Sunday, March 30, 2014

Escape From Tomorrow - The Very Best Vacations Involve a Complete Descent into Madness

Escape From Tomorrow is a tough film to sell. This is in no small part thanks to the fact that what the movie is most known for isn't the story, but rather its production. The decision of director Randy Moore to film the entire movie guerrilla-style on the premises of Disneyland and Disney World is an ambitious gamble, and certainly one of the more interesting aspects of the overall product, but it's also one that risks overshadowing the movie's other merits.

The entire guerrilla approach-which Disney shrewdly decided to let slide rather than pursue legal action and therefore invite the attention of the press- is something of a necessity given the nature of its story. The idea of exploring a darker side of the so-called 'happiest place on Earth' is something that's been joked about so often it's actually kind of surprising to think no one had tried to make this movie sooner. Of course, the filming in the park does actually help aid the movie in a way that just making a mock-up of Disney with the arbitrary legal substitution wouldn't quite cut, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Welp...they bought up Marvel and Star Wars, it was only a matter of time before Disney would set their sights on The X-Files.

This surreal horror experiment concerns protagonist Jim White (Roy Abramsohn,) a father whose taken his family on a vacation to Disney World. During the vacation, he receives a phone call from work, informing him of his subsequent termination: a decision he keeps from his family. The trip into the park starts innocently and then a bit creepy when Jim's eye catches two young French girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru.) Then things start to change on arrival at the park. In classic 'horrors of Disney' style, Jim begins to hallucinate wildly on - what else? - It's a Small World. What follows is a nightmarish descent into a dark parallel of the park: prostitution, an outbreak, sinister visions, and a secret conspiracy operating behind the scenes are all parts of the myriad ways in which Jim's vacation goes to complete and utter Hell.

The park ads tend to leave out the part about nightmare face transformations...I guess they just figure it's part and parcel and doesn't need to be brought up.

Like I said before, the decision to film at the actual Disney parks themselves, while a hook that kind of overshadows the movie, is also useful as more than just a gimmick. By using an actual theme park, and having locations that many people can place as point of reference to their own trips to Disney, it makes the nightmarish diversions a bit more effective, as it puts the disturbing elements into enough of a -for lack of a better term- shared reality that everyone can recognize, and thus be disturbed by. Of course, they naturally couldn't get away with EVERYTHING in these parks, which does lead to some occasional moments where the film has to resort to some jarring greenscreening. It's an effect you learn to take in stride given the nature of the production, but can still be distracting at certain points.

Of course, the unsettling vibe doesn't entirely hinge upon the location, though that does enhance it. Randy Moore and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham have produced a film that, in its overall feel, has a very dark and unnerving look to it. The black and white style, combined with some of the nature of the hallucinations (such as in the above-mentioned It's a Small World sequence) give everything a sort of feel of a waking nightmare. It's the kind of effect similar to what David Lynch did with Eraserhead, albeit here with a bit more polish by virtue of the technology available. Granted, I do think that reduces some of the more disturbing nature of EFT by comparison, but that's more a consequence of the style of filmmaking.

The biggest stumbling block this movie could be said to suffer from is with regards to its story. The overall concept is certainly one with potential, but the actual execution is VERY hit and miss. While the film's hallucinatory nature does a great job for the film visually, it also causes the film's writing to feel disjointed at times. Individual concepts it introduces into the film are all pretty memorable, but they never really feel like they ever come together into much, even during what's supposed to be the big surprise reveal inside Epcot center. While it provides an interesting twist to the movie, it's a twist that never really goes much of anywhere. This could, admittedly, be because the entire film has been read by a lot of people (and to be honest, I can agree with this) as being all a product of Jim slowly losing his mind. As such, I could somewhat see the logic in the idea that none of these visions really add up. They're all products of that madness, and thus born not out of any sort of cohesive logic but rather a paranoid series of delusions. Of course, the film plays that potential completely straight-faced, pulling a move akin to Videodrome in that we're never really privy to what's real and what's imagined. Unfortunately, unlike Videodrome, the hallucinations seem somewhat scattered in their nature. We have some recurring elements, such as Jim's taboo attraction to the teen French girls, as well as the idea of the park hosting a prostitution ring (oh, to have been in the Disney offices when they heard about THAT part.) The overall film, however, is still rather scattershot in its concepts and execution.

At first I had reservations about including this...but honestly, given how odd this turn is, I'd have to REALLY work to turn it into a spoiler.

The cast, for being relative unknowns, all play their parts fairly well. Abramsohn in particular carries the film well as its potentially unreliable narrator. While we do feel bad for him at points, he also doesn't mind letting us judge some of his actions - especially since, to be perfectly honest, there are many points in this film where Jim IS an absolute ass. The rest of the cast are largely capable, but to be perfectly honest, it's Abramsohn that carries this. It's his experiences, and his possible madness that make up this movie, and as such, everyone else is just elements working around him. They do well for their parts, but are never given the chance to really go above and beyond by comparison.

