What’s Wrong With Watchmen

Watchmen movie poster


I was right to worry. Zack Snyder’s Watch­men movie is indeed a sexed-up and dumbed-down shadow of the richly multi-layered graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

I’ve already unleashed my pent-up anx­i­eties about the then-forthcoming movie in The Dork Report’s 10 Rea­sons the Watch­men Movie Will Suck). Now that the notably long-gestating and trou­bled pro­duc­tion is finally out in the wild, I’m puz­zled why so many comics fans utterly adore it (q.v. Wil Weaton and Ain­tIt­Cool­News), while main­stream film crit­ics com­pete to deliver the most vicious bitch­slap (q.v. The New Yorker and The Hol­ly­wood Reporter). The excep­tion to the rule is the always-unpredictable (bless him) Roger Ebert, who gave the “pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence” four out of four stars. As a life­long comics fan, I ought to nat­u­rally fall into the first camp, but I can­not relate to geeks like Kevin Smith, for whom, after spend­ing decades anx­iously pin­ing to see Watch­men play­acted on the big screen, found the result “fuck­ing astound­ing” and “joy­gas­mic.” End­lessly fas­ci­nated by the orig­i­nal, I per­son­ally never even wanted a Watch­men movie in the first place. But as a lover of both comics and movies, I felt oblig­ated to suf­fer through it.

If Watch­men were a Sat­ur­day Morn­ing Car­toon (via Dar­ing Fire­ball):

My afore­men­tioned rant also repeated the old saw that Watch­men is the Cit­i­zen Kane of comics, and attempt­ing to adapt it into another medium is folly. What is impor­tant about the exam­ple of Cit­i­zen Kane in par­tic­u­lar isn’t so much its char­ac­ters or inci­dent, but rather how the story is told. As Welles did to movies in 1941, Moore rev­o­lu­tion­ized how comics could be told, stretch­ing and bend­ing every rule. Like Welles, Moore didn’t invent the many sto­ry­telling devices he used: includ­ing scram­bled chronol­ogy (flash­backs nes­tled within flash­backs — not just as a sto­ry­telling device but a key insight into how one char­ac­ter expe­ri­ences life), mix­ing of media (prose pieces expand the story), and stories-within-stories (the embed­ded Tales of the Black Freighter comic book that fore­shad­ows a cat­a­clysmic end­ing). Watch­men is in essence a book, not a movie.

Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City inau­gu­rated the recent trend of treat­ing comic books not just as raw story mate­r­ial but as actual sto­ry­boards. But whereas Sny­der had room to expand the story of Frank Miller’s rel­a­tively short graphic novel 300 into his pre­vi­ous film, Watch­men is a mas­sive beast of a book that only real­is­ti­cally had to be bru­tally cut and/or sig­nif­i­cantly altered to squeeze into a roughly two-hour motion pic­ture nar­ra­tive. Maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly what Sny­der should have done: rad­i­cally rein­vent the story to fit another medium. Instead, he cre­ated a slav­ishly accu­rate trans­la­tion that comics fan­boys like Wheaton, Smith, and Ain­tit­cool­news appar­ently thought they some­how deserved.

In the end, Sny­der and screen­writ­ers David Hayter and Alex Tse did make numer­ous cuts, many out of sim­ple neces­sity. Some of them hurt (espe­cially the mur­der of Hol­lis Mason, a scene which I con­sider essen­tial to the story). Whereas I sug­gest above that the movie fails to rein­vent the book as a film, Snyder’s mostly faith­ful adap­ta­tion does in fact make many sig­nif­i­cant alter­ations, but they are arguably the wrong ones. My three pri­mary objec­tions are the out-of-character vio­lence, the flawed char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of key char­ac­ter Adrian Veidt, and the altered ending.

