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Film Adaptation: Watchmen (2009)

Book Analysis

Watchmen, a 12-part series of comics or “graphic novels” written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons in 1985, is a critically acclaimed tale that has been lauded as the “coming of age” moment for the comic book industry. The story surrounds events as occurring in an alternate timeline of American history in which masked heroes have played paramount roles in occurrences like the Vietnam and Cold Wars, the latter of which serves as the setting of the majority of the story. Moore, who has helmed a number of dark, gritty comics including V for Vendetta and From Hell used Watchmen to tackle a number of themes that almost serve as a sort of critique of the comic-book industry and the heroes they entail. Moore’s series, unlike most other adventures involving caped crusaders, captures these “heroes” in a real-world context. This world, like the Watchmen themselves, is fallible; rife with corruption, greed, and a marked indifference toward the values and idealism that these vigilantes wish to instill.  

The “Watchmen” consist of a 5-member group of masked enforcers of “justice”. I say “justice” instead of “law” because in this alternate timeline, these supposed heroes have been outlawed by the U.S. government aside from those members who have decided to enlist as government agents. This guild of fighters, unlike most other “superheroes” are mortal human-beings with the exception of one Jon Osterman who, due to an accident during his work as a Physicist, is left with the command of all the raw energy of an atomic bomb. Osterman or “Mr. Manhattan” is a being that lives outside of the realm of normal time and frequently “remembers” events that have happened long in the past or even those that have yet to have happened. This effect prevents the chronology of Watchmen from being a forward-moving stream of thought as certain scenes from Mr. Manhattan as well as the rest of the characters often stumble between the past (through flashbacks), the present (around 1986), and future. Aside from Mr. Manhattan, the “Watchmen” is comprised of four other members: Rorschach (Walter Kovacs), Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt), the second Nite Owl (Daniel Dreiberg), and the second Silk Spectre (Laurie Juspeczyk). As mentioned before, each of these characters are a far cry from the clichéd forces of good, often seen in other DC comics publications and can best be described as normal, flawed, and painfully fallible human beings who have the physical and mental capacities to do much more than the average human being, and subsequently cause much more harm. In Michael J. Prince’s essay “Alan Moore’s America: The Liberal Individual and American Identities in Watchmen” he offers an inspired critique of the parallels between each of the “Watchmen” and American society.

Prince, regarding America as a whole, quotes Timothy Melley’s Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America, saying “The concept of the liberal individual [. . .] has long been celebrated in American political culture, particularly in the guise of ‘rugged individualism’ and atomistic ‘self-reliance’” (Prince 817). This phenomenon can clearly be seen in the need for vigilantism within each of the characters (save for Manhattan) as each of them is driven with by their own individual codes of justice with the strongest of convictions; a fact which alienates them from the rest of society and is likely what leads to the banning of masked heroes within the context of the story. In this sense, one could see Moore (who is British) using Watchmen as a critique of American society as a whole. Further, the Watchmen themselves are hardly sympathetic characters and, despite being the technical protagonists of the story, have themselves contributed heavily to the current state of society that they feel compelled to “fix”. These contributions came in the form of their involvement in monumental events in American history such as the Vietnam War which, due to the U.S. prevailing in said conflict, resulted in Richard Nixon maintaining the Presidency and further deterioration of U.S. international relations.

Prince goes on to critique the characters in their similarities with different facets of the United States. Among these arguments, he discusses the fact that The Comedian (Edward Blake) can be considered a personification of the darker sides of American nationalism which include ruthless abandon in matters of international retaliation (e.g. Blake murdering his Vietnamese girlfriend in response to a negligible assault) and its lack of hesitance to employ excessive force when the situation calls for it, doing so without a flicker of remorse. This analysis includes various other characters such as Mr. Manhattan as representing America’s strategy of nuclear deterrence, or even the Cold War as a whole being that both sides (USSR & US) employed similar strategies. As a whole, his analyses prove to be very insightful and an excellent supplement to the Watchmen series in its entirety.

Film Analysis

            Despite major skepticism by Alan Moore’s massive cult following of fans as well as Moore himself, in 2009 Zack Snyder took it upon himself to helm the filming of Watchmen, an undertaking received with both scorn and excitement. The film itself received a mixed bag of reviews from critics but was generally favored by individual film enthusiasts (or possibly comic enthusiasts). Snyder, who has also directed films including 300, Sucker Punch, and the rebooted version of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead has no aversion to violence in his films and given Watchmen’s nature he seemed like an appropriate choice. In filming the series, Snyder was sure to employ set-pieces that were closest to the darker spectrum of the color-palette, with a noticeable grime to the environment; a decision that effectively gave the audience the impression that they were viewing a world as imperfect as their own, perhaps even more so. The darkness of the set-pieces were offset very expertly by the bright and colorful appearances of Mr. Manhattan and the Silk Spectre; emphasizing the sentiment that these entities, these “Watchmen” hold themselves on a level above the darkness that is their world, whether or not this stands true.

