I guess it’s finally time for me to address the issue that’s been sending shockwaves through my flist recently–in fact, through the entire internet: the presence of “99 Luftballons” on the Watchmen soundtrack.
The soundtrack of the movie has been derided by some, but I think it mostly works pretty well. When Rorschach and Nite Owl are flying toward Ozymandias’ Antarctic lair, the soundtrack unleashes the thunder of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Too obvious a choice, say some. But the obvious, well-executed, is exactly what a comic book movie needs, and in that light this was the perfect choice: an epic, iconic sound for an epic establishing shot. Stuff like “The Times They Are A-Changin'” running over the opening montage worked for me in the same way. Other choices were more questionable: “The Sound of Silence” would be a perfect choice for the Comedian’s funeral if it weren’t indelibly associated with, oh, I don’t know, some other movie. “99 Luftballons” was even more puzzling–apparently picked only because it’s the sort of thing one might have heard on the radio while on a date in 1985. But 80s music did not otherwise predominate on the soundtrack, so it sounded out of place. I thought the choice of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the sex scene between Nite Owl II and
the Rubbermaid Silk Spectre II was flat-out gross. De gustibus non disputandum.
Regarding the rest of the movie, I’ll echo a chorus of nay-sayers in pointing out that Malin Ackerman doesn’t seem to have the chops for this kind of role. It’s not that she doesn’t look good in latex or out of it (de gustibus etc.); her face and voice are somewhat inexpressive, and that leaves her at a loss in some of the most important scenes in the movie. I’m probably not the only person who wished that the actors in the two Jupiter roles had been switched: Carla Gugino manages to express more with one appliance-laden eye-twitch than Ackerman can with a page full of dialogue. MA did move with competent authority in the fight scenes, I guess. In fact, in spite of the expressed premise that only Dr. Manhattan has superpowers, all the Watchmen seem to have been bitten by a radioactive spider at some point.
The “Tales of the Black Freighter” motif had to be jettisoned (apparently they’re releasing a separate fully animated version; it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the inevitable multi-disk collector’s edition/director’s cut/six month anniversary rererelease), and there were some exposition problems that might have troubled someone who hadn’t read the book. Apart from that stuff, I’d say that the movie was an almost flawless adaption of the book.
That’s the biggest flaw in the movie, though. Because there are three very serious problems with the book itself, and they only irritate me more every time I think about them.
One is the mystery-plot, which could not be more transparent if the book were titled “Ozymandias Is Behind It All.” Maybe it’s just due to my ill-spent years as a Shelley fan, but I can hardly hear “Ozymandias” without muttering “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” Then there’s the fact that “Pyramid Deliveries” is the corporation involved in the assassinations of the superheroes. Ozymandias… Egypt… pyramid: no one seems capable of connecting these three rather obviously connected dots until it’s convenient for the storyteller.
Another more serious issue is the basic premise that it’s okay to kill millions in an act of terrorism. I’ll go out on a limb here and say this is morally wrong. It also seems unlikely to work in achieving the stated aims: world peace and understanding. Nuclear explosions all around the world would have been more likely to cause people to start firing ICBMs than otherwise. It’s like lighting a Roman candle in a fireworks factory so that people can see where the fireworks are and won’t set them off by accident. It’s stupid, stupid almost beyond belief.
Plus, we saw something like this on a smaller scale in 9/11. There was a burst of worldwide support for America and Americans. Then the manipulative creeps in power blew it by pushing a hardline partisan agenda at home and a saber-rattling unilateralism abroad. Nixon et al. were smarter than Bush et al. (practically everyone is), but the transformative power of a crisis like this depends on human qualities that would make it unnecessary.
This touches on the third thing that bugs me about the book. And I can’t believe I’m typing this. But it’s unfair to Nixon. That bloodstained, greasy, cartoonish, horrible, snickering would-be tyrant was instrumental in the prevention of nuclear war by careful, deliberate, long-lasting and intensive diplomatic efforts with China and, especially, the Soviet Union. I hold no brief for what he did in Indochina, or towards his personal political enemies in the US, or many another thing. But he deserves significant credit for lessening the threat of nuclear annihilation. Not through some cathartic, splashy act of violence and terror, not through threats and intimidation, but by sitting in a room and talking. Pursuing peace through peaceful means.
A crazy idea, but it might just work–and did, in fact, work. But it doesn’t make for a good comic book, nor a smashing film, nor does it fit with the rather peculiar politics either of Mr. Moore or of RMN’s former party, so we’re not hearing about it so much these days. We all live in alternate universes now, where only convenient truths can be heard.
To give Moore his due, he does give Rorschach his due in the closing pages of the book (faithfully represented in the movie). Rorschach, though dead, may still speak the truth that he knows… if the people responsible for making him heard take their responsibilities seriously. It just barely makes tolerable to me a conclusion which, otherwise, is in the Ringworld-Engineers range of horrible.