Sunday, July 20, 2008


With the weekend edging towards a close I’ve been idling my time away watching the trailer for Watchmen around preparing a cheese and ham toastie. And God damn! That turned out to be a brilliant sandwich.

As for the trailer; not so good really. Toward the end of last year, when I finally caught up with Sin City, I thought the failure of Robert Rodriguez’s film was that it was simply too darn reverential to Frank Miller’s original comic series. Transferring it, rather than translating it to the screen, Rodriguez was so utterly slavish to the source material that it was just monotone and, frankly, dull as fuck.

Certainly director Zack Snyder appears to have followed the same route for Watchmen and gone overboard when it comes to attention to detail, replicating Dave Gibbons’ beautifully intricate comic book panels with nerdish devotion. Whether he’s managed to corral the intricacies of Alan Moore’s multi-layered narrative into a two-and-a-half-hour running time remains to be seen.

After all, this first trailer is primarily aimed at everyone converging on San Diego next weekend, buying up every box of Kleenex they can get along the way for the repeated viewings. But it does make you understand why Moore wants nothing to do with the adaptations of his work. V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen worked beautifully on the page but on screen, disappointingly, fall flat, looking like their scripts had been ham-fistedly gouged out of the ripe source material.

If anything, they proved that comic book adaptations work better from broad source material, like the recent Iron Man, rather than specific, contained stories. Even Guillermo del Toro’s first Hellboy movie expanded on Mike Mignola’s original Seed of Destruction story with elements from The Right Hand of Doom and Box of Evil as well as developing the characters, rather than stick rigidly to what was on the page.

Still, the most intriguing part of this initial Watchmen trailer is just how fucking awful the CGI work is. I don’t know if Snyder went the same green-screen route at his previous film, 300, based on Frank Miller’s take on the battle of Thermopylae, but playing with a budget of $100 million, the effects work should be better than what’s on display. The brief snippets with The Comedian and Dr Manhattan in Vietnam look shockingly bad.

Any excuse that it’s probably work in progress is utter bullshit. Who in their right mind would put unfinished work in a trailer? Back on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, once the material for the trailers were decided on, the scenes were fast tracked through the departments so they could be cut in and put into cinemas. They weren’t just slapped together with whatever was on offer and shipped out by the studio.

Still, it might all come together. Although I’m not sure I really care all that much. Instead I think I’ll go back to Rocketeer, which took the late Dave Stevens’ ravishingly illustrated comic book serial and made something perfect. “That son of a bitch will fly!”


At 1:11 am, Blogger qrter said...

Ha, that trailer is hilarious. It's everything the book isn't.

Supposedly, Moore has said Hayter's script is "as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen", although he still doesn't want anything to do with it, never wants to see it.

Terry Gilliam was attached as a director, much earlier, but he pulled out because he thought the book was too complex to be filmed. If I didn't already love Gilliam I'd do so now.

At 9:56 am, Blogger stu willis said...

I've personally worked on 8 features doing VFX: from tent pole movies to tiny little blips... and I can guarantee you that VFX shots on trailers are almost always unfinished.

Right now I've got friends busting ass to get shots for the Wolverine trailer done. They'll probably redo most of that work for the final movie. Its a horrible feeling - doing 100 hour weeks for a trailer and knowing that none of the work will be relevant for the final thing.

Doing an asset build (modelling, shading, texturing, rigging) on a character like Dr Manhattan takes a serious amount of work to get finished. We are 9 months from delivery, so there's probably a good 6 months of work on Dr Manhattan to go. Once the asset is finished they can actually just finalling comps. For a trailer, they just cut whatever corners they can in their pipeline to get the shot out-the-door. Sometimes your'e working with elements

The worst part is you often don't get confirmation for what shots are in the trailer until around a week before its due and then it'll keep on changing right down until the wire.

Comparing the VFX process to traditional cell animation like on Roger Rabbit is erroneous. The processes are very, very different.

At 5:47 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Oh, absolutely. Key to the comics were the recurring visual motifs and layouts that really bolstered the story. Take it off the page and it’s just a story. The trailer pretty much proves it’s being made by the kind of idiots who think comic books make great stories because the panels are like storyboards. Right. And then what do you do with them?

