Sunday, August 23, 2009

Watchmen and the Digital Apotheosis

OK, I finally watched Watchmen. When it came out I was super busy, and was admittedly a little put off by some of the bad buzz. And since I've been busy since the DVD came out, I haven't had time to watch a two and half hour movie, which translates into a four hour experience with all the pausing and snack-fetching around here.

But watch it we did, and I frickin' loved it. Hot diggity-damn. I may get eaten alive for this but I vastly prefer it to the comics, or graphic novel as it exists today. The thing is, you see, that I was buying Watchmen as it came out, and to say it's publishing schedule was erratic is an existential understatement. To make matters worse, the pacing of the story was pokey (to put it kindly), and by the time the giant squid shows up I and many other readers were going, "huh?" And Dave Gibbons' competent but extremely conservative art wasn't what I was looking at in the late 80s.

So, for years my reaction to Watchmen movie rumors was "meh." Until I saw the trailer for Zack Snyder's version, which had me drooling and panting. Then, as I said before, the buzz wasn't that great and I was putting in sick hours and decided to wait. Since I'm such a contrary bugger, hype can really color my enjoyment of a film so I waited out both the theater and DVD release hype ( I should have waited to see The Dark Knight as well- the hype sickened me). That way, I could try to figure out why Watchmen wasn't the smash hit it should have been. That was a no-brainer.

Ultimately, what did this movie in was the sex and violence. This is a very hard hard-R. Critics may not want to admit it, but they- and a lot of other people- don't want to see graphic rape scenes and compound fractures in a superhero movie. The violence in Watchmen is frickin' brutal, and Snyder lingers on the gore a bit too long for most people's liking.

I appreciated the ironic quality of it- for 70 years superhero comic books have sold a bloodless kind of ultraviolence and a distinctly variant sexuality without the bodily fluids. Snyder rips away the censor's bar and shows you what is really resonating in the subconscious, particularly with the Golden Age comics that Moore was taking the piss out of.

Another strike against Watchmen is the lack of A-list stars. People tend to harsh on genre movies if they don't do gangbusters, but stars still open a movie, especially with an extremely esoteric quantity like Watchmen. Jackie Earle Haley was a bit hammy, a bit scene-chewy, but overall I thought the acting was solid. I read some not-nice things about Malin Akerman which I was mystified about, especially since she's so insanely hot. Carla Gugino didn't really pull off the aging-drunk bit, but she didn't disgrace herself either.

Another criticism was that Snyder was over-faithul to the source material, but there's a damned if you do, damned if you don't proposition if ever there was one. IMO, he cut all of the right stuff out, and the denouement of Ozymandias' plot made a lot more narrative sense than it did in the comics. Snyder also did a great job recreating the visual magic that have made comics so compelling for so long. Particularly in the titles, which you can see for yourself up top. Strangely enough, it was when the Watchmen comics came out that I really began to see superheroes and comic books as destined to diverge, and it took 20-odd years of digital processing advancements to complete that process. Maybe the bean-counters ain't feeling it yet, but Watchmen proves that superheroes belong on the screen.

As to the Synchromysticism or whatever, this is an Alan Moore story. There's no difference between text and subtext (well, maybe a bit of difference, as this writer claims). On a more macro level, Watchmen is just another upping in the ante of this process of manifesting the Ubermenschen, for lack of a much better term. Two great geek obsessions- superheroes and digital technology- are converging into a new kind of apotheosis that will eventually transform movies into something even Welles would never have anticipated.

It was a truism that comics did a lot of things well, but did superheroes best. I don't think that's true anymore. Comics are much more suited to quieter and more intimate kinds of stories (Allison Bechdel's The Fun Home is a perfect example) while superheroes and related genres make digital storytelling truly come to life. It's become difficult for me to retreat back into that comic book reality after seeing films like Watchmen and Iron Man or cartoons like Justice League or the Doctor Strange DVD, apart from the old school comics I've already acclimated myself to.

