Posted by Don MacPherson on April 21st, 2009
Some have characterized the big-screen release of Watchmen to be something of a commercial flop; I don’t agree, as it’s bound to prove to be profitable in the long run, once home-video sales are factored in. Still, it’s undeniable that it didn’t perform as hoped, that it didn’t prove to be the box-office powerhouse many expected it to be. Nevertheless, 2009 is definitely the year of Alan Moore. Despite distancing himself from movies based on his comics, he’s as well known as ever, and his work is selling better than ever before as well. Fans await his forthcoming work, notably the latest foray into the world of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. With that in mind, I delved into a couple of DVDs directly connected with Moore, one produced with his participation, and another against his wishes.
The Mindscape of Alan Moore DVD
Director: DeZ Vylenz
Studio: Shadowsnake Films
Rating: Not rated
Moore’s description of his childhood resonates. It’s quite familiar and universal in tone, and given the weird and unconventional qualities he’s exhibited over the years, it comes as a surprise. His matter-of-fact and honest approach he takes in chronicling his own life makes him not only easy to identify with but to like. When we see his face and hair, seemingly melting around his frame and hiding his form and dimensions, one expects madness and brilliance to spew forth from his lips. Instead, he reveals himself to be one of us. I found it odd that earlier in the film, when Moore speaks of the U.S. comics that inspired him as a child that the filmmakers cut away not to covers and panels from those Silver Age comics but to images from Moore’s works. Perhaps there was a concern or problem about getting the rights to those Silver Age, four-color images, but it seems that it would fall under the heading of fair use.
Considering that Moore has disowned the film adaptations of his work, I find it odd that those behind this documentary opt to recreate scenes from some of Moore’s comics here, notably those that have already been recreated in celluloid. Moore goes so far to suggest his comics stories are “unfilmable.”
Near the film’s halfway point, it gets much more interesting. It abandons the point-by-point recounting of Moore’s already well-documented history in the comics industry and as a new kind of comics celebrity and delves into his mid-life embracing of an unconventional system of belief, revolving around his definitely of magic. What’s fascinating about it is that it’s not really all that far-fetched and weird. Moore’s definition of magic is the power of language and art to affect people, to effect change, to infect with ideas. I was hoping for a deeper explanation of those beliefs and how he’s incorporated them into his work (notably in Promethea, which I see as his most ambitious, entertaining yet confusing work to date).
While it’s wonderful to have a chance to sit down and listen to Moore speak about himself, his belief, comics, society and sexuality, ultimately, I found that the film really only scratches the surface of all of those subjects and others. The depth and revelation I’d expected from such a focused project really weren’t to be found. The Mindscape of Alan Moore is diverting, yes, but rather than a detailed map of that mindscape, the filmmakers only offer up a tourism pamphlet. You can make your way around Moore’s world, but you can’t really learn as much as you’d like from it. 6/10
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter DVD
Actors: Gerard Butler & Jared Harris/Stephen McHattie, Carla Gugino, Ted Friend, Matt Frewer & Rob Labelle
Directors: Daniel DelPurgatorio & Mike Smith/Eric Matthies
Writers: Zack Snyder & Alex Tse/Hans Rodionoff
Studio: Warner Premiere
Removed from the context of the Watchmen plot, Tales of the Black Freighter doesn’t lose its coherence, but it definitely loses much of its meaning. This is too far removed from the super-hero deconstruction and political drama of Watchmen. The pirate plot doesn’t mirror the super-hero plot. Well, maybe it does structurally, but how can a mirror reflect something that’s in another room behind a closed door? That’s not to say the animated short isn’t entertaining. Snyder and Tse’s adaptation of the snippets of Moore’s comic-within-the-comic is a nice tribute to the EC horror stories of the 1950s. It’s a little predictable, unfortunately, but the filmmakers manage to capture a creepy, unsettling mood throughout most of the short film. Gerard Butler’s voice is sufficiently gravelly here to convey the sea captain’s physical and psychological plight, but the performance is simply serviceable, not outstanding.
Of course, there’s much more to this DVD than just a short animated film. There’s also a phoney documentary about the world of the Watchmen. Sadly, I think Under the Hood would have worked better as a teaser for the Watchmen film rather than a subsequent experience. This is all about setting the stage for Watchmen, but since I’ve already seen the film, it’s setting a stage that’s already been struck as far I’m concerned. As a result, this supplemental storytelling comes off as a bit tedious.
Carla Gugino’s performance as Sally Jupiter in Under the Hood is as grating as it was in Watchmen. She’s horribly miscast in the role of a middle-aged pin-up model/heroine. Rob LaBelle is effective as Wally Weaver but merely repeats what he says and does in Watchmen as Dr. Manhattan’s one-time best friend. The strongest performance in this short film comes from Stephen McHattie, whose Hollis Mason comes off as genuine, warm and thoroughly likeable. He’s quite convincing, and he’s the one shining light in Under the Hood.
Ultimately, these are interesting appendices to Watchmen that suffer from the timing of their presentation. Black Freighter only really works when incorporated into the narrative of Watchmen, and Under the Hood would have been better if seen before the main film. This is an interesting direct-to-DVD project, but really, it seems kind of pointless. This material is clearly the kind of fodder normally reserved as bonus material for a larger DVD release, and I suspect it will fulfill that role for the upcoming DVD release of Watchmen. That leaves the viewer wondering: why should one both to buy this material separately? 5/10