March 6, 2009

Who Will Stop Asking "Who Will Watch Watchmen"?

I will!

In seemingly every newspaper and magazine and blog over the last few months, the oh-so-clever question/headline "Who Will Watch Watchmen?" has been used over and over and over and over. And over. How many times? A Google search for "who will watch" watchmen
returns 67,500 results.

Why are so many people losing sleep over this question?

The people who will watch Watchmen are the same people who made director Zack Snyder's 300 the most successful March blockbuster of all time, and I'm completely at a loss for why there is any more mystery around it. Or is everyone up in arms about whether audiences will show up for this, despite the recent news that the recent surge in movie attendance in 2009 has already marked the greatest increase in two decades?

I just don't understand the desperate anxiety to answer this question. The movie has been obnoxiously hyped for months, plus it has two built-in audiences (the Snyder fans and the fans of the graphic novel) that are going to easily make Watchmen the box-office winner for at least a couple of weeks (opening night screenings sold out weeks ahead of time).

Am I missing some part of the equation here, or is "Who Will Watch Watchmen?" really the most confounding cultural question of our time?

UPDATE: I've now seen Watchmen and realized I'm an idiot. Yes, I was missing part of the equation, as I had no idea this phrase was actually a major component of the movie. Serves me right for going in blind. Sorry, fanboys!

But not really - 67,500 people could still have shown a little creativity in writing about the movie. And when I'm talking about creativity, I'm talking about brilliant work like this parody using a clip from the very underrated Downfall (thanks to Matt Gamble for posting it first):


  1. You are not missing anything. Some people are still coming down from the high of The Dark Knight and need a fix. Watchmen is it.

  2. totally agree. Monday's number's will blow away expectations, even if they are high.

  3. Haven't seen it... but your title does remind me of a song by the Prizefighter Inferno called "Who watches the Watchmen?"

    I'm sure there is correlation.

  4. Saw it with my son today. Kinda' liked it, actually. A lot better than 300, which I detested.

  5. Thanks for pitching in with your thoughts, and bless you all on not calling me out on what I was missing before I saw the movie (I've updated the post). "Who will watch the Watchmen?" is actually a question central to the story, not just a marketing gimmick. Oops. And I'm sure that's what the song references, too.

    I have to say I'm kind of in the middle of the road so far, and chances are low I'll have the time to review it. There was a lot to appreciate visually and I actually find the skeleton of the story to be really interesting, but the horrendous sex scenes and killing porn (we've accepted torture porn - now I think people only get off on seeing how bloodily someone can be exterminated) were, as you can imagine, extremely off-putting for me.

    But overall, it's probably not a good sign that I recognize the potential for a better movie even though I haven't read the book. Nice effort by Snyder, but far from what I would consider a success. Not that matters - this will bring in beaucoup bucks and assure him the title of "Mr. March", as well as a couple more blockbuster directing jobs.

  6. I thought the sex scenes were authentic, appropriate for the story, laughable and somewhat disturbing at the same time.

    You mentioned how we now accept Torture Porn. You may want to give this a gander:

  7. "Who watches the Watchmen" indeed ... a film of version of any great and difficult book can never get all the details in, but I have to insist that as catchy as that single line was for the promos, the film did not delve into that part of the story at all -- despite its 2 hr 45 min running time, as per usual, the ratio of exposition to action in the film was exponentially higher than that of the graphic novel, so a lot just went unexplained or underdeveloped ...

    Well, Daniel, as you can imagine, I've got a lot to say about this one (I won't say it all here - I promise haha!)
    ... and I've seen it twice in its first 48 hours, first the Friday opener in IMAX, and then a 2nd viewing on Saturday at the local shopping mall AMC jumboplex.
    First of all, as one of those "built in" fans of the graphic novel which you mentioned, I did love it. I am glad that in large part everyone involved clearly gave it the respect and devotion which I hoping was any film version of it would get. As to what parts they actually chose to focus on ... to pick up on your quote "I recognize the potential for a better movie even though I haven't read the book", I will confidently say that this source material is absolutely rich enough to have a different director make a totally different movie version, and I would still find a lot to love in that. And maybe a lot more to love, depending on who might direct it ...

    Zach Snyder got a lot right, and, he definitely got a lot wrong. The lack of time and/or practical way to get into the deep character stories and overall motif to me made the film a strong orchestral movement, but it's not the stunning symphony that I read. The brilliant writing only peeked through at times; The brilliant pacing was non-existent. The big reveals didn't mean much, and the obvious dark jokes were kept, but a lot of the subtle humor, pathos, and genuinely heartbreaking moments were sadly missing. Again, no mere 3-hour retelling of this tale could have fit all of that in along with everything else, but this version of Watchmen clearly kept the accurate design reproductions and explosive action moments above all else. I enjoyed the experience of seeing it the 2nd time, but I didn't really get anything new out of it, except just to notice even more of the painstaking details that went into getting it to look right.

