Watchmen

Well, I saw Watchmen last night, and the short summary is that I was very pleasantly surprised.

I went into the movie anticipating that it would never be able to live up to the story it was adapting. In its original form, it was such a thorough and highly regarded body of work that I could not imagine how they could squeeze it all into a single movie (even a long one) and a series is not really an option for telling this tale.

I could only assume that in the hands of a Hollywood team attempting to make it palatable to a mainstream audience that the movie will need to be “successful” (financially), such trimming would be awkward and bound to chop out important aspects that would just ruin it for the die-hard fans. While there was definitely a *lot* taken out, I have to say that it was done much better than I ever imagined it could have been, and I was generally satisfied with the results.

Since I’m sure you will find many avid comic fans ranting about all the discrepancies and inconsistencies found in this translation, and since I’m not interested in dwelling on them here, I’ll take a pass and skip over those in this review. There is also a multitude of layers of depth to be dug into in terms of subtle meaning and message, many of which found their way from the original story into the movie, but I’ll also avoid rambling on too much about those, since this thing is going to be long enough as it is.

Let’s start with the surface: visually, it was perfect, as can be expected from Snyder after 300. His rich colors painting the backgrounds and skillfully framed comic panel-esque shots in 300 were probably my favorite parts of that movie, but in Watchmen he chose a more subtle and a bit darker approach, which suited it comfortably. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack they picked for a lot of the scenes, even though it was a bit surprising at first.

As for the quality of the adaptation, while much was (and had to have been) left on the cutting room floor, I thought it admirably stayed true to some of the core aspects that made the story great. On the one hand, it is a satisfying murder mystery / adventure story, yet as it unfolds you discover that it’s actually deconstructing the super hero genre right before your eyes.

As I noted over on Alex’s blog, this story was originally presented in the context of a comic book culture that was dramatically different than what we have today. Those of you who are old enough probably remember most “capes & tights” stories as the happy-go-lucky (even campy) type of approach taken in the original incarnations of the characters that we are familiar with. In the mid-80s, this world was about to be blown wide open and (for many of the classics) take a darker turn, as well as give rise to a vibrant independent scene which would delight and enlighten those of us comic fans to a wider world of storytelling potential that the comic medium is capable of. Anyway, it’s an interesting contrast / parallel to today’s recent boom in popularity of super heroes in the movies; perhaps the “comic book movie” needs a similar degree of boundary-box-breaking.

As the world of the Watchmen unfolds, you begin to realize (more quickly for some characters than others, and each in their own way) that literally every single person who devotes themselves to a life of masked do-gooding isn’t the pure, shining example of heroism that you may expect, but rather has deep, psychological issues that have motivated them into pursuing this line of “work”. “Under the hood” (the title of Mason’s book), they are all pretty twisted in one way or another. It’s no accident that the only one with true “super powers” (John) is also the least “human”, and it’s a causal association. Or take Adrian, who is arguably the second most “powerful” of the group (he lacks “powers” but is regarded as the most intelligent man alive and has trained his body to the upper limits of physical potential), is also therefore detached enough from humanity to be capable of the vision / psychosis necessary for what he ends up doing.

[ spoiler below ]

Speaking of that, it’s a classic twist that I’m certainly glad was translated well into this story. The climactic final scene is abruptly shaken from the realm of fantasy when he announces that he isn’t the classic comic book villain. He didn’t just waste his time explaining himself to them to give them a chance to whip something out of the old utility belt and save the day, but rather the whole thing already went down before they even got there – it was already over.

[ end of spoiler ]

Anyway, there’s probably much more that could be said here, but I figure no review would be complete without addressing the one thing that probably everyone who has remotely heard anything at all about this movie seems to be obsessed with… yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

Let me first say that if I did have one gripe about the stuff that was lost in the translation, it might be the fact that a considerable amount of the back-story for the various players was removed (due to time constraints, I’m sure), and I think it may have lessened the impact of this one particular point, which is very probably lost on most of the audience (or at least the crowd of giggling teenagers).

During the full story, you see more flashes back to the past in John’s life. While some of them are still present in this version, it may not have been enough to make it blatantly obvious that from the time of the “incident” until the present day, if you rearrange his appearances into chronological order, there is an intentional progression. John originally is relatively “well covered” (for a super hero costume), and as time passes his costume “simplifies”, eventually to the point of vanishing altogether. It is a perfect symbol of his gradually loosening grip on his own humanity; as that fades away from him, things like shame and concern for appearance naturally do as well. So, no, it *isn’t* gratuitous.

Long story short: I liked it. The changes that were made didn’t bother me much at all, and in the end I believe they made the story better for this current audience. I recommend it. BTW, if anyone’s interested in reading the original, they can borrow it from me anytime.

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Superbowl Day

As most of you know, I’m not much of a football fan, and to be quite honest, I don’t even like “watching it for the commercials”. Is that last-century advertising/selling model dead yet? I think it could be, but it sure seems to have a few last gasps left in it… maybe a post for another time.

Anyway, I just went back and watched the half-time show since I like Springsteen but didn’t see the game except for the last few minutes since it just happened to be on at J&R’s house. Not the best show Bruce and the E Street Band have ever done, but I always like watching them because even through this particular over-hyped presentation you can get a feel for how much they love playing this music, and there’s something to appreciate there.

