Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Comic Book Nerds: The Last Acceptable Prejudice

Anthony Lane has seen the Watchmen movie and has nothing but sneers for it in The New Yorker (massive spoilers).

He starts by working in towards Alan Moore, mentioning that two of his other projects have been made into movies, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta, of which Lane has this to say:

Both of these have been turned into motion pictures; the first was merely an egregious waste of money, time, and talent, whereas the second was not quite as enjoyable as tripping over barbed wire and falling nose first into a nettle patch.

I'm sorry Lane finds the concept of the 19th-century adventure heroes teaming up so dull, and the struggles of a near-future Guy Fawkes so painful.

It quickly becomes clear that Lane has not actually read Watchmen in its original form.

There is Dan (Patrick Wilson), better known as Nite Owl, who keeps his old superhero outfit, rubbery and sharp-eared, locked away in his basement, presumably for fear of being sued for plagiarism by Bruce Wayne.

Or, you know, being prosecuted for violating the 1977 law banning costumed vigilantism. This is a basic bit of world-building. Was Lane asleep, or was this bit not mentioned in the film?

And he has this to say about Dr. Manhattan:

Whether his fellow-Watchmen have true superpowers, as opposed to a pathological bent for fisticuffs, I never quite worked out, but this guy is the real deal.

Nope, they're all Batman-level street brawlers. Dr. Manhattan is H.G. Wells' "one impossible assumption" in this story.

He also doesn't care much for the choice of opening theme:

But must we have “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” in the background? How long did it take the producers to arrive at that imaginative choice? And was Dylan happy to lend his name to a project from which all tenderness has been excised, and which prefers to paint mankind as a bevy of brutes?

One might think that Bob Dylan knows quite well what sort of brutes mankind bevies of. And apparently Mr. Lane does not get that this is a story about loneliness and disconnection.

But it's by the end of the column that I think Lane is in danger of twisting his upper lip right off:

“Watchmen,” like “V for Vendetta,” harbors ambitions of political satire, and, to be fair, it should meet the needs of any leering nineteen-year-old

Yeah, go jump in a lake.

who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex,

Yeah, I guess having the lion's share of the federal budget, one that gets expanded every year like clockwork, outspends all the other military budgets on this planet put together, still can't get the Osprey to work and yet never faces any sort of real criticism or budget cuts isn't really the master of this country. We're really ruled by the banksters and the people who make over $250,000 who are trying to dump their extra income to keep it out of the hands of Obama.

and whose deepest fear—deeper even than that of meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation

A quality I've noted lacking in this column, actually. Perhaps I've overlooked it. Is it buried under all the smug and sneering disdain for nerds? I should give him credit -- he doesn't try to politely suggest that pimple cream would be a thoughtful gift to the average fan of Watchmen.

—is that the Warren Commission may have been right all along.

No, the Comedian didn't kill Kennedy. He was in Dallas, but he was keeping an eye on Nixon. Why was Nixon in Dallas? Alan Moore never makes that clear.

I think there is a large reason why movies made from comic books are not going to appeal to movie critics. They don't know the background that the movies have to accommodate in some portion to appease the fan base. I remember X-Men opened with a scene in a concentration camp, with people being burnt up in furnaces and everything, and some movie critic didn't understand that the Holocaust is an integral part of the background of the villain of that movie. Similarly, Mr. Lane does not seem to grasp how the heroes of Watchmen tie into the plot; for instance, he does not seem to understand how Nixon, in the movie, managed to finagle his way into a "third term," which, given the story is set in 1985, is more like his fifth.

Perhaps Mr. Lane believes his column is humorous. I think it betrays certain prejudices. He seems to think everyone who reads comic books is like the Comic Book Guy off the Simpsons: pedantic, small-minded, and obsessed.

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