Overall, this is the kind of movie that feels like it works more as a proof of concept than it does as a standalone movie. It's certainly not a perfect movie by any means, but it has enough strengths to make up for it. Even once you get past the 'gimmick' factor of its production history, the fact is, you're left with a film that shows director Moore has a lot of potential in terms of where he can go from here as a filmmaker. His 'through a glass darkly' vision of the beloved Disney parks is a memorable enough part of the film that, even if its somewhat disjointed narrative doesn't always click, you're likely to at least remember some of its visual style.

It's the kind of movie that I can't promise you'll enjoy, but if you're curious enough, it's at least worth giving a watch to see what you think of it.

...well, this was an odd one to come back to the reviews on ( that's ever stopped me before.)

I'll have something a bit more recent up in the next day or so.

Till then!

In the meantime, we here at The Third Row wish to remind you to properly dispose of all garbage in the appropriately marked receptacles.
Thank you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Anime Boston - Because the Stuff I Wanted to See is Being Trickled Out Slowly

It's been a while since I wrote out a con report.

This is partially because it's not something I've been in the habit of (only really doing two or three any given year), and partially because I just tend to enjoy them on a personal level, rather than an industry level.
Well, with the exception of New York Comic Con in 2012. That was a mix of catching enough generally interesting industry material to report and the fact it felt worth passing along on the long shot anyone might be listening that it was being run with such incredibly poor management as to make the late Joseph Conrad spin in his grave.

To be honest, this one also had a few problems, but was still a very enjoyable con.

So I'll regale you for a bit, but try to keep it brief. One part cause I didn't really get to as many events as I'd been hoping to (for various external reasons, but through no real fault on any part.)

I promise, there will be a review to come in the next couple of days. Won't be a theater run one, but an interesting title nevertheless.

In the meantime, rather than do this one chronologically, let's break this down by the good and bad, shall we?

First, we have the events and panels...

Like I said before, wasn't able to get to too many of these. Largely a consequence of the travel time to and from the con, more focus on catching up with other people and the fact that Saturday was...well...we'll get to that.

Anyway, of the three panels did make it to this year, two of them pretty much had to be at, as I was participating in them. It's not really a shameless plug at this point now that they're over, is it?

First was a discussion on live action anime adaptations that actually aren't bad. Between myself, my girlfriend, and another friend, we put together a pretty solid list of six fairly strong entries that prove the classic perception of all live-action adaptations of Japanese media to be abortions is somewhat exaggerated. The resulting spread was a good mix of comedy, drama, action, and even some fairly creepy thriller elements (watch the 20th Century Boys movies and tell me Friend isn't at least a LITTLE creepy...) Further, thanks to some suggestions from the audience, we got a good spread of titles to consider for if we do this panel again in the future. Cause hey, it's not always gonna be Dragonball: Evolution.

...not that that stopped us from using that as a title image.

Later that day was the one panel I got to just attend as a regular congoer and learn from. The panel was apparently approved at the last minute, which was rather unfortunate, since it was an interesting topic, and from the sound of things drew quite a crowd.
I say 'from the sound of things' because, thanks to the short notice, they got dealt a VERY small room to work with. We were lucky to get seats, but reportedly there was enough of a line outside that con staff had to give the warning that if you got up from your seat to leave, they couldn't guarantee it wouldn't be taken by someone else. Which I can't say I blame them on - with the draw this apparently got and the room they had to work with, they were just doing the best they could with what was available.
The panel itself was initially about the idea of gender identity in anime, which is itself a particularly interesting topic to explore. In particular now as the medium is slowly evolving and (still somewhat slowly) getting better with the handling of transgender (as well as agender and genderfluid) characters. It was quite well-informed and broke down a lot of the depictions in various shows for good and bad, most notably with regards to some of the more awkward stereotypes and misunderstandings the medium has depicted and informed over the years.
From there, the second half of the panel went into how con culture has developed with regards to how it views and treats transgender people. This was equal parts informative and disheartening. For as much as the con culture plays itself up as being inclusive, this is one area where it could stand to do some learning. Fortunately, for what people were able to sit on the panel, the message was largely well received - one rather problematic question asker aside (without going into too much detail, let me just say I found myself muttering the phrase "Dig up" repeatedly. The guy just did NOT realize how much worse he was making his stance by trying to explain it.)
In all, this is a panel I'd like to see developed more for future years. Hopefully in the future the con will be able to give them a bigger room to work with, cause this is a topic that a lot of congoers could benefit from learning more about.

The one photo we were able to get of the panel. Sorry it's not the best quality.

Finally, and a part of Anime Boston that has been a tradition for me for several years now, I took part in the annual panel "All the Mecha You'll Ever Need." As the title suggests, it's our salute to the giant robot genre of anime - with our suggestions for lesser known titles and discussion on topics within ranging from general talking points to recent announcements of new developments, cause this is one type of anime that's pretty regularly rife with new material. It's one of those events I look forward to every year at Anime Boston, and we all have a lot of fun with it each year.