“Is there anybody alive out there?” – such a good question, on so many levels… for this particular audience, for our culture, for us personally. Or am I reading too much in? Maybe Bruce was just pumping up the crowd, eh? :-)

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Appreciating Discovery

Radiolab recently did an episode exploring the inherent joy and wonder found in the process of scientific discovery. I usually enjoy this show, but I thought this one was especially good.

For those of you who knew Van Craft, you owe it to yourself to listen to this episode.

[ Direct link to the MP3 ]

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Blog Weirdness

My apologies for today’s outage here.

Also, that annoying trend of duplicate posts showing up from my other content sources and cluttering up your feed readers should be taken care of; that shouldn’t happen ever again.

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The Spirit – Movie Review

We saw this last night and I actually really liked it. I’ve heard in passing that there are some bad reviews floating around, although I haven’t actually bothered to read any of them – I generally don’t find them very applicable to my own tastes. I can totally imagine that it wouldn’t be as fun for most general audience viewers, since the reasons I liked it are probably not very commonly appreciated by most movie-goers.

The first of the two main things I thought worth mentioning here is the humor. I was cracking up several times as they poked fun at some of the elements often found in these types of stories, making caricatures out of some of the common characterizations and plot points.

The second (and more important) aspect for me is the Sin City-esque digitally enhanced cinematography that (successfully, IMHO) attempts to capture some of the better aspects of the original medium (comic books). The tweaked, toned-down, or even ommited backgrounds, details, and colors can often allow for an artistic focus that doesn’t come through in “normal” film-making. The framing of the motion parts of scenes around a particular still (or almost still) shot or pose also supports this “focusing”, calling back to the panel layouts in the books. I wish that more comic-based movies would employ these techniques; I feel that they enhance the experience substantially by melding the good visual story-telling techniques that are part of what make the source material so enjoyable.

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iTunes Question

OK, I should clarify that this post is an honest question, and not intended to be an Apple-bashing session, despite the fact that I do enjoy doing that from time to time.

So Emma got a new iPod recently, and initially she was using Martha’s computer to sync with iTunes, since the kids computer (until yesterday) was Linux only. In an effort to kick the kids off of Martha’s laptop, I went ahead and reconfigured the kids computer to dual boot Linux and XP, so that Emma can manage her iPod from there.

Here’s where the problem comes in: the fresh XP install of course has no songs on it yet. So I figure it should just sync all the songs that are already on her iPod once I set it up to sync to that computer and it should be pretty easy, right? Not quite.

Now, I understand that I need to “authorize” the new computer to load all the purchased songs (even if I don’t agree with that philosophically), but that’s not really the big issue. I was able to copy the few DRM’d songs purchased from iTunes that were on the iPod fairly easily, using the “Transfer Purchases” menu selection (I think that’s the right name – don’t have it in front of me right now).

Ironically, the problem came in for all the other (non-DRM’d) songs that were on the iPod. These were other songs which had been ripped from CDs, etc. The issue was that there was no apparent way to import those songs onto the new computer, outside of manually copying them from the computer they were originally on and re-adding them to the library on the new computer. This just seems ridiculous to me, since they were already on the iPod and not copy protected.

Is it just me, or is there something fishy about iTunes supporting the easy copy/import of DRM protected music from the iPod but *not* supporting unprotected music in the same way, since it should be even easier? Of course, I feel that this is intentionally designed to drive users towards making sure all their music is purchased from the iTunes store so they can avoid this problem.

Perhaps I’m missing something though. For all you iTunes users out there, is there another way to do this that I missed? Specifically, I want to know if there’s an option to transfer non-iTunes purchased content from an iPod onto a new computer, in a manner similar to the “Transfer Purchases” feature, without doing a manual file copy then import on the new computer.

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Biking to the office

Rode my bike to work again today.

I almost turned back this morning after seeing a thick cloud of fog (about 25ft. visibility) roll in, which usually is not a good compliment to riding along the side of a long and semi-winding road that cars tend to drive fast on.

I decided not to chicken out (or use that for an excuse) and it blew over after about 5 minutes. My legs are sore, but I think I’m going to try to make a habit out of this, along with eating better.

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StyleSheet Version Refresh Plugin – 1.0 Released

Since I’ve been on a roll lately with new WP stuff, here’s another quick plugin I threw together recently.

The stylesheet version refresh plugin basically just appends your theme’s current version number to the stylesheet reference the same way that WP itself does for javascript file references, and for the same reason: to avoid caching issues.

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Sidebar Widget Collapser Plugin – 0.2 Released

It can be downloaded at its temporary homepage here on this blog.

Hopefully, it will be in the official WP repo shortly.

Have fun!

Please leave any questions or comments related to this release as comments to this post.

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Updated Sidebar Collapser

I finally got around to updating the sidebar collapser plugin I made a while ago. The intial reason behind this script was that there is way too much stuff in the sidebar, and I wanted a way to hide most of it by default.

Eventually, I’d like to deal with that by moving some of that stuff to separate pages, but this will have to do for now. It should show certain items by default, and hide the rest, and it should remember your selections (within that session) via cookies.

I’ll get around to posting the code for this shortly. As usual, I’d be interested to hear if it doesn’t work for you. For this one in particular I did no cross-browser testing at all for (FF3/Linux only), so YMMV.

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