    Your "torture porn" comment is an interesting one, and I would like point a few departures from the book on that point, as follows:
    -- The scene were Rorschach is "explaining" how he got to be that way doesn't begin to describe the lengthy & complex version of events from the book -- however, the guilty man (who doesn't confess or really even talk) is chained and left to die as the building complex burns down around him, instead of the horrific act which kills him in the film (but to be fair, IS what Rorschach did to the dog)
    -- There is no scene in the book with Lee Iacocca and the other cars industry execs talking about alternate energy, so there is obviously no scene of Lee Iacocca's glasses getting surgically shot in half while his head splatters out the back
    -- The prison "door" scene does involve the murder of one of the cons who gets in the way, but there is no circular power saw present with which to ... you get the point

    Zach Snyder can feel free to chime in here and explain his choices ... but in lieu of that, I would defend only that the novel stresses a world in which both heroes and villains had to come to terms with the results of their actions. Obviously the novel does describe a terribly violent world, which ours is, and it does keep that violence rooted in the real-life crimes that modern humans do to each other. The brutal street-fights like the one with the Asian gang of muggers is true to the novel, and although I can't imagine many "hero" movies would show it, that's probably the kind of damage they would cause.

    The end result for me was bewildering and overwhelming in a lot of ways, but I still want to give it some credit for its earnest effort. Not that Watchmen author Alan Moore would; apparently he despised this as much as he did the film version of his V for Vendetta, which is perhaps yet another example of an excellent and often emotionally compelling story that may just be a "comic" to some, but soars as high as any other great book whose film can't seem to really leave the ground.

  8. Hmmm I thought you said "chances are low I'll have the time to review it" .... and yet it has a B rating next to it in your "CURRENTLY IN THEATERS:" area ... so maybe an official Getafilm review from you or mnraul is on the way in the next few days?


  9. I'll definitely check that out, Film-Book. As somebody who admittedly finds the new wave of horror and graphic violence really repulsive, I'm interested to see why my reactions are different than most.

    Well i'm glad you've put your thoughts here, Josh, because I still think it is unlikely that I'll be reviewing it. Partly because I already have a few I need to finish and partly because I'm not sure I've got much of substance to say about it. Unfortunately, the rich political and social themes are trapped in my head behind the action and effects. It's really too bad - I'm sure people enjoyed the novel primarily because of its story and characters, but in the movie the focus was on the action, sex, violence, etc. It was as if Snyder was only interested in showing off what he could do with the camera to indeed "make it look right", but I've heard more than one person say that the superpowers the characters have in the movie (which are really evident in my opinion) are total embellishments. Sounds like from what you describe in those scenes that that might be true.

    And since you mentioned it, I think V for Vendetta WAS more successful because James McTeigue it wasn't so obsessed with making the violence and action look "cool". I'm fine with that for movies that don't have much story to offer, but Snyder's adaptation appears to have been a real missed opportunity in that sense. So anyway, I'm talking in circles. I hated the gore but appreciated the idea of the story and the visual effects. And I should still read it.

    Lastly, other directors. Might want to check this out - pretty funny.

  10. While I hate to defend anything relating to an ad campaign, or the uninspired usuage of it by the press. I'd like to add my "Anal Retentive Comment of the Week". 64,000 hits on a google search is a little hollow for me. Add quotations to get instances of the whole line together and it pares down to 25k. For reference,"Random Crap" yields 2.3M hits. 10 years ago the amount of hits was kind of a gimmick for google to deferentiate it from the other search engines. Sort of a way to tell you how complete and fast it was searching. Now it would have to be a billion for me to raise my eyebrows. Maybe or eventually will do what you are looking for here but outside of some examples or research I'd just assume take your word for it.

    And that's the ARCotW!! Tune in next week when I take Daniel to task for some other sh!t no one could care less about.

  11. Haha, love it - bring on more of the ARCotW's.

    Fair to say that not actually using the search query "Who will watch Watchmen?" in its exact form does serve to inflate my number. Really I was just fed up with the number of times I'd seen it in my Google Reader. That the phrase directly relates to the story isn't enough of an excuse for me, primarily because it still exists as a ludicrous question: it just took $55 million at the box office (and the whole thing has now been changed to "Who will watch the Watchmen? Apparently everybody!", as if it's a surprise).