I guess Gilliam figured he was on a hiding to nothing. Same with Paul Greengrass. And good on them. Got the David Hayter draft and the Alex Tse draft here and... I just gave up on them, couldn't be bothered.

Ages back, I was at a studio based in the Python’s North London office/studio facility. Mid-week there’d be a film to catch in the screening room, biked up by the distributors, pre-release. Most of the time it would be things like Point Break and The Last Boy Scout. Gilliam would always sit at the front, never giving anything away. I always wondered what he thought of these big, dumb action movies.


That really is kind of dumb, don’t you think? Sure there are always a million things going on that have to be addressed but it sounds like lousy management screwing you all. Then again, the amount of run-ins I had with directors who would always say “we’ll sort it out in post” – which translates to “I’ll decide what I want when we’re paying through the nose in the Henry suite.” My response would be, “decide now.”

Surely everyone wants it right the first time otherwise the first impression the audience gets can be negative. Those Vietnam scenes look they were shot in somebody’s postage-stamp garden. There’s absolutely no depth of field and the lighting is positively shocking. Admittedly this trailer is for all the avid little fanboys who have probably ruptured their testicles by now, but those scenes aren’t good.

The traditional cel animation was only the base stage on Roger Rabbit. Characters required all manner of effects levels (including dark tone/shadows, highlights) to push them toward 3D, then, because the animation continually interacted with the live action there were all manner of hold-back/junk mattes. All the elements had to sent to ILM to combine everything in photo-chemical fun, pre-Shake, Inferno, etc...

So, after clean-up it wasn’t a case of Xeroxing, pegging, slapping some paint on the back and sticking it under a rostrum. That's too easy.

At 9:07 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

On the KING KONG commentary, Peter Jackson described the process by which they'd no choice but to feature an unfinished Kong in the trailer... it wasn't a matter of fast-tracking individual shots but of having to use still-developing tools to meet the deadline.

Having now seen the WATCHMEN trailer I'd be more concerned that it doesn't offer any sense of what the movie's actually about. And I've read the books!

At 10:18 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Oh, I'd forgotten about the King Kong trailer. Didn't the big monkey have a snaggle tooth or something? I'm going to have to watch it again now.

There's absolutely no sense of what it's all about, but then it's a smart trailer aimed straight at San Diego.

Well, hopefully it is. Otherwise... yikes!

At 2:19 am, Blogger stu willis said...

Its bad management throughout the whole process from the facilities through to production to the director to the studios.

Basically, VFX has made it easier for directors to *avoid* making decisions. Worse, they can uncommit. Bryan Singer very infamously unfinalled around 80% of Sony's work on Superman Returns. A facility as massive as Sony couldn't push back and say no either.

Personally, I think the unfinalling was Bryan Singer's panic attack when he realised how shit his movie was.

c.f. Pixar who deliberately create "paper prototypes" before committing to the pipeline.

Sometimes being flexible doesn't make you creative, it makes you lazy.

As for the Watchmen trailer... a few guys at work asked me what the hell the excitment was about. For them it was another stupid superhero movie. I ended up giving the big pitch about what makes the Watchmen so cool.

... and given 300's politics, I'm very worried that Zack will completely fuck it up. Pretty but wrong. To quote John Rogers:

"Watching 300 today, I was struck by ludicrousness of trying to find a single, unifying political or even moral idea in the film. Zach Snyder wanted to shoot the comic, he wanted to fry your brains with pictures. And did so -- kudos to Zack."

And thats what worries me. Zack will "fry our brains with pictures" in the Watchmen and ignore the very cohesive moral imperative of the original text.

Frankly, the only living directors who I think could get the tone of the Watchmen right would be Paul Veherhoven, David Fincher and Chris Noonan (the Dark Knight is a great moral play). Although, secretly I would have loved to see Kubrick tackle the material.


At 3:24 am, Blogger stu willis said...