There's a much more important issue at work here: The more compelling and immersive these scifi and superhero tableaus become onscreen, the less satisfied the younger generations are going to be with our present limitations- gravity, mortality, assorted laws of physics, you name it. Whether this will result in a transhumanist revolution or a revolution in which the boundaries between mundane reality and virtual reality are blurred- or even erased- remains to be seen.

The point is that this- right now- is the Golden Age of Mythology,
because we are nearing a point where we will have the tools to make those myths come true. Once we cross that line, the myths might not seem so important anymore.

UPDATE: Thoth Pavel links us to a great interview with Alan Moore.

A quick side note on that train of thought: Scientists now believe that alien abduction phenomena is the result of sleep paralysis, usually preceded by a feeling of being shocked or electrocuted. That's all well and good, but what if the resulting narrative isn't the result of cultural conditioning but in fact the reflection of a reality - a kind of alien virtual reality. As we evolve alongside our technology, will we bother to physically travel to distant stars, or stay safe at home and send digital recreations of ourselves via remote satellite or even truly esoteric technology like neutrino beams? If we can conceive it, how can we say someone else hasn't acheived it?


  1. "If we can conceive it, how can we say someone else hasn't acheived it?"

    Most people (in this country) would answer "Because I didn't see it on CNN".

    Still haven't seen Watchmen, and I still haven't finished watching The Satanic Rites of Dracula :P

  2. I'm really glad you liked this movie. Could you imagine how cool the X-men movies could of been if they only had this level of dignity? I was an X-men fan growing up and so let down by their films.

  3. I want to see this film too, but after what he did to the Dawn Of The Dead remake -- completely missing the point of our obsession with materialism -- I doubt he actually understood the Moby Dick of superhero comics. From what I've seen, Zack Snyder actually goes out of his way to reverse everything Alan Moore was doing. But I will watch it just as a film, severing the connection to the book.

    I do believe that myths might not be that important either in time. I've been thinking a lot about what the New Gods will like; if Jack Kirby pretty much created the gods for the 20th and 21st century, what will they look like two centuries from now and will they be dressed in spandex?

  4. Sleep paralysis and abductions as part of an alien virtual reality broadcast!? Okay - I can buy it. This could even explain the non-sleeping abduction cases.

    As someone who has had frequent incidents of sleep paralysis and an inexplicable obsession with aliens, I can attest to some kind of linkage with the phenomenon. Also interconnected with all this are false memories created sui generis and a powerful sense of underlying synchro-mystical (dis)order to the cosmos. Personally, I am left with the feeling that the entire universe is a synthetic product of deeper transdimensional forces that lay beyond the ken and perception of us human beings. Thus, I genunely suspect that higher order beings are somehow inducting the human race and its fledgling sentience to the mysteries of existence.

    I don't know if this cosmic tutelage is an entirely good thing as it seems we have no say in the matter. Additionally, mystical experiences, like psychedelic drugs, can have unpredictable results in people. For example, religious fundamentalism seems to be a form of mystical psychosis where individuals take the signals there brain is receiving in a frightful literal manner.

    I would suggest that to understand the implications of any extant human-alien communication processes, we need to study the overarching similarities between mystical experiences, alien abductions and "born again" conversions. (or maybe I just did too much LDS back in the 90's)


  5. People have conceived of immortality, in all its forms, with all its consequences, for thousands of years. And yet all those people have died, to be outlived by the concept.

    It is no more than a conceit born of being trapped within maya to conflate thought and "reality" since there is no reality separate from thought.

  6. Malin rocks out...

    Chris, good angle.

  7. Hi Chris
    Saw the movie on DVD last weekend as well and admittedly didn't really like it (it probably went over my head). Seemed to me to be a bit much 'superheroes having a midlife crisis' or something. Not that I wanted to see another Spiderman or Fantastic 4, however I can see why this movie bombed - it wasn't consumable enough. From this I can also see why Hollywood execs insist on using 'the formula' so much. I don't have a problem with substance, but it needs to be readily palatable (ie. so even 'normal' people like me can get it).