As you can guess at this point, panel photography is also kind of a crapshoot in general.

From here, the next plus in general is the Artist's Alley. These cons are as much about the general social aspect as they are the industry getting to reach out to the fans. In this regard, the Artist's Alley is a big plus here - as it's a chance for a lot of people, some local, some otherwise, to sell their goods and generally converse with other fans. It's also just a very nice area to relax from the crowds in the hallways from time to time. Plus, I will admit this is becoming a part of a tradition for me with regards to one of the booths - Zombie Romance. With each con, artist Kristilyn Stevenson opens up for commissions. Between the two I have done so far, I have the makings of a recurring theme of horror villains slowly growing (I must say, I'm quite impressed with how she handled the rendition of Fluffy, the crate-dwelling monster from George Romero's Creepshow.)
Which leads to the other great thing about the Artist's Alley. It's also a great place to reconnect with people you don't meet up with as often.

Actually, I wound up meeting up with a lot of people this year. Some I was expecting to, others I did not expect. It's probably one of the best parts of the con for me, really. I mean, I go to AB for some of the industry aspects, don't get me wrong. Likewise, some of the guests are pretty awesome (voice actor Richard Epcar is actually a pretty fun guy to talk to with the right topics, though learning how Williams Street treated Lupin III was kind of a shame.) But really, this is one of those cons where, more often than not, I go for the people - for the chance to catch up with people I've not met in a while. It sounds kind of overly sentimental, but Hell with it. It IS a big part of this for me.

The Dealer's Room is another area where that works out for friends as well as purchases. I did catch up with a couple of people there as well, however briefly. I didn't pick up as much this year, admittedly - spent more in the Artists' Alley, though I DID pick up a copy of Vertical's release of Satoshi Kon's manga Tropic of the Sea. Halfway into it right now and I have to say, it's pretty solid so far - though I keep being struck by how much Kon's art reminds me of that of his friend and fellow artist, Katsuhiro Otomo. Still, it serves the story well.
Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Otherwise, it's just fun to sometimes take a spin through there, see some of the stuff, and talk with both friends and just some of the vendors about shared interests (one vendor talked with turned out to be a fan of classic Giant Robo, which was a fun surprise.)
Also, this year I finally confirmed the existence of an item I have been scouring dealer's rooms to find for several cons now: the infamous Kaiyodo Revoltech figure of Woody the cowboy from Toy Story. For those who don't get why this is such an infamous find, the figure was packed with a second face which...well...let's just say if you don't mind losing a bit of sleep, go google the phrase 'Rapeface Woody' to see what the Internet has done with this figure and its gleefully nightmarish rictus grin. I didn't pick it up at this time (cause $50 is a very hard sell for that) but even just seeing it for myself was still pretty well worth it.

This small picture doesn't even begin to do it justice.

Really, for as low-key as this con was for me, there was only one particular downside to it - and to be perfectly fair, that wasn't on the part of the con.

Rather, the security being demonstrated by the Hynes Convention Center and the Prudential Center wound up creating more problems than they solved. Spurred on in particular by problems at last year's con rave, and much more to the point, last year's Boston Marathon, there was a pronounced uptick in security, and especially bag checks this year. This resulted in already long lines becoming even longer - a problem only further aggravated by the decision to hold this year's con in March where other years have held it in late April or May. Given the cold winds this season, most people would stick to the indoor line rather than chance the outdoor entrance, making that interior line that much longer and slower. This got particularly bad on Saturday, where I know at least one person sent a message saying they, and I quote "ragequit the line." On top of that, if that shorter line is any indication, there were the somewhat sporadic metal detector tests. It's the kind of thing where, on the one hand I feel like making everyone take it would have just further slowed the line, but on the other, as it was employed, it really was inconsistent and ultimately kind of pointless.
Along with the logistical problems, it didn't help that the Hynes, despite having hosted this con for over ten years now, wasn't exactly respectful about the whole thing. While my own experience was fairly unremarkable, other congoers reported being openly treated as though they were kids - these being grown adults, mind you - for the fact they were going to this. Now, you don't have to like anime, I can respect that. But really, every other business in the area is good about this - they reach out to the fans in a way that doesn't feel pandering, and they enjoy the extra business the con brings. By comparison, the Hynes and the Sheraton have had some painfully bad promotions and this dismissive attitude by their security staff is surprising. It's not enough to break the con, but for as many years as they've been hosting AB, one would expect a little bit more respect and professionalism by this point.

Ah well...

Next review coming in the next day or two.

Till then!

My girlfriend and I taking a crack at the practice of couples cosplay.
Her part turned out quite well. For myself, I apologize for nothing!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam III: Encounters In Space - Well THIS is Rare in a Trilogy

It's time for this month's installment for the 35th Anniversary project. I promised the reviews would be back, did I not?