    For my money, any of these official taglines could have made for a better marketing campaign:

    Justice is coming to all of us. No matter what we do.

    This city is afraid of me. I've seen its true face.

    They watch over us...but who watches them?

    It's the End of the Superhero As We Know It.

    Who's Watching the Watchmen?

    The world will look up and scream, "Help us" and I will look down and whisper, "No".

    The existence of life is a highly overrated phenomenon.

    I am used to going out at 3am and doing something stupid.

    We were supposed to make the world a better place.

    We're society's only protection.

    A world at peace. There had to be sacrifice.

    Anyway, in other news I see the fanboys have had their day with it, getting it up to a healthy #132 on the IMDb top 250 list.

    And for the record, The Dark Knight remains accepted as the sixth greatest film in history.

  12. Yikes. Even considering myself a fanboy of the Dark Knight, I can't agree with the #6 spot all time ...

    I finally read Film-Book dot Com's post about the misuse of the word Porn as a marketing ploy, and I would have to agree that it is a sensational label, that just happens to dovetail nicely with the sensationalism around torture, or in this case, stylized killing scenes.

    And I also appreciated the ARCotW's for this week ... I didn't know what to think about the "hit count" concept, and this helps puts it more into perspective.
    So here's an off-film-topic question for teeblah or anyone else in the know: whatever happened to Cuil? Wasn't that supposed to be a search rival for Google which also bragged about it's hit count ability or massive page/url index size or something like that?

  13. Daniel, I forgot to mention that the Slate link you provided was hilarious -- Quentin Tarantino '70s Hanna-Barbera alt-version was my favorite

  14. Glad you liked the Torture Porn post Joshihno.

    @Teeblah. I was thinking of using parenthesis around the titles of the films I review.

    Everyone that is disappointed in the choices made in this incarnation of Watchmen breathe easy.

    Now that people see this story is actually viable, I can't wait to see it remade in ten or fifteen years with more care given to the story over the action.

    They remade Batman, Punisher, The Hulk.Watchmen will be "on deck" soon enough. Maybe by Ridley Scott. Remember what he did with Blade Runner? Hmmmm.

  15. Well those IMDb rankings have been a joke since The Matrix started it all in 1999, so there's no way to take it seriously. I just like to make fun of how ridiculous the rankings are.

    And I don't have any idea about Cuil. I heard about it the one time last year, used it once and then never again. Google must have been too strong.

    That was a great post by Film-Book. Breaking it down by definition does serve to make the term meaningless, but I still think Torture Horror doesn't convey the sexual aspects that come along with the terrible sex scenes in Watchmen or the sight of bound and gagged buxom girls in other movies. But I admit, a better term could be used - I'm just so used to it now that I keep going along with it.

    In terms of a remake, well it definitely crossed my mind soon after seeing this. In the meantime I need to make sure I read the novel.

  16. The phrase is still overly-quoted. That's what happens when the writers who are looking for original catchy frames are also lazy people who are not fond of thinking very much.

    Oh, and IMDb list is probably the only thing to be taken seriously of that kind. It's easy to spit venom all over it when you don't realize what its true implications are, which I have no intention to start explaining here.

  17. You may have no intention of explaining it, Anil, but I have a desire to hear it! I promise I'll hold my venom...

  18. Daniel, if you won't review Watchmen, I will. My review is almost up to five pages and that's before editing it.

  19. Good grief, go ahead with that! I don't think I have nearly enough background knowledge to say anything meaningful about this movie. It was interesting, but based on what I've heard I think I'd rather delve into the novel than the movie.

    In other news, here's a different take on the phrase: Who Watches Who Walks Out of Watchmen?

  20. The only reason I said I had no intention of further explaining it here was because I assumed you did not want off-topic comments of extreme length in your blog.

    I am planning to write an article about that list soon and since you've expressed interest, I'll let you know. For the sake of the subject at hand in this post, I will say no more.

    And yes, please do delve into the novel. While I don't see myself among the group of people who keep bashing the film for many reasons, it's true that Moore's work is infinitely better.

  21. Sounds good, Anil. I'll look forward to that post and thanks for giving me the heads up.

    I don't mean to sound like the list is useless - far from it. In fact the majority of the films are still considered "bests" by most people - critics, film institutes, the public, etc. What concerns me is how the voting works - there is no filter and no weighting and it seems quite easy to manipulate any movie's position. Whether those positions are actually used for anything (compared to an RT or Metacritic rating, which I believe studios may actually pay attention to), I don't know - but if you ask me it's not a list you could fairly give someone and say "Here's where you should start if you've never seen a movie before."