    I like your conclusion that we are at a crossroads of sorts:
    'Whether this will result in a transhumanist revolution or a revolution in which the boundaries between mundane reality and virtual reality are blurred- or even erased- remains to be seen.'

    I think as humans we need to be careful here and not become too enamored with technology, in particular (the inevitable) virtual reality technology. We are setting ourselves up very nicely to become enslaved within our (??) technological brilliance, whereas the real power of being a human lies in gaining mastery of the universe as it is - not something we've laid over the top of it (whether it be technology, money markets or any other artificial construct) - something that essentially buries our divine inheritance.

    If you want to talk Archons or agendas then I think this is how it goes: the Archons give us the technology in which to enslave ourselves so that they can stay in control. If however, we gain mastery over reality as it is, we become the masters and they then have to dance to our tune - because we essentially decide their fate for them, rather than them ours. I think that's the difference between the two paths.

    We have the power to create and the simplest way to stop us is through misdirection.

    See what you think.


  8. Interesting... Christopher, I heard you on Revelations with William Henry.
    Your analysis is way beyond my knowledge. Plus, I didn't see the film.
    What I can speak to the divergence of the SuperHero from the comic book to digital stardom. Overall, the power of the screen image is bigger, better, faster. It's closer to the way the mind actually works and thus, feels more real to those experiencing the story. The screen offers a stronger sense of reality to most people.
    I know my own motivation in creating my superhero romance novel ~ pubbed by Siren-BookStrand. Or why my heroine wanted her own superheroes in a world destroyed by weather wars...
    Because who we are as humans were once that and that is, also, a potential we possess. Why not bring it forth against the villains?
    As an author, why not speak to who we can become in the future?
    Fascinating about technology as a test of our willingness to be free humans, instead of slaves, whether to the machine or to the regime.

  9. Heh great article, Ubermenschen, a lot of people in the paranormal research fields got there through comics showing them about telepathy, magick, and ancient civilizations

    Watchmen the movie and re-released graphic novel will get people interested in Alan Moore, realize the links to arts and the occult.

    Alan Moore these days is an occultist, -a magician. I just read an interesting article on him recently that resonates with ideas coming up here. I think this interview will interest you Chris and the rest of the Secret Sun readers.
    Artists, creators and the occult worlds of dreams and consciousness are merging together again like they used to do in the past.
    Moore takes on some interesting synchs including philip k. dick here. Certainly Moore has taken his new rebirth as a magus to be his form of the Ubermenschen.

    This could be the big secret, as Clive Barker says, "God is an astronaut, Oz lies over the rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live."

  10. CK- I'm always looking forward to your thoughts, and i too enjoyed watchmen very much both on a cinematic and thematic level. that aside, clearly the most compelling element of WM is dr. manhattan- vedic indigo blue, not bound by time/space (oh but not omniscient either, nudge nudge) etc. is this for you a AAT-linked figure as a "watcher" type or would you be willing to consider that DR. M is the wet dream embodiment of the superman race envisioned by theosophists adolph hitler, HP blavatsky and others? i mean, in the end he sacrifices millions of lives "to save billions" this what we can expect from these so-called "guardians of gaia"? and are we to spend our time glorifying this message?

    speaking of thoughts, YouHaveLostTheGame appropriately enough named says immortality is no more than a conceit to conflate thought and "reality" since there is no reality separate from thought. yes and no brother, yes and no- that is, who says you are the source of your thoughts? your subconscious? or are you tapping into the akashic field (et al)?

  11. The part I found curiously removed from the film treatment of the story was, yes, the psychic-shock inducing, tactical chuthulu weapon created by Ozy's business venture. Guess that'd be just too much of a literal take of the real life concept of mankind ultimately relying on an overt external threat of a magnitude so insane that it could contain the human species "failure" and promote a radically strong shift of global consciousness, re-enforcing the idea that humanity just might need to know its not the top of the food chain and will only be publicly recognized as a deep psychotropic blue beam event or even a physically real scenario to qualify the human change needed to protect itself from an extinction event. I think this speaks to the real plight of mankind...running from its shadow in a virtual reality scenario, confronting a hyper dimensional world so quickly that extreme projection becomes a new filter on which man will rely to avoid mortality in this 3rd dimensional voyage of limitation.