            Snyder, with little or no artistic assistance from creator Alan Moore, remained in his comfort zone and stuck with the formula that he had employed in various other films. The combat scenes within the film are absolutely the stand-out feature of the film as Snyder uses slow-motion capture effects as seen movies such as The Matrix and Snyder’s own 300, not to emphasize the martial arts per se, but to truly key in on the brutality present throughout. Scenes such as the Comedian’s assassination and the climactic battle between the second Nite Owl, Rorschach, and Ozymandias are a sort of crash-course in human anatomy where the slow-motion effects allows the audience to see each blow connect with a sickening crunch or snap while blood droplets cascade down the surrounding décor. Snyder also manages to capture the savage nature of certain characters, namely Rorschach, without the use of anything but makeup and believable acting.

            Scenes such as the prison riot in which Rorschach is pitted against inmates that he convicted himself, show that Snyder was fully capable of attaining the graphic novel’s level of violence without CGI, but it still did little to supplement the material from Moore’s novel that was omitted which I will discuss during the adaptation analysis. In sum, Snyder’s film fell prey to the same thing that many lackluster book-to-film adaptations do: time restriction. Despite the fact that the film ran over 2 hours, the amount of material that was excluded from the film left many viewers in a state of confusion due to the impromptu introduction of new ideas that the novel had more time to flesh out. Key story elements such as comic-with-a-comic: Tales of the Black Freighter, a pronounced feature in the original graphic novel, were left out until after the movie’s release which earned Snyder the ire of Watchmen purists and deprived movie-goers of valuable plot devices.

Adaptation Analysis

            In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Watchmen creator Alan Moore said of the impending film adaptation of his work, “There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can’t,” adding, “I increasingly fear that nothing good can come of almost any adaptation”(Flagg). According to critical reception, Moore would have been about half right in that the film adaptation of Watchmen just about broke even between favorable and unfavorable critical reviews. However, as I mentioned during my film analysis, the film had its share of successes as it did shortfalls.

            In terms of what was done correctly in Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Watchmen, I will once again mention the effective use of color and environmental ambience to properly capture the tones set in the graphic novel. The darkness of New York City, from the slums in where Rorschach resided to the penthouse suites of Ozymandias and the Comedian, was almost palpable as only muted colors were used. Snyder also did well in his presentation of the more violent aspects of the novel through the use of slow-motion capture and a heavy reliance on break-away set-pieces which gave the audience a proper perspective as to how powerful the characters truly were. In this sense, Watchmen proved to be a very effective action film with deep philosophical implications present and available for those willing to seek them out. However, this is where those successes begin and end as the film did little to achieve Moore’s true artistic vision in a filmable medium.

            Aside from the omission of pertinent story elements such as the aforementioned Tales of the Black Freighter, the true reason that Alan Moore and many of his followers felt the story was “un-filmable” becomes apparent only to those who are familiar with the comic series in its entirety. As discussed in David Barnes’ essay, “Time in the Gutter: Temporal Structures in Watchmen”, Watchmen failed as a successful adaptation of Moore’s original work simply because of the limitations presented by an entertainment medium that must flow forward at a consistent pace. As Barnes says on page 54 of his essay, “In chapter four of Watchmen the effect of timelessness is, however, also achieved by distancing the reader from the usual visual timeline through the use of poetic structures” […] “the viewer may move from a subjective identification with time as it is experienced by the narrated characters. These moments jolt the reader from the seductive grip of the narrative and reinforce the comic book’s identity as a material art object” (Barnes 54). This type of artistic method as employed by Moore in his comics is simply not possible to achieve in film which relies solely on what is immediately visual (what the viewer can see at any given time) to relay a message. Graphic novels or comics do not share this restriction and allow the reader a chance to reference previous chapters and lines of dialogue in order to full grasp the author’s message. Moore himself, in the same interview mentioned before said”

“What I’d like to explore is the areas that comics succeed in where no other media is capable of operating.” He explained, “With a comic you can stare at the page for as long as you want, and check back to see if this line of dialogue really does echo something four pages earlier, whether this picture is really the same as that one, and wonder if there is some connection there.” (Flagg)

            Sadly, this sentiment rings true as evidenced by Snyder’s film. In sum, Watchmen as depicted on the silver screen succeeds as a riveting story about the fallibility of human nature through the supposed “best” of us, but it ultimately fails to maintain the artistic integrity of the original work which, according to its creator, belongs in no other medium.

