Nudity in “Watchmen”

I have been looking forward to seeing “Watchmen” but didn’t realize until this weekend that the movie will indeed feature some graphic nudity. Okay, I’ve never read the graphic novel, so I’ve been naive.

I knew it was an award-winning story with a dark theme and some pretty gruesome violence. I was just unaware of the sexual elements.

Based on what I have seen about the movie and what I have read about the graphic novel, my understanding is that the story focuses on moral choices, moral ambiguity, and a science fiction theme in which an alternate Earth experiences a somewhat different historical pattern in the 20th century.

I like moral dramas because they do touch the human spirit in some way, although I’ve read some books that so dragged down the human spirit there were not so much about moral conflict as they were simply amoral. Being unfamiliar with Alan Moore’s work (except indirectly as provided through controversial film adaptation in “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”), I accept that I may be disappointed with the premise of “Watchmen” once I get to see the movie.

And I won’t confuse the movie with the graphic novel, despite how faithful the movie may be to the novel. Quite a few people have argued it’s impossible to do justice to the graphic novel in a 2-3 hour movie.

That said, “Watchmen” does seem to fit in with the dark concept that Hollywood is adopting for superhero movies (but is this really so much a superhero movie as an antihero movie?). I’m not sure that is the best path to take with superhero movies.

The problem with superhero concepts is that film-makers can’t seem to take them seriously if they are just “good guys” — morally unambiguous, clearly set up to take out the bad guys. Maybe the best attempt to tell a morally ambiguous superhero story so far is “The Incredibles”, which is really not fettered by original source material.

Whereas movies like “Spider-man”, “Superman”, “The Incredible Hulk”, and “Fantastic Four” must slavishly appease their source books’ readerships (or earlier movie franchise audiences), “The Incredibles” was free to create its own world from the start.

In reality there are two kinds of superhero movie fans: those who want the movies to bring their sources to life and those who want to enjoy the superhero experience on the big screen. I’m really not a purist. I just want to see a great movie. I loved the Billy Zane adaption of “The Phantom” even though critics argued that it was unfaithful to the original comic (I used to read “The Phantom” when I was a kid — I thought the movie was exceedingly well done).

“The Shadow”, starring Alec Baldwin, was another movie that supposedly disgraced the genre in the 1990s. I have to ask what people are hoping for with superhero movies based on the pulp adventure stories. Most of us weren’t even alive when these heroes were first created. I wonder how audiences felt about the Robert Wagner adaptation of “Prince Valiant” (which I only saw as a teenager, I think, and barely remember).

Prince Valiant would probably make a great television series, especially if it picks up somewhere in the middle of the prince’s life and career (about the time his eldest son Arn is setting out on adventures of his own). Okay, guess which Prince Valiant stories I read when I was younger. So sue me.

The world of “Watchmen” is going to be grim. I’m not sure if the film nudity will be justified. Maybe it was in the original story but based on what little I’ve been able to find, it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot in there. Dr. Manhatten (the blue guy) apparently gets more bare screen time than anyone else.

It could be argued that the level of graphic violence in the movie leaves plenty of room for a little nudity. There will apparently be some disturbing violence, including the murder of a pregnant woman and the killing of a dog. Maybe the movie will win critical acclaim. Maybe it will bomb like so many superhero movies before it.

All I know for sure is that I want to see it. I think it will make a point that we didn’t see in the re-engineered “Batman” franchise (the closest “traditional” superhero movie to the Watchmen concept, in my opinion). Batman is a vigilante (in the comics he occasionally killed bad guys) who just happens to have become equated with truth, justice, and the American way in the popular imagination.

At least, that is the way I remember him. He was Superman’s best friend (when Jimmy Olsen wasn’t around) and crime-fighting partner. I wonder what Superman would have made of Batman’s darker side. I probably missed out on any comic books that explored such a theme.

Superheros work best when they only exaggerate the qualities that make us human: our frailities and vulnerabilities have to appear in our heroes, or else we cannot identify with them. Maybe that will be the saving grace for “Watchmen” — unless people are just tired of graphic violence.

The story may not be relevant to today’s generation. Or maybe it will be too relevant in a post-9/11 era. I liked the Fantastic Four movies because they suffered less from hero angst than most of the other films in this genre. Sometimes it’s just fine to see the heros tease each other and beat the bad guys (well, the ending of the second movie was a disappointment — but the rest of it was okay).

Anyway, for now I’m pumped and looking forward to “Watchmen”. It’s just one week away. Then again, real life may intrude and I could find myself too busy to see it. Such is the life of a science fiction fan.

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