Patrick Wilson in WatchmenNite Owl might have some trou­ble doing up the snaps on his super suit


First let me pre-empt the imme­di­ate objec­tions: I am not a prude that decries any por­trayal of vio­lence in fic­tion (be it movies, video games, what­ever). I have never sub­scribed to the reduc­tive the­ory that cen­sor­ing movies is the way to reduce real-world ills; if an indi­vid­ual is so dam­aged as to be inspired to vio­lence by a movie (or even to take up smok­ing), there’s some­thing more wrong with that indi­vid­ual than can be repaired by cen­sor­ing movies for every­one else. So I don’t object to Watchmen’s notably extreme vio­lence and gore per se, but rather to its inju­di­cious use by all its char­ac­ters, irre­gard­less of whether it is moti­vated by their indi­vid­ual natures.

All of the so-called super­heroes in the Watch­men movie are shown to be bru­tal killers. It does makes sense in the cases of Ozy­man­dias (a mega­lo­ma­niac pre­sum­ing to kill a few to save many), Dr. Man­hat­tan (an unemo­tional non-human that finds noth­ing extra­or­di­nary in life), The Come­dian (a mis­an­thropic, nihilis­tic mer­ce­nary), and, most espe­cially, Rorschach. One of the most difficult-to-watch sequences of the entire film is a flash­back relat­ing Rorschach’s (Jackie Earle Haley) ori­gin story. His voiceover nar­ra­tion states that, early in his career as a cos­tumed vig­i­lante, he was orig­i­nally “too soft on crime,” mean­ing to him, that he used to let crim­i­nals live. He goes on to recall the spe­cific case in which he cracked. He tracks down the hide­out of a creep that has kid­napped and killed a lit­tle girl, and fed her to his dogs. This case is beyond the pale for a street-level vig­i­lante more accus­tomed to bust­ing up orga­nized crime and purse snatch­ers. Rorschach sees no point in appre­hend­ing him on the police’s behalf, and sum­mar­ily exe­cutes him in a rage. This sequence is unbe­liev­ably vio­lent, but it speaks vol­umes about Rorschach, why he is the way he is, and what dif­fer­en­ti­ates him from his peers, the vig­i­lante fraternity.

But all this is under­cut when we also see Nite Owl (Patrick Wil­son) and Silk Spec­tre (Malin Aker­man) exe­cute an entire gang of would-be mug­gers. Mug­gers, not demonic child moles­ters! What’s their excuse for splin­ter­ing bones and sev­er­ing spines? At what point in their careers did they adjust their moral com­passes and decide it’s jus­ti­fied for them to kill? To kill is totally out of char­ac­ter for both of them, and under­cuts the entire point of the Rorschach sequence. Their actions make them no dif­fer­ent than Rorschach. If the point is that they think they are dif­fer­ent than Rorschach but are not, the movie doesn’t seem to be aware of this con­tra­dic­tion. Silk Spectre’s fight­ing style, inci­den­tally, seems inspired by Madonna’s “Vogue” dance and max­i­mized to strike sexy poses (not that I’m complaining).

The movie also alters the already-horrific rape scene in the book in two very strange ways: it makes it con­sid­er­ably more vio­lent, but also explic­itly clear that the actual act of rape was inter­rupted before… there is no word for the crime… com­ple­tion, I’ll say. In later scenes, it is explic­itly spelled out that Sally (Carla Gug­ino) and The Come­dian (Jef­frey Dean Mor­gan) have con­sen­sual sex some years later, con­ceiv­ing Lau­rie (who assumes his mother’s man­tle of Silk Spec­tre). My inter­pre­ta­tion of the rape scene as it appears in the book has always been that Lau­rie was con­ceived dur­ing the rape, and that there is no evi­dence in the text that Sally and The Come­dian had any kind of rela­tion­ship after­wards. In both the book and the movie, the aged Sally cries and kisses a pic­ture of the orig­i­nal hero group The Min­ute­men, which included a young Come­dian. The scene is totally ambigu­ous in the book; I always assumed that Sally’s feel­ings were very com­plex — cer­tainly not that she for­gave or loved her rapist, but more that she was sad and nos­tal­gic for a world long-lost. Laurie’s bio­log­i­cal father (for bet­ter or for worse) and most of the pop­u­la­tion of New York were all mur­dered. Her hap­pi­ness and glory days are long gone. Wouldn’t you cry too? But in the movie, it’s made utterly clear that she vol­un­tar­ily slept with The Come­dian some time after his attempted rape. If we are expected to believe that a fic­tional woman could do that, the movie ought to spend some time exam­in­ing her psy­chol­ogy and moti­va­tions, which it does not.