 

Barnes, David. Time in the Gutter: Temporal Structures in Watchmen. Brill Academic Publishers. 2009. Accessed 7/8/2012.

http://web.ebscohost.com.proxyum.researchport.umd.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&hid=9&sid=c517c6c4-a0c5-41be-a8b6-0368140fbcbd%40sessionmgr12

Flagg, Gordon. Another Look At: Watchmen. American Library Association/Booklist Publications. 2009. Access 7/8/2012.

http://web.ebscohost.com.proxyum.researchport.umd.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=8 91648d-adac-4ea0-909aead38757707d%40sessionmgr15&vid=2&hid=9

Prince, Michael J. Alan Moore’s America: The Liberal Individual and American Identities in Watchmen. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. P 815-830. 2006. Accessed 7/8/2012

http://web.ebscohost.com.proxyum.researchport.umd.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&hid=9&sid=22e90fe6-c7a3-4013-bd61-0b0b3f46464b%40sessionmgr14

 

 

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Watchmen (2009)

Book Analysis

Watchmen, a 12-part series of graphic novels written by Alan Moore, takes an untraditional route in describing the escapades of caped crime-fighters. In contrast to the typical stories involving superheroes, The “Watchmen”, as they are called, are so flawed at times in the story it becomes difficult to differentiate these supposed “heroes” from the villains they are supposedly pursuing/thwarting. The setting in the story is on American soil during the mid-1980’s but also includes events that’s had previously occurred such as those involving the earlier counterparts of the main characters during the 1940’s ranging all the way up to the Vietnam War; a conflict that these characters play a paramount role. Themes explored within Moore’s story involve “realism” in the sense that the entire narrative involves how the heroes of fiction would fare in a real, fallible world with real, fallible people; them themselves exhibiting the latter of the two traits. The corruption and degradation is also a very pronounced theme throughout as each hero is shown to have to cope with his/her demons to a degree that often brings the nobility of their societal roles into question.

Film Analysis

In 2009, Alan Moore’s original comic series was translated onto the silver-screen under the same name. Watchmen, as directed by Zack Snyder, stars a cast including Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley and takes place in the midst of the Cold War, as does the comic, in which tensions between the US and Soviet Union have been exacerbated by the presence of the “Watchmen”, most notably Dr. Manhattan who holds at his fingertips the power to annihilate entire cities; a power he gained from a freak accident in his prior work as a physicist. The film preserves the themes and conflicts of the original comic and showcases how even the most admirable hero can fall prey to the corruption that exists in a fallible world. Snyder was sure to make use of the darkness in each of the settings filmed. Each scene, whether it be in the urban jungle of New York City, or the penthouse apartment of one of the Watchmen, was arranged and filmed using very muted colors which gave each locale a certain taint and coldness; an appropriate effect considering the story.

Adaptation Analysis

Despite Alan Moore’s aversion to film adaptations of comics or even literature as a whole, Zack Snyder’s film proved to effectively translate Moore’s original story to a Hollywood audience. The themes of “purity corrupted” and “the futility of honor in the real world” remain intact, as do the characters themselves or more notably their flaws as each of them is shown to have significant similarities to the common citizens they protect and even the “villains” they’ve faced. The largest barrier in the adaptation which gained it some scorn from fans of the original series was its time restrictions which prevented in from delving deeper into key character development and, in some cases, certain events occur that seem to assume the audience has either a) prior knowledge of the story/characters or b) could decipher some of Moore’s rather complex story-elements from nothing but their own cognitive abilities.

3rd Party Sources

http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/2006/06/how-superheroes-fade-alan-moores.html

A blogpost written by Jaiar Jun in which he discusses Moore’s theme of “fallen heroes” at length.

http://www.film.com/movies/watchmen-interview-director-zack-snyder

An interview conducted between Film.com’s Cole Haddon and director Zack Snyder where they discuss influences on his filming, casting, and musical choices for the movie.

http://collider.com/dan-didio-jim-lee-before-watchmen-interview/161077/

An article written by Collider.com’s Tommy Cook in which he discusses the then-upcoming prequel to the original series written by Alan Moore and how further character development can help or hurt the series.

This particular blog goes far beyond any traditional review and gets far beneath the surface of Watchmen, a place which proves to be very dark. Jun’s critique of each of the Watchmen gives detail where it would have been scarce or non-existent to those unfamiliar with the original series. Jun begins with a plot summary of Moore’s original story which elaborates on details that were merely alluded to in the film such as the parallel narrative: The Black Freighter. He then goes further into what Moore originally intended Watchmen to be in the realm of comics; a world that has grown progressively darker as time has passed but still holds onto periods of unrealistically widespread idealism and even whimsy. For those who saw Watchmen as a simple tragedy involving superheroes, according to Jun, would have only been half right as his analysis grants one the perspective going into the film that perhaps it isn’t the fallible nature of mankind that should be the foil of the heroes, but instead the unrealistic standards that society sets for such prominent figures, e.g. politicians and other leaders.

Critical Analysis

In the film, the Comedian says repeatedly: “It’s a joke!” How is this an expression of the Comedian’s personality? How is this an expression of nihilism?