  12. Ian/OG- I want to return to this when I catch up on comments, but Ozymandias' plan- like the Watchmen comic itself- isn't about reality, it's about comics (which is why it didnt appeal to a huge audience. It comes from discussions that fans and pros were having at the time. The end of Watchmen shows how little difference there is in the end between superheroes and supervillains because both would act regardless of what we wanted and both ultimately would be seen as a threat. You wouldn't have a Cold War with superheroes and supervillains because the entire world would spend all of its time trying to destroy all of them. Watchmen is also about how supervillains saw themselves as heroes- just like what William B Davis said about the Smoking Man in TXF. Dr Manhattan and Ozymandias are polar opposites who both see themselves as above humanity, but acting on its behalf.

  13. This post comes from Just Another Dick

    Thanks Chris. This bit:

    "The more compelling and immersive these scifi and superhero tableaus become onscreen, the less satisfied the younger generations are going to be with our present limitations- gravity, mortality, assorted laws of physics, you name it. Whether this will result in a transhumanist revolution or a revolution in which the boundaries between mundane reality and virtual reality are blurred- or even erased- remains to be seen."

    from your Watchmen post actually made me laugh out loud.

    I'll try to keep my quibbles succinct and civil, but I just can't resist quibbling.

    a. From what I can see, each succeeding generation is more IQ challenged than the one before it. I doubt that the majority of the young 'uns even know that there are laws of physics. I really don't see any, but a minority, of them actually pulling their chubby posteriors out of their chairs long enough to do anything but passively acquiesce to whatever artificially created zeitgeist is spoon fed to them.
    Otherwise, Guitar Hero would be going belly up as all the little air guitar playing button pushers toss down their color coded joysticks in favor of a Les Paul or a Strat.

    b. as far as "a tran-humanist revolution" goes, I hate to break it to you, but it's already happened. One example, the reality show chap who recently murdered his new bride removed her teeth & her fingers to hamper identification. Instead police used the serial number on her breast implants to ID her.
    Personally, my problem with trans-humanism is that the "trans" part is being forced on us before we've even come close to mastering the "humanist" part.

    c. There are no barriers between virtual & mundane reality anymore.
    Just watch the news. It's all virtual reality.
    Mediocre pop stars like Michael Jackson have their deaths intimately & endlessly dissected while the 100s of thousands of Iraqis we've helped liberate to death rate no mention whatsoever.
    More than half of Americans polled can't name one branch of government. Nor can they tell what the Bill of Rights is.

    Sorry that this is off topic. the UFO bit was interesting to me at one time, but once I realized that most of the folk inhabiting the chunk of reality that I could see were complete space cadets, the space aliens that I couldn't see just drifted into irrelevance.

    Good luck with your continuing quest to dissect mass appeal crapola. I'm sure the infotainment complex appreciates every single one of your monetary donations.

  14. That's funny, I just watched it on the same day this was posted I think. I didn't find anything to complain about, having read the graphic novel earlier this year, I think the "nuclear" explosions were a good replacement for giant sushi. I've also been reading some old Batman trade paperbacks which resonate with the anti-Vigilante theme of Watchmen (specifically, Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns").

  15. Real evil needs to be laughed at. The Watchmen replaced a sense of wonder with arch irony which makes for delight on first reading- and dissatisfaction on repeat readings.

    Similar attempts were made in the original run of the Top Ten series, but like Doctor Who the PC compulsion to include, whether needed or not, non-heterosexual relationships front and centre turn what should be pure deconstruction into just another brand of propaganda...

  16. in regards to last comment Chris ... then there was Rorschach, I would like to hear what you have to say on about him. I'm thinking about how freemasons walk on white & black squares, like the Dark Knight, sort of like androgony and the word Grey.