got around to watching the "Watchmen." The fact that it was on opening day itself was significant enough. The last time I saw a movie on opening day was "Rush Hour 2" (which was also the last movie before "The Dark Knight" where I actually got excited watching the trailer) during the tail end of my legendary pre-freshman year of college Summer of Victor where I somehow managed an unexpected streak of catching the number one box office film for about four or five straight weeks.

The reviews for "Watchmen" thus far seem to run the gambit from bloated, melodramatic drivel to a remarkable, next level, achievement in the comic book movie genre, and everything in between. As for me, on the whole I found it to be generally positive. Of course, I have to add the fact that I went into the movie with a fairly low standard of expectations. My one genuine bit of praise for director Zack Snyder, it that at least he was ambitious. He was ambitious to even attempt to affix such an iconic, sprawling, difficult, story into film. There's a reason co-creator Alan Moore still considers the story unfilmable. Not only do you have to some how tell this dense, multi-layered, chaotically presented story in one feature length film, but you have to walk this impossibly fine line between satisfying the cult fan base by maintaining fidelity to the original material while trying to make a unique piece of cinema that isn't just a rote motion comic. It was bound for disappointment.

Given this unwinnable situation, it looks like the filmmakers relied more on the path of least resistance and stayed conservatively true to the material. At points during the film, I could literally recall the specific panels from the comic, as if they just exclusively worked off them as the storyboards. There were obviously some variations from the source material but, like the excising of the whole pirate story, it seemed more out of the constraints of keeping the film under 3 hours than really for any original artistic merit. Is all this necessarily a bad thing? Not really. Given the unfair situation, falling back on the material seems like a prudent choice given the high quality of the original material. Speaking of the source material, one of the other major reasons against making a "Watchmen" film now is that it is just not as relevant as it was in 1986. The whole nihilistic Cold War destruction themes just don't have the power in today's new world order. For the people of 1986 the spectre of Nuclear holocaust was a legitimate one, where as the concept of global thermonuclear war for my generation and beyond is as unreal as Dr. Manhattan's giant CGI dong. Given that, the "Watchmen" (much like with Iron Maiden's "Two Minutes to Midnight") loses a lot of its power.

Oh yeah and the film's music SUUUCCCKKKEEED. It was just a baffling collection of pop music (with one too many Leonard Cohen tunes) injected into the film at the worst times with the subtly of a punch to the face.

Despite these drawbacks, however, I still think the good outweighed the bad and in the end it kept me enthralled for the nearly 3 hour run time (definitely not an easy task for any film). It was still a fascinating, commendably ambitious exercise in storytelling. As just a guy who's not usually into comics who read the "Watchmen" and enjoyed it, just a hybrid of the fanatical comic book lover and the complete neophyte, it was satisfying.

Having said my two cents about the film, I also wanted to mention the above, bizarre Lee Iacocca impersonator cameo in the film. Given his status as one of the great icons of business and industry in the 1980s, it was a nifty piece of artistic license to include him within the rich tableau of the alternate 1985 created for the film. I noticed the film had a noticeably large cast of famous impersonators ranging from the prominent character of 1980s Richard Nixon to a faux McLaughlin Group panel (finally an opportunity that one Eleanor Clift impersonator to shine!). The sweeping title sequence to the film (which was actually quite an ingenious way to cover the enormous back story and efficiently provide context for the present plot; hands down the best part of the entire movie) itself employs almost half a century worth of famous faces and figures.

The interesting thing about the Lee Iacocca impersonator was how, in stark contrast to reality, he ends up meeting a grisly end by getting caught in the crossfire during an unsuccessful assassination attempt on one of the Watchman, Ozymandias. It was a bit jarring to see the lovable Chryster pitchman and former "Lee of the Month" winner on my long running facebook group, get one right between the eyes (apparently Lee wasn't a fan of his alternate dimise as well). It also made me think if there were any other films out there where impersonators of real life, living public figures were killed on screen.

There have been plenty of movies with alternate histories where certain figures were implied to have lived or died (like Hitler or JFK). But I really couldn't think of too many movies off the top of my head where a then currently living figure was killed on screen. In fact the only movie I could think of was "Hot Shots: Part Deux" where Lloyd Bridges dispatches a ridiculously fictionalized version of the then living Saddam Hussein. Leslie Nielson delivers a comically severe beat down on numerous world leaders in the first "Naked Gun" movie, but none of it appears to be fatal. If it weren't for the fact that public figures have a much higher standard for defamation, you'd think they'd have some case for their reputation being hurt by being shown to be killed or beat up on screen.

Anyone else have any examples of famous fictional film deaths?