During the Comedian’s assassination scene, his last words are “it’s a joke!” as he finds himself beaten, bruised, and bloody in the hands of his assailant before being tossed to his death and such a line may seem to just be following the “comedian” theme in which he never seems to take anything very seriously, but I believe it showcases his nihilism and rather neurotic nature than his humor. This “joke” he was referring to was likely the world that the Watchmen believe that they operate in as opposed to the actual world. In other words, as evidence by his rant to Ozymandias before torching his map, he does not believe the world operates in a manner befitting justice or evil, or black and white as Rorschach would like to believe. Instead, he believes in cosmic randomness where nothing occurs for a greater reason and forces such as good and evil are mere sentiment without evidence. In this, the world itself, as seen by anyone attempting to achieve “justice” in the world is the grandest of jokes to the comedian.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Book Analysis

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a tale that was written in 1974 by British author Roald Dahl that follows the exploits of a fox and his efforts to feed his family. In the story, Mr. Fox, in order to prevent his family from starving, steals livestock from the neighboring farms which earns him their wrath. The farmers then assault the family at their home beneath a tree and attempt to dig them out, but to no avail. The story ends with the Fox family along with other animals such as Mr. Badger, continuing to steal from the farmers as they (the farmers) wait for Mr. Fox to emerge from his home. Themes explored in Dahl’s story include imprisonment, as the Fox’s are forced to remain in their home because of the farmers’ ire, and rebellion as Mr. Fox, despite his predicament, still stands up  to his family’s oppressors and continues to do so for their (his family’s) sake.

Film Analysis

In 2009, Roald Dahl’s original Fantastic Mr. Fox was adapted into a stop-film animation movie by director Wes Anderson and draws upon the voice talents of notable actors including George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray. The themes remain mostly the same in the film (and incarceration/imprisonment and rebellion) but the story itself is far more complex than Dahl’s original story which was directed toward children of a very young age. The set-pieces used utilize a broad color-palette as well as the animals’ costumes which, in an effort to add even more personification, are reminiscent of an American family living in the 21st century. The soundtrack contains a mix between whimsical musical scores composed by Alexandre Desplat, and other songs from various artists including the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.

Adaptation Analysis

In adapting Roald Dahl’s story into a watchable medium, it is no surprise that Wes Anderson was forced to take some liberties in the narrative. Although the over-arching plot remains the same, there is much more character development between the Fox’s and their neighbors; an element which is likely heavily demanded by the movie-going masses. Anderson also did well to add a great but subtle degree of humor that can be seen in instances involving the animals’ very “PG” variation of swearing. As a whole, the narrative and plot of Dahl’s story remain largely the same with minor variations that only the most passionate of Dahl purists would turn their noses up at. Anderson succeeded in making a simple children’s story into a tale that is able to entertain its original audience and a new, more mature one simultaneously.

3rd Party Sources

http://www.onanimation.com/2011/03/17/fantastic-mr-fox-analysis/

A six-piece analysis of the film written by Oswald Iten that explores the thematic elements and their effectiveness in Anderson’s adaptation.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/barre300/barrett/2010/04/film-analysis-fantastic-mr-fox.html

A scene-by-scene critique of the filming angles used for each as described in tandem with a description of the scene itself.

 http://popwatch.ew.com/2009/11/15/fantastic-mr-fox/

An article by John Young posted on Entertainment Weekly’s site that describes his appreciation for the seldom-used stop-motion animation style.

 c.       Being that stop-motion animation is becoming a rather lost art in today’s age of CGI-enhanced filming, I have a tremendous amount of empathy for anyone who pines for its return. John Young, as a fellow stop-motion enthusiast, did well to emphasize just how effective it was for the adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox. In his critique, he mentions how despite the fact that the animation-style lacks a certain fluidity as seen in certain CGI films, what it lacks there it makes up for it in tangible reality. He touches on the fact that stop-motion, with all of its imperfections, adds a human touch to the viewing experience, saying “It’s strangely comforting to see the hairs of Mr. Fox’s face bristle as he moves, as if we were deliberately being reminded that human hands were involved in manipulating these one-foot-tall characters”. In sum, gaining Young’s insight for this film can only enhance one’s viewing experience of Anderson’s film as each scene obtains a great deal more detail from his perspective.

Critical Analysis

The film begins by quoting a song that ends Dahl’s book, and then shows a picture of Dahl’s book. Why would the film-makers do this? Why not just start the story without evoking the literary source for the film? Why is it important to establish the Dahl brand?

The very beginning of the film involves the quotation of the song about the three farmers that Dahl’s book had ended with which, although not essential to the story, was a wise move in embracing a broad audience. The movie itself takes many liberties in its story and heavily western influences (e.g. the soundtrack & American VA’s) so it could technically have stood on its own without at all acknowledging Roald Dahl’s original tale aside from sharing a name. However, this would have alienated an entire demographic of movie-goers who, being that the book was published in the 1970’s, could have been nostalgic adults wishing to revisit a story from their respective childhoods. There are certain concessions every film must make, even if it is based from a well-established (or well-known) narrative and Fantastic Mr. Fox stands as no exception to this. However, by establishing early on that this story is indeed a variation of the original tale, the film-makers made sure to include a wider audience without detracting any of Dahl’s many faithful readers.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Book Analysis

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third novel of the Harry Potter series, written in 1999 by J.K. Rowling. The series follows protagonist Harry Potter and his adventures in witchcraft and wizardry at the mystical school of Hogwarts and his battles with users of the more sinister forms of magic, referred to as the “dark arts”.  This particular entry keeps with the formula of the previous two entries which includes fantastical creatures, peculiar characters, and riveting action sequences that range from high-flying broomstick antics to duels between the wizard-equivalents of good and evil during Harry’s third year of magical education. New characters such as Professor Lupin and Sirius are introduced as well as a new setting in the infamous prison for the most heinous of criminals in the wizard community: Azkaban. Themes seen throughout the book include (of course) magic, temptation (or lust for power), and the unreliability of preconceived notions/judgments with regard to the character or moral fiber of certain individuals (e.g. Sirius Black).

