Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Watching the Watchmen costumes

For years I heard about how the Watchmen "graphic novel" was one of the best of all time. I'm not the most voracious reader of comic books, though I do have a soft spot for the superhero genre. I've read my fair share of comics, but I'm not a collector.

So, having heard about Watchmen for several years, I was extremely curious when I heard it would be made into a movie, with the director of "300," Zack Snyder, at the helm. It was interesting because many uphold Watchmen as the high-water mark for comics; a book that transcended the bounds of comics and elevated them to an art. It's an argument I'd heard on and off for a long time. Yet, I didn't read it.

Then, I saw the trailer for the movie based on the comic. I don't know whether it was the Smashing Pumpkins song used or what, but it looked absolutely spectacular, epic. After that first trailer debuted over the summer, I was sold. Sold enough, in fact, to buy the collected edition of the Watchmen.

Indeed, the comic tells a deep, complicated story about the psychological consequences of being a "superhero." It's a dark tale full of violence, psychosis, sensuality, betrayal, sacrifice, and mystery. It's full of flashbacks and even includes a "story within a story" called Tales of the Black Freighter. It was a good, solid read. I understood what the fuss was all about. I think the comic lived up to the hype, which is something that doesn't happen very often.

Famously, Warner Bros. and Fox have fought over the rights to it. They finally settled the whole deal, but Watchmen sat in development hell for years at Fox. In fact, Terry Gilliam was once signed to helm a Watchmen movie, but quit...saying the movie would be impossible to film. I can see why he said that. The tale is so well interwoven, it would be difficult to cut it down. I'd say it's an achievement that Snyder has managed to keep the running time under three hours.

Anyway, I really liked the comic, er, graphic novel. Some very interesting characters populate this universe, and I thought it was worth it to take a look at how the movie costumes stack up against their comic book roots.

RorschachRorschach is the heart of the Watchmen story. For much of the tale, he's the narrator and it's his quest for truth that drives the story. To me, it looks like the costume folks hit this one dead on. You've got his fedora, the trenchcoat, the white scarf...he looks fantastic. I would say that Rorschach's voice fits the character perfectly; however, as I saw the trailer before reading the comic, it's impossible to say that. Still, from the clips I've seen, it looks like the spots on Rorschach's mask change throughout the movie. I think that's a nice touch.

Nite Owl IINite Owl II is a very sympathetic character. Or, you could call him pathetic, especially at the beginning. A middle-aged man with a sizable paunch and, well, let's just say he could use a bit of Viagra, Nite Owl II is a pitiable character who's hung up his mask and hung up on Silk Spectre II. One thing you see in the original comic is that the Nite Owl has what appears to be a spandex suit with your standard superhero "underwear" covering his groin. He doesn't look menacing at all; those goggles are ridiculous! For the movie, Nite Owl has gotten a "Dark Knight" makeover. While the comic Nite Owl doesn't look well armored, the movie Nite Owl looks like a force to be reckoned with. I'd say he's had some help from Lucius Fox, wouldn't you? Like in the comic, his movie version even has a utility belt (which you can't see very well because the movie picture is dark).

Silk Spectre II Wow. I guess the costume designers didn't think the original Silk Spectre II costume from the comics would play well with today's audiences. Not sexy enough, right? So, well...they've sexified the costume for the movie. Silk Spectre's choker is gone, replaced with a sleek, high, glossy black collar. Those goofy-looking baggy arms are also a thing of the past, replaced with a tight, form-fitting catsuit look. She's sporting a different hairstyle (if anyone cares) and there's a lot more black in the outfit in general. You can't see it in either of the pictures, but in the comics, Silk Spectre traipses around in high heels; for the movie those have been replaced with knee-high boots. You know...because those are a lot more functional for fighting crime, right?

Dr. ManhattanWell, in the comics, Dr. Manhattan is a glowing blue guy who can do just about any superhuman thing you can think of. In the movie, he's a glowing blue guy who can do just about any superhuman thing you can think of. I'm sure the special effects for ol' Doc are fantastic, but seriously...this one would be hard to screw up. About the only way you could conceivably mess it up would be to make him pink or something.

OzymandiasAt first blush, the movie version looks like quite a departure from the comic. And, in some ways, it is. In the comic, Ozymandias is seen with a purplish cloak that conceals a golden suit of spandex. There are a couple panels that give you a good look at Ozymandias' suit (they're just very small), and that's what it looks like...a tight, form-fitting golden costume. Something you don't see in the panel I scanned from the comic is the hero's purple Lone Ranger-style mask. Frankly, it looks pretty silly, even for a comic book. The costume designers have again gone the "Movie Batman" route with his outfit; for some reason, it reminds me of Robin's suit from "Batman Forever." The mask is more textured (though it still looks ridiculous) and the golden headband is replaced with a kind of "Julius Caesar" type ornamentation on the sides of his head. The Egyptian-style golden thing around his neck (I'm sure there's a name for it, but I couldn't find it) is replaced by a more sophisticated-looking golden armor plate.

The Comedian The Comedian is no hero, not in the way you'd think. He's a sadistic man who loves guns. Think of the Punisher, just with a really cynical attitude and an even nastier streak. I think the movie hasn't departed too much from the Comedian seen in the comic. The armor plating/flak jacket stuff is more pronounced in the movie version. I also don't recall seeing the Comedian with dogtags in the comic, though I could've missed it. I haven't gotten a really good look at his shoulder armor, but I suspect the movie version is fairly close to the comic armor. The Comedian has an ever-present cigar in his mouth, though the shot I took from the comic shows him having a drink. Both versions of the Comedian shown are during his days in Vietnam before he gets a facial scar. I've seen promo pics and the Comedian has that scar during appropriate moments in the timeline. Also notice how the movie version does not have a white hair "wraparound," whereas the comic version does. In the comic, the Comedian has white hair "wraparound" in Vietnam, though he doesn't have it in some of the earlier scenes in the timeline. Also, got a look at a scene that gave a close look at the Comedian's armor. It looks very much like it does in the comics. One more thing worth mentioning...the Comedian wears a full facial mask while working law enforcement in the streets of the U.S.; in the movie, this mask is nowhere to be found. I have no problem with that.

Of course, "Watchmen" opens March 6.

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