Under the Hood

Well, yesterday and today we’ve finally been getting the torrential rains promised us early in the week. Alas, there is no longer a hurricane to threaten us with, so we must now live in fear of flash floods. But that’s a rational fear, so you just don’t hear as much about it.

A little over a week ago, I found a copy of the Watchmen adjunct DVD, Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood had washed up at Half-Price Books for cheap, and picked it up. (I also stopped listening to the rational side of my brain and also picked up the Asylum Sherlock Holmes mockbuster for equally cheap). Last night I watched Under the Hood, and I rather liked it. There are currently no plans to watch Tales of the Black Freighter, because motion comics are an abomination before God.

Under the Hood was the title of the autobiography of Hollis Mason, the original 1940s Night Owl, one of the first of the costumed heroes in Watchmen‘s continuity. It was one of Alan Moore’s brilliant touches in an already brilliant book, text pieces in the back of each issue which filled us in on the alternate history, the world of the series.

To make this work in a video context, the material is presented in the form of a TV show, The Culpeper Minute, in which host Barry Culpeper, circa 1985 (the time of the Watchmen movie and book), presents a re-broadcast of a 1975 episode marking the publication of said book.

Much of the information in the text pieces is covered in an interview with Mason; where the piece goes beyond the call of duty is to establish the world further by adding more interviews past Mason’s, and the best part of that is we get to see more of Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter, which is a good thing.

And we get to see even more of Carla Gugino in 1940s drag, which is a very good thing:

An odd thing – well not so odd, I suppose, given the DC imprint slathered all over – is a jettisoning of one of Moore’s most interesting social culture extrapolations: given that super heroes already actually existed, that particular comic book genre never took off – instead, pirate comics became all the rage (hence Tales of the Black Freighter). Instead, the first appearance of Superman is specifically mentioned, then a few more make their appearance as inspirations to Hollis Mason, alongside the pulp heroes Moore referenced. And so it goes.

We get more screen time with incidental characters who received short shrift in the movie, notably Matt Frewer’s Moloch, Dr. Manhattan’s Pal, Wally Weaver, and Bernie the newsvendor, who was the book’s everyman-on-the-street greek chorus, and virtually nonexistant in the film. And so it goes.

Expanding past the text pieces gives Under the Hood a chance to say interesting things about the necessity of heroes, costumed or not, and does continue the book’s examination of what real-world pressures would be brought to bear on people wearing fetish gear beating up thugs on the street – and if nothing else, makes use of all that Golden Age material they shot for the movie proper that never made it in (except, I suppose, for that Ultimate Edition that came out last Christmas, that I could not afford, nor asked for).

Overall, I still feel there was absolutely no reason to make Watchmen into a movie, except that hey, them other funnybook movies made money, and the geekboys love this’un! It’s like printing money! Looking at other attempts to turn comic books into movies, this one could have been a lot, lot worse. A lot. A bit too faithful to the original material, until that final, disastrous changing of the ending that I still feel damages the movie irreparably – which I should probably go into more detail about, but we’ll leave that for another time. Under the Hood reminded me that although I didn’t care for the movie itself, its casting and production design was absolutely spot-on.

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