Film Analysis

The 2004 film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was directed by Alfonso Cuaron follows the same chain of events as the book but strays from the previous film adaptations with regard to its markedly darker tone. Although the notions of death and evil are ever-present in the earlier entries, they are somewhat downplayed and take a backseat to the more light0hearted aspects of the story such as the bonds of friendship shared between Harry and his friends, and the inevitable triumph of good against evil. The film itself, while thematically darker, distinguishes itself in its visually darker filming style which adds a feeling of unease to familiar settings, and dread to new ones (especially the prison itself). The introduction of the frightening, phantom-like “Dementors” and the notion of “serial killers” earned this film a PG-13 rating in a film series which up to that point had been aimed at younger audiences. The musical accompaniment in the film is composed by the illustrious composer, John Williams, and ranges from subtle, tension-building pieces with emphasis on the shrill sounds of strings to others that are heavy with cellos at a rapid staccato in an effort to capture the few moments of joviality and lightheartedness.

Adaptation Analysis

The effectiveness of Cuaron’s adaptation of Rowling’s book was largely lauded by critics but faced a mixed bag of responses from avid fans of the series. Critics applauded Cuaron’s utilization of dark palettes during filming which captured the aforementioned sinister tones seen in the book as well as John Williams’ prudent choice of instrumentation in solidifying the series’ shift from fun-filled adventure to a bleaker, more dangerous world where the stakes were raised and things as a whole felt a bit more dire. Some Readers, however, were disappointed with the relative lack of detail in certain scenes whose narratives were shortened due to time-constraints.  In addition, it seem as though the romance between Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger is more prominent in the film than it was in the book which can be seen, unsurprisingly, as a concession to Hollywood expectations/ standards requiring some form of romantic escapades. As a whole, Cuaron managed to capture the thematic elements from the book which involved magic, death, judgment, friendship, and the rather cliché “don’t believe everything that you hear”, despite the time limitations of film as an entertainment medium.

3rd Party Sources

a.       http://movies.ign.com/articles/520/520489p1.html

An interview conducted between IGN’s Steve Head and director Alfonso Cuaron, organized as a Q&A session.

b.      http://www.reichelrecommends.com/?page_id=2238

A review written by Andrew Klay of “reichelrecommends.com” in which he details his feelings on John Williams’ movie soundtrack and how effectively it fits key scenes in the film

c.       http://www.engl.niu.edu/ojs/index.php/style/article/viewFile/6/4: Pg 29-42

An essay written by James Gudden of Gettysburg College which details Cuaron’s choice of filming aesthetics throughout his career along with the purposes behind them. Specifically, the passage I discovered covers these methods with regard to filming Azkaban.

B. My great appreciation for the work of John Williams notwithstanding, I believe a large portion of the experience in the Harry Potter film series is its musical score which is very well articulated in this article. The soundtrack review written by Andrew Klay draws attention to some of the audible intricacies as chosen by Williams on a scene-by-scene basis. Klay goes through each track of the film’s music and recounts the effect that is produced by Williams’ score, pertaining to thematic elements. An example of such detail is shown in a passage where Klay states how:

“A key theme of the film is Harry’s longing for his parents, particularly his mother. This is tenderly illustrated in “A Window to the Past,” a scene in which Harry learns more about his mother from Professor Lupin on the bridge. This theme, played initially by recorder and harpsichord, is repeated in various forms throughout the film. These instruments place us in the medieval setting of Hogwarts and reveal a yearning on the part of Harry to feel closer to his departed parents.”

This article gives viewers a new appreciation for the tremendous impact that a film’s soundtrack can have on its ambience. I, for one, have great respect and reverence for any composer who can properly capture the emotional intent of a scene without the use of dialogue or lyrical assistance.

Critical Analysis

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry invokes the Patronus spell to save Sirius Black, along with the blinding light we hear a celestial choir. How does magic replace religious experience in the film? And does this make it an anti-religious film (as some claim)?