Anyway, after the four month turnaround between movies 1 and 2, the climax of this trilogy would take another six months before hitting Japanese theaters in 1982. This is partially because, of the three movies, this one had the most extra work done on it. And it benefits greatly from the extra work. In fact, this may be one of the rare trilogies I can think of out there where the third part actually winds up being the best.
This is just a minor side note, but it is surprising how most trilogies tend to hit their peak on the first or second part, and how very rarely they save the best for last.

So, much like last time, this movie picks up almost exactly where the second movie left off. As Soldiers of Sorrow left things, the Federation had successfully rolled out their own mobile suit forces and driven Zeon off the Earth. They're now poised for the big win and launching their counterattack to take back space. We start with our protagonists on the White Base, just leaving Earth. With the events of roughly the final twelve episodes to pull from (minus some content the show had given over to one-off Zeonic weapons and characters who mainly arrived to be an enemy of the week) this movie has a pretty straight shot to the finish. Along the way, we also get to see more of the Zeonic higher-ups, who were largely in absentia for the second movie. The de facto leader Gihren in particular comes into his own as the movie's primary antagonistic mover. Char remains the overall big antagonist, but the movie makes it clear that Gihren is the bigger threat here. We also see the much-hinted at Newtype storyline of the first two movies come into its own here, most notably with the arrival of new character Lalah Sune (Keiko Han,) a myserious woman who becomes a sticking point in Amuro and Char's conflict. All this set on the backdrop of the final explosive days of the war.

In the far-flung future, the giant robot version of the old 'banana in the tailpipe' prank elevates the stunt from a cheeky hi-jink to a surprisingly lethal shenanigan.

Okay, so that's kind of a scant description, but considering how much I'll be going into detail from here, summarizing would be redundant.

As I've said before, this is a rare case where this is arguably the best movie in the trilogy and one of the highest points in the franchise. One of the biggest advantages this has over the first two movies is how focused the narrative is (by comparison). From the moment the movie starts, both sides are being steered towards the coming final battle. Even the White Base's stop off at the neutral colony of Side 6, which is not as directly connected, moves things forward by laying groundwork for several characters' actions in the battles to come. In particular, Amuro gets some considerable developments here, from meeting the above-mentioned Lalah, and from from being reunited with his father (Motomu Kiyokawa,) - a reunion that doesn't fare much better than his earlier reunion with his mother.

"Trust me on this, son. You put this baby in the Gundam and you can get all the free cable you want.
Even the dirty channels.
ESPECIALLY the dirty channels!"

This is one of the arcs that I've come to appreciate more in the original Gundam than I had given much credit to on first watching. Amuro's character arc has been a source of a lot of mixed response in the fandom over the years, with people viewing him as everything from an interesting take on the mecha hero archetype, to a neurotic whiner who should have been jettisoned at the first signs of protest. The fact is, like his early parts or not, the coming of age storyline at the heart of the plot is actually rather well-handled. The scenes with his parents serve as vital points of driving home that he's changed (and so have they) and that he can't go back. The arc in this movie is actually one that, while I can admit to having joked about it before, I will also concede is actually kind of dark - after being left for dead in the first movie, Amuro learns his father has effectively gone insane as a result of prolonged time out in space, thanks in part to his own actions. That's a lot to expect a kid to run with, and Tohru Furuya sells the performance well.

Compared to Amuro's arc, many of the other major character plots run the gamut in quality. The next big standout here actually goes to the Zabi family - after having been largely fringe villains, the talking heads to which their soldiers answer to mostly, in the first two movies, this film actually really sees them fleshed out into personalities. These run anywhere from the brash, but surprisingly noble Dozel (formerly played by Daisuke Gouri, played in this version by Tesshô Genda) to the shrewd Kycillia (Mami Koyama) and patriarch Degwin (originally Yuzuru Fujimoto, played here by Hidekatsu Shibata.) Degwin's arc in particular makes for an interesting one. Despite being the leader who started the war in the first place, when we see him he's an ultimately broken man: his power has been supplanted by his eldest son, in whom he sees a growing megalomania, and the war has already cost him his youngest son. By this point, he's a man who's looking at his legacy and asking himself "My God, what have I done?" Though this man's actions have cost billions of lives, one can't help but pity the man as he makes several futile attempts to try and defuse the situation before it gets any worse. To make matters worse, even as he tries to fix this course, his children continue to plot and scheme against one another, arguably proving bigger threats to themselves than their own enemies do.

"...and they called me Space Hitler.
Well who's Hitler no--?