At 4:07 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Ah, thanks for the Variety articles, even if they were quite disturbing reading. Even with all the technologies that should make things easier – like digital pre-viz – these numpties still manage to stick a fucking great spanner in the works. While they fanny around the folk who do the actual work end up smacking their heads against their desk.

Also worrying is the Imageworks guy stating, “The disaster (would be if) we didn't plan well enough to make an effect or a character sell a movie...” I may be wrong but always thought movies were sold on stories. I guess I’m showing my age.

As for the producer reported to have said: “If I don't put a visual effects shop out of business (on my movie), I'm not doing my job.” Little weiners like that should be dragged out into the high desert and beaten with a stick. There’s better things to do than go through life being a fucking arsehole.

Superman Returns was such a bloody disappointment and such a shame. There were some nice little bits but they were the nods to Dick Donner’s original.

The really scary thing about that Watchmen trailer is it calls Snyder a “visionary director”. Really? I mean, really?? He just seems concerned with creating images that leap out of the screen and kick your corneas in. In fucking slow motion as well so each one seems to last a whole day long.

And that’s an interesting quartet of directors. What would the great Stanley K have made of it? That would have been something to see. Failing that, Fincher’s take on it would have been interesting. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button looks pretty darn good.

At 4:17 pm, Blogger qrter said...

As for the Watchmen trailer... a few guys at work asked me what the hell the excitment was about. For them it was another stupid superhero movie.

That pretty much sums up exactly what is wrong with that trailer.

I heard Kevin Smith say on his podcast how impressed he was by the trailer, because the images copied the comic exactly. Yeah, because that's what Watchmen is all about, the exact hue of Dr. Manhattan's skin.

It's been interesting to see how Moore has distanced himself from all film projects but the original artists have been closely associating themselves with the films (maybe Moore is already in a more privileged position, although it seems more like he just doesn't care about money).

At 5:46 am, Blogger stu willis said...

I think those variety articles sadly say all that needs to be said about the VFX Industry... (sigh)

As for the quarter I picked:

They're all incredibly talented directors who make taunt thrillers and do not flinch from violence... kinda like Zack Synder.

But what differentiates those four from Zack is that make truly cynical films. Not cynical in a more general pessimistic or misanthropic sense... but cynical as it relates to virtue/morality.

All four of those directors make films that attempt to adopt a neutral, objective lens when dealing with horrible subject matter. But for all their active disinterest, their works are deeply interested in morality -- immoral, amoral, and moral. They've all explored absolute amoral characters and, in the case of Verehoven, done it with a wink and a smile.

I'm afraid Zack isn't interested in the moral complexities of the Watchmen. Its not that he's amoral or disinterested, it's that he is uninterested. Huge difference.

If any comic book was made for the big Stanley Kubrick -- it would've been the Watchmen. For some reason, I think Alan Moore would have approved of his adaptation. For Kubrick wouldn't have been reverential, but god damn he would have made it interesting.

Qrter, I think your observation of the -artists- attaching themselves to the film is incredibly astute... and sad too. Moore's genius is in how he uses these incredible artists to push comic books into literature.

Oh well.

At 7:49 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Just looks like a big bunch of “Look at the shiny shiny, you dumb fucking prole.”

Will probably also feature ear-splittingly loud audio and all the explosions will have been run through the Enormo-tron™.

Sigh. I should have been Rorschach...

At 11:21 pm, Blogger qrter said...

Rorschach looks more than a bit silly in that trailer. The visual of his 'rorschach-mask' works really well on the page, it almost looks flat, makes him look like a robot..

When it's actually reproduced in real life 3-D as a mask, it looks like a bit of cheese cloth wrapped around someone's head. The way the nose sticks out, it looks stupid.

(I wonder if they'll be doing the 'inktblob-on-mask-changes' theme.. already read they're animating the pirate comic for the DVD, you'll be able to watch the film with the pirate comic cut between, like in the book.. oh dear..)

At 4:52 am, Blogger qrter said...

Oh god it just got a whole lot worse..

Really, follow that link and read the whole article. It'll make you laugh and vomit at the same time.

At 11:23 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

My Chemical Romance?

Oh, cock!


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