J.K. Rowling’s book and subsequent film series, Harry Potter, at its core is work of fiction written in the realm of fantasy/adventure which utilizes the notion of “magic” to represent the clash between good and evil that many falsely proclaim is a source of anti-religious sentiment. The idea that “witchcraft” and “wizardry” goes against some religious doctrines is not incorrect being that these phenomena as they’re understood, are largely based in worship of supernatural entities including “Lucifer” of the Judeo-Christian belief. However, even if magic as seen in Harry Potter was based on “devil-worship” and the like, this would not be anti-religious. Satanism is itself a religion so the more accurate term may be “anti-Christian” or “anti-Judaism” etc, but not anti-Christian. That being said, Harry Potter does not base its magical premises in these belief-systems and instead relies upon the idea that magic is a genetically inherited trait. This fact would make the series “irreligious” or “without religion”, at least pertaining to those religions that are based in deity-worship. There is no deity in the series and none of the morals, lessons, or messages conveyed through its narrative, in my opinion as a former-religious, could be seen as an attack on religion as a whole. Magic itself is seen as the only “greater power” in the series and its presence is largely indifferent to “good” and “evil”; instead, it’s seen as a neutral, amoral force. In this sense, adherence to magical practices is the only “religion” (very loose association) that can be seen throughout. With regard to the scenes in the film that contain choral pieces, it should be noted that music itself is irreligious. Although choir music is very common in the Christian religion and has been for centuries, choirs are hardly unique to these groups. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart, each composed beautiful choral pieces, and each of them were atheist. In short, being that witchcraft is indeed taboo even in the modern world as it is associated with devil-worship and other less than reputable elements, it is not surprising that many religious would have an aversion to a book series based on its use. However, one must only look past the taglines of the series to realize that nothing in Rowling’s books or films should be misconstrued as being hostile toward their beliefs.

 

 

 

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A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Book Analysis

A Scanner Darkly, written by Philip K. Dick in 1977, is a science fiction novel whose narrative serves as a commentary for the drug-saturated period that was the 1970’s, as seen by Dick himself. The story follows Bob Arctor, an undercover narcotics agent, who accidentally becomes hooked on a popular hallucinogenic while on a sting. The book visits many themes throughout its duration which include conflicting personalities, drug addiction, deception, and reality vs. illusions/hallucinations. According to the author, the book was meant to show the negative effects that drug-addiction can bring about while intermingling science fiction themes such as the advanced technology present throughout.

Film Analysis

Richard Linklater’s 2006 film adaptation of A Scanner Darkly follows the same plot as Dick’s original novel and stars Keanu Reeves as Bob Arctor, the main protagonist. The film contains the same thematic elements seen in the book such as addictions, conflicts in perception between drug-induced hallucinations and reality, and conflicts with multiple identities as seen through frequent use of “scramble suits” and frequent drug use. Linklater uses a very untraditional filming style in that he filmed the entire movie digitally to begin with, but then added a layer of animation through a process called “rotoscoping” which makes the film seem like an unusually realistic cartoon, complete with the subtle details and imperfections seen in the live action films. The music chosen for the film, despite the futuristic setting, was largely un-synthesized and utilized mostly acoustic instruments. The movie relies heavily on musical accompaniment as there are very few scenes without a score in the background.

Adaptation Analysis

Linklater’s adaptation of Richard K. Dick’s novel is largely successful in that it maintains the thematic elements in the book and covers all major plot points, characters, and settings despite the time constraints of running for less than two hours. However, critical reception was less than impressive; a fact which is not entirely surprising considering the amount of information that needed to be condensed and relayed to the audience in a cohesive manner. In other words, I believe this narrative fared much better in its original form which, being a novel, have the author much more time to process all of the variables at play. This issue came into play particularly during scenes where Arctor is switching rapidly between identities (and personalities) which can be relatively difficult to follow unless one is completely invested for the duration. It would seem that having read the book prior to viewing the film would be the most ideal approach and would give viewers a more fruitful experience, having already registered the plot beforehand. The animated-feel of the film did well to give it a surreal tone in which reality is not always a certainty.

3rd Party Sources

a.       http://www.planit3d.com/source/interviews/sabiston/bob_sabiston.html

An interview between Paul Salmons of “Planit 3d” (a blog) and Bob Sabiston, the creator of “Rotoshop” in which they discuss the background of and uses for the film style of “rotoscoping” used in the film.

b.      http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=507

A blog entry from McKenzie Ward’s “The Pinocchio Theory” series which goes in-depth in describing the obvious and the more subtle thematic elements present in both the book and film.

c.       http://anm.sagepub.com/content/7/1/7.abstract

An essay written by Caroline Ruddell of St. Mary’s University College, that “seeks to analyze the [film’s] visual style” by discussing its aesthetics.

 

B. Ward’s analysis regarding the overall effectiveness of Linklater’s adaption serves as an excellent supplement to the knowledge those taking this class will have gained by reading the brief excerpt from Philip K. Dick’s original novel. Ward, having read the book in its entirety, gives a much more thorough perspective of how well Linklater did in writing, filming, and casting. It’s particularly interesting to consider that Arctor’s character was, remarkably, a perfect fit for Keanu Reeves’ marked “inexpressive” style of acting (if there is such a thing). The blog entry gives a sort of expert’s (or at least someone more knowledgeable than myself) opinion of how Linklater did and what elements were translated effectively throughout the film. This source is definitely one to read before a screening of the film.