Next after this is the storyline involving Char. This is a point where I should point out for anyone who hasn't been playing at home (and it's only been somewhat addressed in the first two movies, which is why I hadn't really gone into it sooner) that there's a running plot throughout the movies regarding Char's true lineage. In a fashion that will likely phase no one in a generation that's been brought up on Star Wars, Char is actually the son of the deceased leader of Zeon's republic. On top of this-as we learn early on-Sayla is actually his sister.
Yes, it's kind of a cliched plotline, but again, take it with a grain of salt. These movies are over thirty years old by now, it still had a bit more life in it as a plotline back then. With everything building to a climax, both of these storylines are also stepped up. In the case of the storyline with Sayla, it's kind of a relief. As one of the more dated elements of this story, their storyline feels a touch overly melodramatic in a lot of its invocation. It also at points feels like a derailing of Sayla's character as a result of said melodrama. When she's finally confronted about it in this movie, the story actually starts to come more into its own. The melodramatic elements of much of the earlier encounters are stripped away and, able to finally just get it out there, Sayla handles matters with a surprising amount of maturity that makes their later somewhat understated reconciliation feel much more earned.

"We're now two movies on like this, so what say we just get this over with? I take off, you start running after me calling my name all weepy, we meet again in another month and do this again.
Sound good?"

The only storyline in this movie I can really say is particularly problematic is one that's partially a consequence of the series. This concerns new crewmember Sleggar Law (Makio Inoue,) who had previously only appeared briefly at the end of the last film to announce his being assigned to the ship. In both series and movies, Sleggar has the unfortunate case of 'new character syndrome' as the latest add-on into an ensemble that has already gelled into a capable team by the time he arrives. This is magnified by the fact he's a very outgoing, cocky character by design, which makes him a bit tricky to fit into the dynamic without it feeling forced. In this case, the main hook the movies try to work in is an ultimately doomed romance with helmswoman Mirai (Fuyumi Shiraishi.) On paper, it's not a bad idea to try and help generate an emotional investment in the character who we really haven't gotten to know. Yet as it's presented in the movie, it's a very rushed storyline. In the series, while it's still somewhat problematic, it's at least built up more care of Sleggar's generally flirtatious attitude. In the movie, they really only have one major interaction before the romantic storyline is kicked off, and given how that one goes down, the romance carries some rather uncomfortable implications as a result.

Finally, in terms of the overall plotlines, we have the Newtype plotline. This is probably one of the biggest 'love it or hate it' elements of the entire series. I don't know if it's the difference in cultures, the difference in sci-fi, or a consequence of the fact the sidestory OVAs got big here before the main series, but I've seen some pretty insane debates unfold over the Newtype plotlines, and whether or not they're good or not. I've seen arguments ranging anywhere from people criticizing it as a ripoff of The Force from Star Wars (never mind the fact that both are indicative of how 70's sci-fi was quite in love with the idea of psychic abilities) to people arguing it's the one thing that really makes Gundam unique compared to many other robot shows that followed. As far as how this movie handles it, it's very much a product of the times the show and movies were made in. Now that multiple Newtypes are in play in the story, the movie tries to work in the mental element of their encounters, leading to some rather surrealistic imagery being invoked at times (not quite on the level of, say, the spacegate in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but getting there.) Personally, I still think this plot element is handled fairly well for the medium, but it bears warning that it may not be to everyone else's liking.

See? Told you we'd be getting more into the nuts and bolts of the story.

Now for the technical aspects...
To follow up on the narrative focus, this is one of those areas where the movie needing a longer downtime was necessary. Compared to the first two movies, this final installment called for a lot more sequences to be reanimated from the ground up. As a result of this, the movie has a much easier time blending an already focused story arc into a more continuous narrative, and even fleshing it out more along the way. Even at its weakest, the seams don't feel as apparent as they previously did.
As a nice bonus, the newly animated footage is actually quite good. A lot of the new footage stands out because the overall quality has increased substantially, especially where the mobile suit battles are concerned. Both in terms of attention to detail and even some of the combat choreography, the movie does one better over the series on this department.
The cast continues to deliver great work, especially given some of the degree of emotions their characters are put through as the story goes on. Again, it's actually rather impressive to realize this version was recorded years later, but the cast can still slide into roles they had played twenty-one years ago without losing anything in the process. It speaks quite well for the versatility of the cast involved.
Meanwhile, the music also continues to help deliver the emotions here. This is especially necessary given the end of this movie, and the score (some of which was worked on by Joe Hisaishi of Studio Ghibli fame) helps further underscore those emotional beats. One aspect I have to give the rerecord here is in their decision to rework some parts of the music arrangement. I'd need to doublecheck to confirm, but one thing I was struck by looking at the old dub was the fact the movie's two vocal inserts: 'Beginning' and 'Encounter' were swapped. The recent version had switched them around, creating a better fit both in terms of tone and lyrically (which makes it kind of problematic the official releases never subtitled the song lyrics, but I digress.) This is especially true with 'Beginning,' which gets used at a major turning point in the movie and really helps perfectly set the feeling of the scene without it requiring any further explanation.