    What I'd really like to do is compare the list from 2009 to the list from 1999. My guess is that the differences would be significant. For example, I think that Return of the Jedi used to be in the top 10 or 20. I'm almost sure it used to be up that high. Now it's at 110. I think Fargo and Donnie Darko (since they're right next to it) also used to be a lot higher.

    I'm not saying any of these are out of place, just that the way these rankings change is ridiculous. Sure, a movie can be viewed as better or worse over time - I'm not saying something has be to considered the 17th best movie for eternity. But the voting process seems rife with potential for "abuse".

    How about The Lord of the Rings? All three of the trilogy were critically acclaimed, sure. But are all three of them among the best 32 movies ever made? I really can't believe many people would agree with that, especially after looking at many of the movies that follow.

    Of course this is a user list anyway and isn't endorsed by critics or the industry (or at least it shouldn't be), so maybe I should just keep my complaining to myself.

    How's that for a long comment, haha! I'll look forward to your thoughts/response when you post that article.

  22. The rating system of rotten tomatoes promotes above average crowd pleasers over the highly divisive and controversial ones that require a great deal of effort and intelligence from the audience. As long as the rating system is binary and relies on a single threshold, that's bound to happen. Imagine the hypothetical case below where two movies get the following ratings from 10 critics:

    Film A: 6 7 6 6 7 8 6 4 6 7
    Film B: 3 10 9 10 4 5 10 10 9 10

    I'm sure that in almost all cases, Film B will be superior to Film A, judging by the breakdown of individual ratings (those 3s and 4s probably just didn't get it, which happened almost every time in the past with Kubrick for instance; and still is happening). RT, on the other hand, would list 90% fresh for the first film and 70% for the second one.

    Furthermore, I don't know what you expect to see as a filter in such lists but the real unfiltered ones are the metacritic and RT ratings, where a raw average of several critic ratings are reflected as a result. IMDb uses a true Bayesian estimate which takes into account the total number of votes along with the mean, which makes a lot of sense. Again in RT, The Dark Knight is listed to have 94% score with 263 reviews counted while The African Queen is in the all time best of list with 27 reviews. Imagine this - a 20% rating for The Dark Knight would mean more favorable reviews that African Queen. RT shies away from a clear acknowledgment of the importance of both the total amount of appreciation for a film and the ratio of those to all the opinions. Without any sort of normalization with respect to the total number of votes, any ranking between films is meaningless.

    You have complained about films changing rankings and I will say this - any person who says their opinion about every film he/she can remember stayed the same over the course of any 10 years is shamelessly lying. Every list, whether it's a personal one or a collective one, needs to be updated regularly, and the fact that IMDb does this regularly tells only good things about their list.

    Finally, I assume you already know this but just for the heck of it, I'll remind you: You have to be a regular voter for your ratings to be counter for Top 250 list in IMDb. What you have to do to become a regular voter is not explained in order to prevent potential abuse. You will notice that the average rating for a movie in the Top 250 list and its own page will be different for this very reason.

    There are numerous other details to talk about (such as the fact that different lists tend to give different perspectives about collective tastes - or rather, tastes of different collective minds) but I will try to address them in my article rather than here.

  23. I expected that you would have some solid evidence to back up your position, and you didn't disappoint...

    Certainly I agree that RT ratings are bad for comparison because of the number of actual reviews used (and the people who write them - including me, for some recent films - but that's a different discussion altogether).

    And again, it's not that I think the IMDb list should remain static - just that such wild swings in position (if I'm right about Return of the Jedi, and I might not be) seem indicative of a weakness in the list itself, and not a consensus of a changing opinion. But yes, the lists deserve to be updated, ideally with some kind of moderation.

    And collective taste and immediate reactions are other interesting variables. My guess is that a lot of people saw TDK and just felt they "had" to give a 10 right away - everybody else was gushing about it, so how could they not? But if fewer people had seen the movie on July 18 and it crawled out in limited release over a period of time, I wonder if it would have exploded so high (it debuted at the #1 spot as soon as it was released) or even reached #6. I think it's normalizing now and I expect it will go down over time as people realize "yes, it's good, but it may not be better than all of those other movies". There is "space" now for people to form their own opinion on it without the pressure of popular culture. But it appears it will remain at least in the top 20 of that list forever and I still find that questionable, which I admit probably says more about my own opinion than anything else.

    It's a fascinating topic, obviously, and I'm eager to read your piece.

  24. I finished my Watchmen Review finally. If your inclined, give it a once-over:


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