 

Critical Analysis

 

To adapt A Scanner Darkly to film, the director Richard Linklater uses the “interpolated rotoscope” animation technique. What are the effects on the viewer of such a technique? Was it an appropriate technique for the film in terms its themes and story?

Richard Linklater’s use of the “interpolated rotoscope” filming-style, an eccentric animation-based method, was a wise choice for a film that gathers much of its thematic impact from the blurred line between reality and a drug-induced imagination. Through the “rotoscope” method, it is not the question of “what is real?” which is ambiguous, but instead what brings about a certain level of uncertainty is the question “how does the protagonist (Arctor) see reality?” A theme seen throughout the film is how each addict in the film can no longer be sure what world is brought about by “Substance D” and what is actually happening because both worlds have become intertwined. The surreal feeling that the rotoscope method brings about is a perfect “visual seasoning”, if you will, to the fever-dream of events taking place on-screen.

 

 

 

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No Country for Old Men (2007)

Book Analysis

No Country for Old Men, a novel written by Cormac McCarthy in 2005, follows the events surrounding three central characters: Sheriff Bell, Anton Chigurh, and Llewelyn Moss. The story focuses on Moss as he attempts to escape his mortality at the hands of Anton Chigurh, a hitman hired to retrieve the large sum of money that put Moss in his current predicament. In the meantime, Bell, a WWII veteran who is appalled by the violence he witnesses in modern day Texas, follows Chigurh’s trail in an attempt to thwart the fulfillment of his contract against Moss. A central theme present throughout the book is the presence of evil in the world (represented by Chigurh) and its constant clash with the forces of good (represented by Bell). An additional theme that can be recognized is that of the choices one makes in life and how they impact the surrounding world and people within.

Film Analysis

The film adaptation of No Country for Old Men was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen in 2007 and follows the same plot as the book. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Bell, Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, and Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss and is shot in a manner reminiscent of classic Western films but employ the use of graphic violence in order to emphasize the evil such strife represents through characters like Chigurh. The film also utilizes the time of day as a means to give the film a very dark feel being that the majority of its scenes are shot at dusk or in the evening. Contributing to the sense of reality portrayed by the characters in the film, the soundtrack chosen by the Coen Brothers is quite understated and leaves some scenes completely devoid of musical accompaniment.

Adaptation Analysis

As a whole, the Coen Brothers effectively translated McCarthy’s work onto the silver screen with very few inconsistencies. The film manages to carry over most of the central themes of the book but, due to the time constraints involved in film-making, some of the deeper analyses of said themes are lost even though the audience is still given moments of introspection through Sheriff Bell through his own narration. Like the book, the film has a very heavy emphasis on violence which was done in a way that prevents it from seeming excessive (e.g. Tarantino films). The graphic nature of the film takes a page (no pun intended) from McCarthy in that the conflicts are still scene as being more meaningful than “violence for the sake of violence” and manages to maintain the feeling that the conflicts are more representative of something much larger (e.g. Good vs. evil, Submission vs. Death).

3rd Party Sources

  1. http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2007/11/no_country_for_old_men_out_in.html

A post from Jim Emerson’s “Scanners” blog which explores the alternative possibilities involved in deciding what each character in No Country for Old Men represents.

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2007/dec/21/coenbrothers

An interview conducted between John Patterson of “The Guardian” and Ethan & Joel Coen where they discuss the difficulties presented through the use of violence in film-making.

  1. http://www.movingimagesource.us/articles/behind-the-music-20091228

An interview with composer Carter Burwell in which he describes his initial expectations for the musical score and sound design of the film as well as how effective the understated musical score was in the final product.

C. This interview grants the reader/viewer a rare opportunity to watch the Coen’s film from the perspective of the sound design team and lead composer; an experience that gives one a deeper appreciation for the pivotal role that music plays in a film. The amount of thought and detail described by Burwell in this interview is staggering as he relays just how difficult it is to strike a balance between the emotionally-driving effects that music can cause, and its more fantastical traits that can result in a disconnect  when the director(s) are striving for realism. For instance, during the gas station scene between Chigurh and the proprietor, Burwell describes a method he employed in which he snuck in very subtle notes that were almost indecipherable from the hum of the refrigerator. The musical analysis given by this interview makes for an infinitely more fruitful and enjoyable experience.

Critical Analysis

The character of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men has been cited as an example of nihilism, a philosophy that holds life has no meaning and that there is no such thing as objective truth. Does this label fit Chigurh (does he have a value system?), or is he just a psycho-killer?