I'm just going to say this outright. Of the Gundam movies made to date, this is still probably the best. I know this seems like it's gonna be setting the deck against the next nine months, but I'm going to be honest there. Besides, the later movies have their strengths also, just saying, this movie got it closest to perfect.

...this awkwardly translated line aside.

With that, we come to the end of the original series. In all, it was pretty refreshing to sit down and give this a fresh watch from a reviewing standpoint. There's a few weaknesses, but overall, they have held up quite well. Further, keeping their relative perspective in the pop culture in mind helped to further let me appreciate just what made this title a hit on that second run. If you can handle the dated science fiction elements (and let's face it, that's not a problem unique to this series) it's still a rather enjoyable series and film trilogy.

Gonna be interesting to see where this project goes from here. Next month we'll be jumping several years and two series ahead, both in terms of production history and in-universe chronology.

In the meantime, will have other works lined up for you guys as well.

Till then!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Never Compromise. Even in the Face of Good Taste, Never Compromise

First thing's first, I should explain why the Oscars post I had mentioned before hadn't happened.
This came down to two major factors:
First, timing. It just didn't pan out for this year.
The second, and more pressing, was realizing I had not seen several of the prominently nominated films, and couldn't do so in a short period of time. As such, I felt my weighing in on these matters wouldn't be a particularly fair ruling.
That said, the awards themselves I was mostly satisfied with. The ceremony got kind of tedious at points, and there are a couple of wins I found a little iffy, but overall I was pleased - particularly with the Best Picture win.

Now then, on to the main point of this article.

There's been something of a small storm brewing on the internet over the past week. The funny thing is that the storm is over an item that's been out there and easily accessible for years now (the document in question, I first read years ago.)

To roll the timeline back accordingly, this storm started brewing recently care of an interview with producer Joel Silver. In the interview (courtesy of ComingSoon,) Silver discussed several of his projects before they decided to bring up the unfilmed Terry Gilliam adaptation of Watchmen. Silver, when asked, assured he felt it would be a much better movie than the later version helmed by Zack Snyder, who he argued came at it too slavishly (a comment I'll also be discussing here, but one thing at a time.) The full extent of this movie has remained something of a mystery over the years - though Silver points to it using an early draft (which you can find with a Google search fairly easily) by Sam Hamm (perhaps better known to comic fans for his work on Tim Burton's Batman.) The draft in question is... rather problematic. It takes a LOT of liberties with the material, particularly with the ending - which, as its presented, suggests Hamm became bored with the comic mid-way into chapter 11 and decided to turn to LSD for inspiration. It's a rather overtly meta finale, and I don't imagine it would have gone over particularly well.

Despite the fact that Silver concludes by saying he thought Snyder's version was fine, it seems that Snyder was still stung by the comments. Given he sees Watchmen as his best work (and the web suddenly feels even less guilty than it already did about savaging Sucker Punch) he decided to respond in an interview with The Huffington Post. The interview contains comments that are best described on the web as 'shots fired.' Most notably, his assertion that he made Watchmen to, and I quote "save it from the Terry Gilliams of the world."

Zack...Zack, you may want to rethink that statement. You're already on some pretty thin ice in the nerd community for...just about everything you've done so far with Man of Steel 2. Taking on a fan favorite like Terry Gilliam right now is like jumping up and down on said ice in cleats while singing the Heat Miser song (...this last part wouldn't really affect much, but it'd certainly emphasize the 'What in the everloving Hell are you doing?' factor by a considerable margin.)

With the debate having flown through and the dust settling (for now), I inevitably felt the need to get some two cents tossed into the hat.

The weird thing was, as I thought about this more - and slept on this half-completed writeup - the more I found I wasn't that annoyed with Snyder in this equation.

Sure, his interviews give the sense of a man who's fairly full of himself. And to be perfectly frank, I think he never quite got Watchmen as a story (I'll explain below). At the same time, the more I looked at this drama, I found my ire being aimed at a mix of producer Joel Silver and the internet and media for taking the man at his word.

Before I go on, I will ask - does anyone readily have any source that says that Terry Gilliam expressly intended to use the Sam Hamm draft of Watchmen as his shooting script, beyond what Silver said?

Because I've been looking, and what I've seen has so far been to the opposite effect. On a bit more digging, the consensus is that Gilliam was actually NOT happy with Hamm's draft of the movie, and had been working on doing a rewrite to bring it more in line with the original comic when the project fell through. If someone can provide evidence otherwise, then fine, I'll accept it. As it is though, nowhere have I seen any word that Gilliam was okay with this ending beyond the statement of Joel Silver.

Joel, to be perfectly and completely honest with you. I have a hard time accepting your word on this. Ironically, because the last time you said anything about an Alan Moore production, it turned out to be a, if I may be so blunt, steaming load (as evidenced here.) In fact, memory serves, THAT little distortion of the truth turned into the final straw that lead to Moore finally just completely washing his hands of all adaptations of his work and even going so far as to tell them to give what would have been his cut of the movie to the artist he worked on the comic with instead.
So you see where I'm coming from here, Joel? You have a history of having put words in other people's mouths before. So seeing Snyder now taking shots at Gilliam because of a seemingly less than accurate thing you said REALLY doesn't look good for you here.

