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Who Watches the Casting Directors? 25.08.2009

Posted by Yeoman Nacelle Envy in Uncategorized.
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What the hell are you smiling about?

What the hell are you smiling about?

Finally broke down and saw Watchmen on Netfix.  Yes indeed, a mess.  Too long, too lumpy and focus-less, too faithful to the original graphic novel in all the wrong ways, too nasty in similarly wrong ways, and blah blah blah.  Yeah yeah yeah.

But no other reviews I’ve read brought up what to me is the biggest problem with the flick: Casting.  Seems like the downfall of many a sodden superhero film lately.   Yes, the wonderful Jackie Earle Haley was absolutely fantastic (though by necessity his face was covered for much of the film so that didn’t help much).   But the rest?  Yeesh!

To get my point please imagine for a second (if you will) the very same film, with the same desperately-needs-a-rewrite script and uninspired directing and uneven special effects and stale craft-service Twizzlers, etc, but with the following cast:  A young Angelina Jolie or Jessica Lange as Silk Spectre II.  A young Jack Nicholson or Kevin Spacey as the Comedian, a young Michael Caine or Patrick McGoohan as Ozymandias, a young Marlin Brando or Gary Oldman playing Night Owl (instead of a wonderful actor who was unfortunately cast-EXACTLY-to-type, Patrick Wilson), and maybe a young Bruce Willis or Christopher Walken in blue makeup, white contacts, and shaved head as Doc Manhattan instead of the searingly bland motion-capture cgi stuff that was kinda/sorta Billy Crudup (but mostly not).

Just imagine such a film.  Big difference, yes?  HUGE difference, really.  And hear this: there really ARE unknown young actors out there RIGHT NOW who possess the kind of charisma and amazing screen presence and hypnotic quirkiness as my random famous examples.  There really ARE unknown young actors so compelling they can make you forget the script ain’t all that great.  Why the hell don’t they cast THEM, especially in these kinds of “no big stars” tentpole projects???    Why cast mostly unremarkable people who are pretty, bland, can hit their marks, remember their lines and perhaps did a few episodes of CSI SUV?  In Watchmen’s case it would have made the difference between what ended up a forgettable mess and what might — just might — have been at least worth watching.  Creative casting could possibly have redeemed the entire film.  Wake up, people!

There’s an old saying that “Casting is half the job of moviemaking.”  Words to live by, Hollywood!

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1. e - 01.09.2009

Hey Yo-man!

I have to disagree with you on this review. While I didn’t find the Watchmen to be the best movie ever — which is a disappointment given the greatness of the source material — I did find it to be an entirely serviceable rendition of the story and an entertaining film. Even the girlfriend enjoyed it; while she does seem to have a soft spot for some superhero movies that was definitely not a given going into the theatre as her tastes also tend toward comedy and romance. Films less dark than this one….

I LOVE your ideas for re-casting this film though they exist only in the realm of fantasy since some of your dream cast didn’t exist in the way you’d like to see them in this film even by the time the graphic novel was written…

In fact, I’m given to take issue with the whole premise that “Casting is half the job of moviemaking” at least for films of this nature. I think a good story told well — which this film had — the source book seemed to function as the storyboard for the director in a lot of ways — with believable special effects used to enhance and illuminate the fantasy world are what make for great superhero movies. The actors’ performances certainly can enhance a film of this variety (I’m thinking the new Star Trek here) but their contribution at best is icing on the cake.

So I’d say here we had some great cake and the icing was just sweet… Other than Billy Crudup, I don’t really have an issue with how it was cast. And I think Doc Manhattan would be a difficult part for any actor to make compelling since he’s so distant from even his own emotions. In Star Trek, we had it the other way ’round. Great icing — at best, weak cake.

Yeoman Nacelle Envy - 01.09.2009

Thank you for your comments. I respect your opinion (quite a few of my friends enjoyed the film as well), and I take your point about how, in certain kinds of blockbuster special-effects films, the acting is pretty much just “icing.”

But Watchmen, though a “superhero movie” is really an anti-superhero story and all about angst, deeply tortured souls, betrayal, neuroses, psychosis, muddy morality, and gut-wrenching emotional conflict. The good guys are sometimes bad and the bad guys often have good intentions. The story deals with rape, sacrifice, alternate history, aging, dashed expectations, existential ennui,
sexuality, manipulating mob-mentality, etc. It’s not just about swinging from webs, driving a cool car, turning green when angry, and dicing bad guys with blades that come out of your wrists. IMHO great (vs. “adequate”) acting in this particular film would have changed the entire feel, beginning to end.

But I actually think acting is ALWAYS vital (though I’m probably biased since I’m a performer myself). I really can’t think of any movie with bland acting (from summer tent-pole extravaganza to teensy foreign art film) that wouldn’t be kicked up to a whole other level with great, charismatic, brilliant performances.

And I think you may have missed my point about the “fantasy” casting. For the ease of communication I was using only famous old actors as examples (because no one would have heard of the charismatic young unknowns I could suggest for all the parts). My point was not that these old or dead people I spoke of should have been cast, it was that there are dozens of equally talented young performers out there RIGHT NOW if the casting people would just take the extra effort to find them. But casting, like many aspects of filmmaking, is really an art, not a science, and some people (including many successful casting directors, producers, and directors) just aren’t that talented at it.

And we’ll have to agree to disagree about the film being a “Good story, well told.” Personally I think it was a real mess, script wise. I think that, though this would have infuriated the rabid fans, the screenwriters should have basically tossed out the source material and started from scratch. I wish they had used the original only as a jumping off point and made a film “inspired by the graphic novel.” That way they could have fashioned a tightly-plotted two-plus hour film with powerful character arcs, a strong, simple shape and satisfying overall story structure.

But maybe that’s just me. I certainly could be wrong.

In closing, to return to my point about the acting: yes I admit, in certain kinds of movies the acting it is just icing. But, to torture the analogy: no matter how good the cake, no one will enjoy it fully if the icing on top tastes crappy. In some ways, the icing is always the most important part. That’s kinda my whole point: a dry, bland, overcooked, nasty-assed cake can actually be SAVED with a magnificent topping.

Good icing makes for a good cake.

Thanks again for your thought-provoking response.


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