In fact, this scene was so squea­mish that the crowd in the the­ater became unruly (an opening-night screen­ing on Manhattan’s Upper West Side), and at least one per­son (a man, as it hap­pens), got up and walked out, loudly com­plain­ing all the way. I also note with­out judge­ment that a few other peo­ple also walked out dur­ing the absurdly long sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spec­tre. Per­son­ally, the most offen­sive aspect of that scene for me was its ironic sound­track of Leonard Cohen’s lovely Hal­lelu­jah. The Onion’s A.V. Club reports on even more sig­nif­i­cant walk­outs.

Sally & The Minutemen from WatchmenSally’s com­plex feel­ings for the past


To pull off a work­able movie ver­sion of Watch­men, I would argue that the one char­ac­ter it would be most impor­tant to get right is Adrian Veidt. Strangely for such a visual direc­tor as Sny­der, Veidt’s ori­gin story is told not as a flash­back (as with all other char­ac­ters) but as a dull lec­ture given to a bunch of indus­tri­al­ists. He takes plea­sure in explain­ing that he has pat­terned his hero per­sona after no less grandiose his­tor­i­cal mod­els than Alexan­der the Great and Pharaoh Ramesses II, also known as Ozy­man­dias. Every­one should have known that this one would be noth­ing but trou­ble. A statue in Veidt’s arc­tic hide­away (his ver­sion of Superman’s Fortress of Soli­tude) is inscribed with the Percy Bysshe Shel­ley verse:

My name is Ozy­man­dias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair. 

One of the key details that makes the super­hero char­ac­ters in the book so inter­est­ing is that only one of them is actu­ally “super.” Dr. Man­hat­tan (Billy Crudup) is a non­hu­man being that exists on a quan­tum level of real­ity, but every other “hero” char­ac­ter is mor­tal. Exem­plary and/or dam­aged in cer­tain ways, but all human. We know from the book that Veidt has honed his body to near-perfect phys­i­cal fit­ness, but the movie clearly shows him to pos­sess super­hu­man strength and speed. It’s a pity to make Veidt more than human, because, like all of history’s great­est heroes and vil­lains, he is just a man.

Most curi­ously of all, the movie implies Veidt is gay. If you think my gay­dar is on the fritz, bear with me here for a moment. First, we see a brief flash­back of Veidt hang­ing out in front of the leg­endary Man­hat­tan night­club Stu­dio 54 with gay and/or androg­y­nous pop icons The Vil­lage Peo­ple, David Bowie, and Mick Jag­ger. Addi­tion­ally, actor Matthew Goode made the bizarre choice to give his char­ac­ter a speech defect, per­haps meant to be the sort of lisp that codes movie char­ac­ters as “gay.” It’s so dom­i­nant that some lines of dia­logue were actu­ally dif­fi­cult to under­stand. Goode seems to speak clearly in Match Point and Brideshead Revis­ited (in the sex­u­ally ambigu­ous role of Charles Ryder), so we can rule out it being nat­ural for him. The orig­i­nal graphic novel does not make any sug­ges­tions as to Veidt’s sex­u­al­ity at all, which makes a kind of sense, as he is a mega­lo­ma­niac that prob­a­bly doesn’t want or need any­body, male or female.

Matthew Goode WatchmenOzy­man­dias speaks the only instance of the word “Watch­men” in the book


Veidt’s final solu­tion to save the world is utterly insane, but one aspect in par­tic­u­lar is bril­liantly manip­u­la­tive. He dis­tracts his for­mer com­rades from his machi­na­tions with a con­spir­acy the­ory per­fectly tai­lored to their own lit­tle psy­chodrama: an invented ser­ial killer tar­get­ing for­mer super­heroes. While the world slides towards armaged­don, they are pre­oc­cu­pied run­ning around the globe fret­ting about a “mask killer.”