Further, both the media and the web are really letting me down here. For every person I've found who has pointed out that the story actually seems to have been contrary to what Silver is claiming (some even offering sources, including one citation from the book The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made that included information on the adaptation) there has been no fewer than five taking the man at his word. Which shouldn't bug me as much as it does, because sadly we live in an age where this is all too common (as anyone with any experience using social media can attest to) but one would think at least one of the news sites would do the research to clarify the statement. The clarification has instead come from commenters after the fact.

Not one news site has tried to check into this, simply taking this man - who I must again point out has outright lied to the press before - at face value.

I could probably go on about the overall sloppiness of this in length, but that feels like it's better kept as a write-up for another time.

So for now, I'll just leave this point at this - Joel, you've pissed off one creator, and indirectly kicked off a beef with another. In the future, it's probably best if you don't speak for other people's intentions unless you're willing to back them with some source.

Now as for Snyder...oooooh boy...
Well, I have a couple of points to say with regards to Snyder's part in all of this.

The first is with regards to the arguments, by both Snyder and Silver, that Snyder's version of Watchmen is overly faithful to the book. not a statement I'm sure I can entirely agree with. It certainly puts itself through a number of hoops to capture the visual style, and I will at least give it points for that.

Likewise, the story matches many of the beats in the book, even taking some of its soundtrack cues from the references in the comics (though inexplicably trading out 'You're My Thrill' for Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', and giving us one of the most inadvertently comical sex scenes this side of Caligula.) The problem is, the faithfulness is really only in the superficial sense - which is particularly problematic given the book in question. When you look at the reasons that Watchmen was and is still considered the iconic story it is, the visual style, while on the list, is a relatively low component. Instead, it's the story's 'shades of grey' exploration of the true nature of the comic book superhero and its almost 'designed by a mad man' level of arrangement and layout (the chapter 'Fearful Symmetry' remains one of the prime examples of this attention to detail.) It's a very dense, very detailed, and very well designed story that lead many to believe the work unfilmable for years.

Snyder, for his part, makes a decent go of it, and he recaptures the visuals perfectly, but he ultimately seems to miss out on a lot of the heart of the story. It's not just the ending (though I do have to say, if you think the ending debate is just a matter of squid vs Dr. Manhattan, you've missed the point) it's that the whole movie loses a LOT of the careful details and layout that made the story so unique. Rereading it last year, I was actually struck by the fact that several sequences in it would translate quite well to film (scenes like the detectives examining Blake's apartment, with cuts to the fight as they examine the room, or Dan and Laurie's getting into a street fight intercut with Dr. Manhattan's press conference are the kind of moments that could be an editor's wet dream.) Many of those scenes in Snyder's movie lose the impact they had in print - ironically, if he had been as 'slavishly faithful' as Silver asserts and Snyder stands by, these scenes would carry much more memorably, since they'd keep the, if you'll excuse the phrasing, 'like clockwork' editing that hits each beat with a surprising sense of timing. As it is, his version plays the scenes in summary, but doesn't really seem to get the feeling behind them.

Of course, more damning than composition, he seems to miss the point of the story when it comes to how he handles Moore and Gibbons's free-wheeling moral compass.
Yes, he TECHNICALLY keeps the moral dilemma in the movie, but the movie still takes a side.

Things like how Ozymandias is depicted: his uniform and Karnak are dark and cold, and Matthew Goode plays him with a downright frosty detachment that flies pretty far past the good-natured condescension that he views his colleagues with in the original material. For a character who is supposed to be seen as an extreme criticism of the superhero way of handling things, he's turned into more of a straight-up villain. On the other side of the coin, we have how the film depicts Rorschach (who, I have to admit, I think Jackie Earl Haley does a pretty good job with.) Where Veidt comes across as more openly evil, which is something no one is really supposed to give off in this narrative except MAYBE The Comedian, Rorschach has several of his harder edges softened -with much of his reputation for torture and murder left on the cutting room floor. In particular, the kidnapping story, an event which is supposed to symbolize the character's complete crossing to the point of no return is severely muted, going from a protracted torture and murder to a simple act of angry homicide, complete with a faux-Batman one liner that was never in the original text. It actually feels a bit harder to believe Rorschach's psychiatrist in the movie could be as disturbed as he is in the original (for those who haven't read the book, here's a hint: watch the ending of the original Mad Max.)