A proper analysis of Anton Chigurh’s character is a rather daunting task that will certainly differ depending upon to whom the question is posed. Despite the fact that Chigurh carries out his work with a cool, calculated callousness that is unique to sociopaths, I feel that nihilism is not the proper term with which to describe his character. After watching Chigurh’s interactions with Moss’ wife, the clerk at the gas-station, and Carson Wells, it becomes obvious that he leads his life with a conviction that would be incompatible with nihilism. I believe Chigurh views himself as a tool of fate who, like his coin, is merely a messenger of destiny who does not take responsibility for his actions. For example, Chigurh flips his coin throughout the film as a means to make decisions of great significance. He does not blame his coin for the outcome, and by this token he does not feel he can take responsibility for carrying out his contracts. The blame/responsibility lies with the hiring party and Anton considers himself as an extension of their will. Thus, at face-value, Chigurh views himself as a tool of man, but in a deeper sense he most likely views himself as fate incarnate. Were he to kill his victims indiscriminately, I might subscribe to the “nihilist” theory, but it’s quite obvious he adheres to his own code. Perhaps a better word to associate with him would be “amoral”.

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American Splendor (2003)

Book Analysis

Harvey Pekar’s series of comics titled American Splendor follow Pekar’s own life in Cleveland, Ohio. Subject matter can range from his job to his bouts with cancer but, for the most part, the focus is on the negative aspects of his life. Pekar utilizes these negative chronicles in his life to twist them into a sort of dry, sardonic humor. Themes present in his comics include brutal realism, regret, and depression.

Film Analysis

The 2003 film American Splendor, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, is based from the comics written by Harvey Pekar of the same name. Starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar and Hope Davis as his wife Joyce Brabner, the film functions in a similar fashion to the comics in that it serves as an autobiography of sorts and follows Pekar in his dealings with depression, writing comics, his battle with cancer, and his relationships with friends and family. Berman’s film maintains the themes of the comics and manages to draw humor from the seemingly unfortunate chain of events that make up Pekar’s life. The filming style is a mixed bag of techniques which employs documentary-like footage, animated bits, a comic panel-like effect and interviews alongside the film’s own unique narrative in order to afford the audience a glimpse at the true Harvey Pekar in juxtaposition to Berman’s adaptation. The soundtrack is largely jazz-influenced with various appearances of Motown.

Adaptation Analysis

When viewed beside its graphic novel counterpart, Shari Springer Berman’s American Splendor is unquestionably a faithful adaptation of Harvey Pekar’s works and life. While the film isn’t a word-by-word, shot-by-shot carbon-copy of the comic, it manages to keep the themes, humor, and overall spirit of the original series. The film, like the comic, focuses on the mundane issues that Pekar faces on a daily basis as a comic writer such as a troubled relationship with his wife, uncertainty regarding his commercial success. Most importantly, Berman managed to capture Pekar’s special brand of “optimistic cynicism” through the casting of Paul Giamatti who channeled the world-weary writer beautifully.

3rd Party Sources

  1. a.       http://movies.ign.com/articles/435/435946p1.html

An interview between IGN’s Steve Head and directors Shari Springer Berman and Rob Pulcini in which they discuss their interactions with the real Pekar, his own personal input in the film, and the reception of the film.

  1. b.      http://savageminds.org/2010/07/14/illustrated-man-1-american-splendor/

A blog posted on Savageminds.org from Matt Thomson that focuses solely on Pekar’s work in comics and how faithfully his own life is reflected in his work.

 

  1. c.       http://suite101.com/article/review-american-splendor-a131337

A movie review written by Liane Tsui that goes beyond a critique of the film itself and touches on subjects like how successfully the film was adapted from Pekar’s own work and how believable the actors involved were at “playing” in his world.

C. Despite the fact that movie reviews are typically read to judge the critical reception of a film, Tsui’s blog post allows newcomers to Harvey Pekar’s work an inside scoop on how the film can be stacked up against Pekar’s comic. I was particularly interested in the section in which she discusses the omissions and detours from the original works because, as a lover of literature myself, I can always appreciate the brutal honesty in book-to-film critiques as well as the commendations of a job well done (as was the case here). The most benefit to be had from reading this review before the film is for those, like myself, who hadn’t even heard of Harvey Pekar and saw this as “yet another Paul Giamatti movie” (he seems typecast in these sardonic, sarcastic, visibly jaded roles).

 

Critical Analysis

 

How does the film express naturalism and/or realism? And how does it compare to the way the book is naturalistic and/or realistic?

 

Harvey Pekar’s opening line warning the audience of their film decision did a phenomenal job of setting the tone for the rest of the movie and its blatantly honest commentary on the “real” problems that cannot be captured in a romanticized world. American Splendor, a series written by Pekar himself, serves as an autobiography that does not waste its time trying to force-feed its audience with a feel-good narrative. This is not to say that Pekar draws the world as a place of perpetual darkness, but instead tells a tale of subtle inspiration through a man who, because of a terminal illness and a swath of social problems, must contend with the day-to-day reality that is his life. One could argue that there are no lessons to be learned and no progression for Pekar as a character but this simply lends a sense of legitimacy and genuineness to his life. The film as, well as the comic series, remains mundane in its nature and, speaking of nature, its accurate depiction of life “as we know it” down to every last detail stays true to the naturalist style employed in both mediums.