Mean­while, Veidt plots to save the world from imma­nent nuclear war, a threat the other heroes are aware of but never con­sider to be some­thing they can affect. In the graphic novel, he fab­ri­cates a nonex­is­tent extrater­res­trial threat, and stages a mas­sive alien attack on Man­hat­tan that kills thou­sands (mil­lions?). Human­ity is effec­tively united in a new but frag­ile world order, look­ing out­ward for foes, rather than at each other. Veidt’s plot in the movie is sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent, fram­ing Dr. Man­hat­tan for the destruc­tion of New York. Both end­ings imag­ine a kind of 9/11 in 1985, but the movie ver­sion is more self-contained and less absurd, per­haps meant to be eas­ier for audi­ences to digest. The comic ver­sion is admit­tedly utterly bat­shit insane, which is part of the point: the faux attack is so shock­ingly unprece­dented that it shocks the entire world into sub­mis­sion. It also under­scores Veidt’s true dia­bol­i­cal evil genius: he’s the only one of his kind that sees out­side of the super­hero psy­chodrama, and he knows that to truly unite the world behind a fic­tion, it has to be some­thing new, not some­thing human­ity has already rejected: the super­hero. Also, as con­tribut­ing Dork Reporter Snark­bait notes, why would the Sovi­ets nec­es­sar­ily react peace­ably to the threat of Dr. Man­hat­tan? He was already a threat to them for decades, but had long since stopped becom­ing a deter­rent (as the story begins, they were encroach­ing on Afghanistan any­way). It shouldn’t have sur­prised any cit­i­zens of this fic­tional world that Dr. Man­hat­tan might blow some­thing up. But it would shock the entire world if a gigan­tic alien squid were to dec­i­mate a city.

New York City gets blown up in WatchmenNew York suf­fers again: the movie shows only the attack, the book shows only the aftermath

Another issue entirely is the pathetic cop-out of depict­ing only the dec­i­mated build­ings of Man­hat­tan, and not the accom­pa­ny­ing piles of bod­ies (some­thing the book does not shy away from). Co-screenwriter David Hayter chalks it up to a fact of the movie being a big-budget prod­uct of a major studio:

The end­ing of the book shows just piles of corpses, bloody corpses in the mid­dle of Times Square, peo­ple hang­ing out of win­dows just slaugh­tered on a mas­sive scale. To do that in a comic book, and release it in 1985, is dif­fer­ent from doing it real life, in a movie, and see­ing all of these peo­ple bru­tally mas­sa­cred in the mid­dle of Times Square post 2001. That’s a legit­i­mate con­cern, and one that I shared.

If you’re doing the movie for $40 mil­lion, fine — bloody bod­ies every­where. And that’s fine, and it’s a niche film, and only the hard­core fans would go see it. But if you’re doing it on this big of a scale, I just don’t think that’s… I under­stood their [Warner Bros.’] ret­i­cence to putting those images on screen. 

Malin Akerman in WatchmenI’m hard pressed to decide which Silk Spec­tre cos­tume is more impractical


Quite a rant this is turn­ing into. Who needs this much neg­a­tiv­ity in their lives (and blogs)? The movie was not a crime against human­ity, and cer­tainly could have been a lot worse. As io9.com reports, for all its flaws, Snyder’s flawed alter­ations look like genius com­pared to the rude bas­tardiza­tion the stu­dio Warner Bros. wanted: to set it in the present day, cut all flash­backs, cut the sequences on Mars, cut Rorschach’s psy­cho­analy­sis, and worst of all, end with the vil­lain Veidt dying, appar­ently based on the con­ven­tional wis­dom that audi­ences are con­di­tioned to expect vil­lains to die.

The movie kept one of my favorite lit­tle char­ac­ter moments of the book: when the old crime­fight­ing duo of Nite Owl and Rorschach are reunited, Nite Owl finally snaps and tells him peo­ple only put up with him because he’s a lunatic and they’re afraid of him. Rorschach shows a final glim­mer of the last bit of human­ity left in him, and puts out his hand: “you’re a good friend, Dan.” But he doesn’t let go. Rorschach has long since lost his abil­ity to inter­act normally.

Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley in WatchmenNite Owl and Rorschach get the old band back together

Watch­men is, remark­ably, a period piece. Sny­der keeps the orig­i­nal set­ting of the book in the 1980s, com­plete with nos­tal­gic easter eggs: includ­ing a vin­tage Apple Mac­in­tosh desk­top, Pat Buchanan, Annie Lei­bovitz, John McLaugh­lin (of The McLaugh­lin Group, not the jazz fusion gui­tarist), Andy Warhol, Henry Kissinger, Ted Kop­pel, Lee Iacocca, Tru­man Capote (seen in Warhol’s Fac­tory), Fidel Cas­tro, Mick Jag­ger, and David Bowie. But one back­ground detail in the book (a repeat­edly reelected Nixon) is expanded to an absurd degree.

Jackie Earle Haley was extra­or­di­nary, far and away the best asset of the movie. More than any other cast mem­ber, Haley seemed to really under­stand the com­plex char­ac­ter. Rorschach is undoubt­edly an unhinged, right-wing, sex­u­ally stunted nutjob, but in a strange kind of way, he becomes the moral cen­ter of the very lib­eral graphic novel. The same utterly uncom­pro­mis­ing nature of his char­ac­ter that causes him to appoint him­self an exe­cu­tioner of crim­i­nals also makes him unable to live with the grand lie that Veidt archi­tects. For all his sins, Rorschach is right about one thing: the world deserves the truth. Haley’s final scene was per­fectly per­formed, and the one moment in the entire movie imbued with real emotion.

Some of the best bits of Watch­men com­men­tary, clips, humor, and eso­ter­ica that bub­bled up on teh inter­webs dur­ing the buildup to this geek apocalypse:

Offi­cial movie site: watchmenmovie.warnerbros.com

Offi­cial iPhone game: watchmenjusticeiscoming.com

Offi­cial DC Comics Watch­men site: ReadWatchmen.com — down­load a free PDF of the first chap­ter of the orig­i­nal graphic novel.

Offi­cial expanded, inter­ac­tive trailer: 6minutestomidnight.com

Three vin­tage pieces on Watch­men by bud­ding jour­nal­ist Neil Gaiman: The Comics Explo­sion from Time Out, Moore About Comics from Knave, and Every Pic­ture Tells a Story from Today.

Todd Klein’s Watch­ing Watch­men, the best-written review of the film I’ve yet read. Klein is the comics let­terer extra­or­di­naire, and friend to both Moore and Gibbons.

Read­ing the Watch­men: 10+ Entrance Points Into the Esteemed Graphic Novel by Tom Spur­geon. A sober look at the phe­nom­e­non from the point of view of one who’s fallen in and out and in love with the book, and has no inter­est in the movie. Via The Comics Jour­nal Jour­nal­ista

Levitz on Watch­men, in which DC Comics CEO Paul Levitz reveals the heart­en­ing sta­tis­tic that DC hur­riedly ran hun­dreds of thou­sands of addi­tional copies of the book to meet demand. (also via The Comics Jour­nal Journalista)

5 Rea­sons a Watch­men Movie was Unnec­es­sary by Christo­pher Camp­bell. Pre­judges the movie “redun­dant, rehashed, irrel­e­vant, ridicu­lous and inescapably dis­ap­point­ing super­hero cin­ema.” I’m jeal­ous they received more com­ments than my own 10 Rea­sons the Watch­men Movie Will Suck, despite hav­ing pre­cisely twice the num­ber of bul­let points! Via Snark­bait

This is Not a Watch­men Review by Sean Axmaker, ask­ing not only why the world needs a Watch­men movie, but why it would need another Watch­men review. Guilty.

Why Alan Moore Hates Comic Book Movies by San Shurst. Total Film’s brief exclu­sive inter­view with Moore in which he pith­ily nails the prob­lem with movies: “every­body who is ulti­mately in con­trol of the film indus­try is an accoun­tant.” On Watchmen’s 100 mil­lion dol­lar bud­get: “Do we need any more shitty films in this world? We have quite enough already. Whereas the 100 mil­lion dol­lars could sort out the civil unrest in Haiti. And the books are always supe­rior, anyway.”

Will You Watch the Watch­men? by Jason A. Tse­len­tis. A con­sid­er­a­tion of the then-forthcoming movie from the point of view of a designer. I posted what I thought was a decent com­ment but was rejected. Ouch!