And, since I already touched on it, let's discuss that ending. Now, again, when people discuss the ending, the discussion usually becomes 'squid vs Manhattan.' While this is a factor, the problem is, that's not the big issue with the ending. The big thing about how Watchmen ends is less how Veidt succeeds, but that he succeeds. More important is how everyone responds to it, including Veidt himself. Remember, the big theme of the story, and where its title comes from, is the idea of who patrols superheroes and keeps them in line. In the end, there is no answer, as the two genuine superhumans in the story are both proven to be above the justice or morality of the average human (e.g. Dan, Laurie, and Rorschach.) One of these applies the classic 'superhero' logic on a global scale, essentially using his abilities to force the world to play nice. The other realizes the squabblings of normal humans no longer apply to him and leaves on his own. Of the three 'normal' people, two accept that they never really did accomplish much in costumes and return to the private sector, while Rorschach, unable to reconcile his own black and white morality with the actual way of the world, chooses death. When his time comes to die, the scene in question is meant to seem like the last act of a genuinely broken person who can no longer function in the world, and in the end, he dies alone and forgotten - a mere steaming smear on the snow. The movie then undermines this in Dreiburg's reaction: turning one man's tragic inability to function in the world into an act with a source of blame. The death galvanizes Dreiburg into lashing out at Veidt, and giving him a set of parting words that seem to be more for the benefit of the audience than any actual effect in the movie - even in the film to this point, Veidt views Dreiburg as little more than an angry child, so there really doesn't feel any point to rewriting for Dreiburg to have this tirade. By comparison, the conversation Veidt has with Dr. Manhattan, a scene the movie cuts, had considerably more weight - thanks in no small part to the fact it was coming from someone that Veidt considered an equal, who could further instill that sense of doubt in him. Further, this scene helps dispel a bit of the ability to see Veidt as a villain. In the movie, he views his act of mass murder with an almost clinical detachment. He says he weeps for everyone, but the way Goode plays it, it feels like lip service from a sociopath. In the comic, we see his genuine regret as well as his lingering doubts that further cast doubt on the ideas of who's right and wrong in the finale.

This is only a brief note and I could keep going. Really, the big problem with the ending is that, like it or not, it essentially tells you there IS still a right side in the matter, even if it's ultimately powerless - a notion that seems to run counter to the entire spirit of the book.

Those are just some examples, and I could keep going. Point is, yes, the movie is faithful in some regards, but it's nowhere near as slavish as it seems to be.
In general, I find myself classifying the Watchmen movie along the same lines as Tom Hooper's Les Miserables adaptation. It has some things it does well, but at its core, it's hindered by an ultimately limited director who doesn't really do the material in question the justice that its reputation deserves.
Which brings me to my final point, regarding Snyder's implications about Gilliam.

Here's the thing - Gilliam is a man who's paid his dues. Over the years, he's developed a very distinct cinematic voice and put his name to any number of movies, both critically acclaimed and fan loved. The man helped helm the Monty Python films to great success, he gave us one of the best pieces of dystopian cinema to date in Brazil, a movie he had to fight the studios tooth and nail to make, and he currently is one of the only directors who can be said to have helmed a successful Hunter S. Thompson movie.

By comparison, Snyder's career has been rather rocky. He started out strong with a well received remake of Dawn of the Dead, and kept up the hype with 300. After that, however, Watchmen only performed decently - especially given the profits had to be split due to the rights conflict that preceded its release - and Sucker Punch flat out bombed. Even with his comeback on Man of Steel, he's being met with a lot of mixed reception, and his movie making several 'worst of 2013' lists.

Snyder, there's no nice way to say it. By comparison, you're still just getting started. You haven't really played the game enough to be able to fling dirt and Gilliam and have it actually stick. I'm not gonna say you never will be (Editor's note: He won't), but you've got a LOT of growth as a filmmaker to do before you can call a man with his voice and drive out.

Also, with regards to one other comments in the interview, I don't think time would have helped Watchmen. Snyder asserts that 2009 was, in his words, "sort of the height of the snarky Internet fanboy - like, when he had his biggest strength." He figures THIS is the reason Watchmen never became a comic movie watershed on the order of Marvel's The Avengers or The Dark Knight. If anything, coming out post-Avengers might have actually hurt it, given how Marvel has caused everyone to step up their game in terms of comic book movies. It certainly seems like his own efforts are being prodded by DC's desperate drive to match the Marvel money train.
Further, I don't see how he figures the field really changed from before and after the Avengers. He argues comic culture is more established, but at the time Watchmen came out, the world had already seen the successes of Sam Raimi's Spider-man trilogy, Iron Man, and the first two Nolan Batman movies. I hate to break it to ya, Zack, but the culture was already there. Also, suggesting the 'snark' has gone down any only tells me you don't check the web that often. If anything, the internet has savaged your later movies far more than it did Watchmen.

...I'm gonna stop myself before I dissect the whole interview, cause like his movie, it has a lot that could be dug into and explored.
In conclusion, the two things I've taken from this incident:
1) Zack Snyder may want to dial back his ego a bit.
2) Joel Silver REALLY needs to stop speaking for other people. It doesn't go well.
Okay. Sorry about that guys. We'll be back to the reviews next time.