Friday, February 20, 2009

Waiting for Watchmen or something like it

From Kolchak
Watchmen, the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is about to enter an exclusive club—stories that were turned into movies even though they were generally considered to be unfilmable.

I’m actually cautiously optimistic that Watchmen is going to be a good movie, but the transition isn’t going to be easy. Like Dune and Lord Of the Rings before it, Watchmen takes place on a different world. Yes, it’s Earth, but it’s a parallel Earth that has been radically altered by the presence of costumed vigilantes.

In the original, Moore and Gibbons use two basic techniques to tackle their world-building: excerpts from fictional documents, and putting strange items in a scene, often without drawing a lot of attention to them.

Neither technique, unfortunately, adapts well to movies, particularly at a time when directors are under constant pressure to Keep It Moving. With a book, or a comic, you always have the option to spend extra time on a scene, rereading some dialogue or looking at the poster in the background. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re watching a movie in a theater.

At the same time, if you take away too much of the background, you might take away some of the things that make the story unique. Or, worse yet, you may render the story incomprehensible to someone that hasn’t read the original—which I think is the biggest obstacle that any Watchmen movie is going to face.

For example…I once read a bootleg copy of a proposed Watchmen script, credited to Sam Hamm (who is probably best known for writing the script for Tim Burton’s Batman). Actually, I read about a third of it. I stopped at that point because the writer was still working on an action sequence which explained why super heroes being outlawed in this world. It’s easy to understand why a screenwriter would want to start a film with a strong action set piece, but the script hadn’t started to tell the original story yet.

I’m also reminded of how, during the original release of David Lynch’s Dune in 1984, theater owners were giving out pre-printed sheets—prepared by the studio, I suppose—listing the unusual terms that the viewer was about to encounter.

I don’t whether the approach Director Zack Snyder and the Watchmen crew is taking solves this problem. But they certainly are taking advantage of the options available to them. Short films explaining the setting are popping up on the Web. They seem to be available at different places, but , for some one-stop viewing, I suggest going to Short videos, fake documents and stills are available here. So far, my favorite videos are the ones explaining how Doctor Manhattan (the most powerful super hero on this Earth) won the war in Vietnam, and a school-scare style film about the Keene Act, the law that made costumed vigilantes illegal. Yes, I know this sort of thing is only going to increase the cost of making genre movies, but they’re still a lot of fun and may even be useful under certain circumstances.

There’s also a link at the New Frontiersman to an intentionally primitive-looking video game that was supposedly created in the 1970s in this film. It’s not my cuppa, but it may be yours. Just click on the quarter.

Another good place for background material that I’ve found is Watchmen: The Film Companion by Peter Aperlo. This book, which is now on sale, features profiles of nearly everyone in the cast, including Richard M. Nixon, who serving his fifth term as president when the story begins.

In addition, “Companion” gives you a chance to take a closer look at things that I suspect are going to pass in a few frames in the movie. My favorites include: Doctor Manhattan, reflected in the visor of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit as Armstrong steps onto the moon; what appear to be Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, at the unveiling of a Warhol-type painting of super hero called Nite Owl and a cover from Tales of the Black Freighter, the most popular comic book in this world. What do comic book publishers do when you see super heroes on the daily news? Apparently they move into pirate stories.

Speaking of the Black Freighter, there’s going to be animated version of Tales of the Black Freighter appearing on DVD about the same time as Watchmen arrives in the theaters. I’m not sure that any attempt to tell the full story of the Black Freighter is going to end well, but I have to admire their attention to detail.

With all this ancillary material, you may be assuming that a special edition Watchmen DVD is in the works. Well, you’re half right. There are two special editions in the works. The latest word is that the theatrical version of Watchmen will be two hours and 37 minutes long. The first DVD version release will be three hours and 10 minutes long, while the second one will clock in at three hours and 25 minutes.

Does all this mean that Watchman is going to be a good movie? I have no idea. But I think I’m going to have fun finding out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

25 writers

More for National Egotism Week....  25 fiction and poetry writers who have influenced me.

1. William Tenn 
2. John Brunner 
3. Robert Benchley 
4. Pablo Neruda 
5. Robert Anton Wilson
6. H. Beam Piper 
7. Andre Norton 
8. John Dos Passos 
9. Spike Milligan 
10. Edison Marshall 
11. Clifford Simak 
12. Tom Sharpe
13. Steven Saylor 
14. S. J. Perlman 
15. Seamus Heaney 
16. Cordwainer Smith 
17. Robert Heinlein
18. Sinclair Lewis
19, Bernard Cornwall
20. John Mortimer
21. George O Stewart
22. Anthony Burgess
23. Mary Oliver
24. H.G. Wells
25. Alan Furst

25 Things About Me

In celebration National Egotism Week, I recently posted this on my Facebook:

1. My cat Xanthippe is named for the wife of Socrates. Like her namesake, she is opinionated and never silent. She is my one true love.

2. I have a large teddy bear puppet named Tacitus.

3. My grandfather Ramsey was a union organizer for the United Mine Workers. In his youth he marched with Mother Jones and was a card carrying member of the IWW. He died the year I was born, but stories from his life formed my political worldview.

4. I put olive oil and parmesan cheese on my air-popped popcorn.

5. All of my World of Warcraft characters are female.

6. I once drummed for 4 hours with Babatunde Olatunji.

7. In 1631, a rival sheriff walled up one of my ancestors in an alcove in a Scottish castle and left him to starve to death. The rest of my family decamped to the Pennsylvania frontier soon afterwards.

8. I am a compulsive reader. I've read over 6000 books and l read every bit of print that crosses my vision. I can read an upside down bit of type as fast as a right side up one. And until my 50's I could remember 95% of what I read...

9. I love music. All kinds...Mongolian folk, West African pop, New Guinean rock, French chanson, salsa, American roots, classical, electronica, oldies, country.... all of it..anything authentic. That said, I don't think there is a commercial radio station in North America that's worth listening to...

10. I have been on the committees for 10 World Science Conventions and over 25 regional ones. I have also chaired 5 regional cons. I am the founder of both the Penn State Science Fiction Society and the Central Pennsylvania Science Fiction Association.

11. I am the oldest of 10 children.

12. I once walked the length of Broadway from the northern tip of Manhattan down to Battery Park.

13. My handwriting is so bad that sometimes I can't decipher it myself. There are some killer poems in my notebooks lost to the ages...sigh...

14. I love movie musicals and secretly long to star in one...

15. I was once the operations manager of a 1500 person food co-op. This experience led me to formulate Ramsey's First Law of Life: Never be the only paid employee in a large all-volunteer organizarion.

16. Ramsey's Second Law of Life: Whenever someone tries to tell you Science Fiction is predictive, remember that all the stories said our phones would be in our watches. In fact, our watches are now in our phones.

17. I am living proof of the adage that you will keep the bookstore open until whatever money you have runs out.

18. I get along with most dogs and all cats far better than I get along with most people.

19. I am a happy drunk, was a sleepy stoner and have been a very, very bad person to piss off.

20. I once spent 25 minutes talking to Jim Henson in the green room at a World Science Fiction Convention. When we met again 3 years later, he asked after Beowulf, my chief puppet, and told me to tell him that Kermit said hi.

21. Once, in a Sunday School class, I had a loud argument with the pastor over evolution during which he told me to just shutup and learn. I left the church and never went back.

22. I have been a secular Taoist since age 14. My Path hasn't been the easiest or the most difficult, but I have tried to stay with it. 

23. In 2007, the Juniata College Library established The Loyal F Ramsey Science Fiction Collection. There are currently 4500 volumes cataloged. 5000+ remain to be cataloged.

24. I starred as one Ivan Troglodyte, minion, in James Morrow's short film "Naomi Netherreach and the Recycling Saboteurs" 

25. Along with our worthy Kolchak I was a founding member of Slobbovia, the very first role playing game. Played by mail in monthly issues of the Slobinpolit Zhurnal, the object of the game was storytelling. Anyone who actually tried to "win" the game became an object of scorn from the other players...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

You can't make this stuff up

From Kolchak:

The following are two headlines that appeared consecutively on CNN's bottom-of-the-screen
text line this morning:

Report: 'Shocking' number don't know obesity causes cancer

Grand Slam promotion a home run, Denny's says