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:


The Mindscape of Alan Moore

The Mindscape of Alan Moore movie poster


DeZ Vylenz’s feature-length doc­u­men­tary about the life and work of writer Alan Moore was made in 2003 but not released until 2008. The delay might be eas­ily explained as that of an inde­pen­dent production’s typ­i­cal strug­gle for fund­ing, but it’s hard not to guess the tim­ing of this par­tic­u­lar film’s lav­ish release as a deluxe double-disc DVD may have some­thing to do with Moore’s cur­rently ele­vated pro­file. The long-awaited the­atri­cal adap­ta­tion of Moore and Dave Gib­bons’ sem­i­nal graphic novel Watch­men finally hits the­aters on March 6 2009, after almost 2 decades of fits and starts in Hol­ly­wood limbo.

The Mind­scape of Alan Moore is essen­tially an extended sit-down inter­view with Moore, inter­cut with evoca­tive imagery evok­ing God­frey Reggio’s Koy­aanisqatsi: Life Out of Bal­ance. It moves too quickly to focus on any one aspect of Moore’s long career, and it’s pos­si­ble to glean more insight into the man just by read­ing one or two inter­views. But it’s appar­ent that Vylenz’s true inter­est lies less in Moore’s comics work than in his prac­tice of magic. More on that later.

Alan Moore in The Mindscape of Alan MooreThe charmer from Northhampton

Let’s be frank; Alan Moore is a weird cat. As more than one per­son has described him, he’s a truly great writer that has cho­sen to work in “The Gut­ter” (as it amuses Neil Gaiman to call it): comics. Which is to over­sim­plify; some of his other work includes sev­eral per­for­mance art pieces and the stun­ning prose novel Voice of the Fire. All this has left Moore a cult fig­ure, under­es­ti­mated even by many fans. He is prob­a­bly one of comics’ best-known names, but while his friend Gaiman fre­quently tours the globe like a rock star, he’s happy to stay at home in North­hamp­ton. Like Stan­ley Kubrick, he has an unfair rep­u­ta­tion as a kind of eccen­tric recluse, but report­edly the actual truth is that he is a warm and friendly per­son who sim­ply wishes to enjoy life in his home town and prac­tice his art.

Moore began writ­ing comics in the 1980s Reagan/Thatcher Cold War era, which informed the para­noid and apoc­a­lyp­tic air of V for Vendetta and Watch­men. One par­tic­u­lar fic­tional night­mare of Moore’s that he per­versely enjoys to point out is V For Vendetta’s accu­rate pre­dic­tion that CCTV sur­veil­lance would blan­ket Eng­land by the late 1990s. But fur­ther on the topic of polit­i­cal oppres­sion, Moore affirms that while con­spir­acy the­o­ries are every­where you look (the act of look­ing cre­ates them, one might say), in fact there are no con­spir­a­cies. If the world is rud­der­less and chaotic, con­spir­acy the­o­ries are mere comforts.

The Mindscape of Alan MooreV approves of this post

Against his inten­tions, his dark take on the super­hero and sci­ence fic­tion gen­res was rad­i­cally influ­en­tial in the wrong way. Fans and cre­ators who didn’t grasp the deeper themes behind Watch­men for­ever steered comics into grim and gritty stu­pid­ity, mim­ic­k­ing the super­flu­ous sex and vio­lence with­out the sub­text and lit­er­ary merit that Moore snuck in the back door. On its sim­plest level, Watch­men could be described as what the world would be like if there actu­ally were such a thing as super­heroes. The answer being: totally dif­fer­ent and yet exactly the same. But look­ing deeper, Watch­men is actu­ally about the dan­ger of those that pre­sume to the power to change the world. It’s impos­si­ble to read Watch­men now, two decades after its cre­ation, and not to com­pare the book’s true vil­lain (whom it would be a cruel spoiler for me to name here) with George W. Bush’s mis­ad­ven­tures in the Mid­dle East. Bush and Watchmen’s vil­lain both man­u­fac­tured wars with the pre­sump­tive belief that they were des­tined to save the world.

Moore believes that while a knowl­edge and appre­ci­a­tion of how cin­ema works can inform comics, there are things that only comics can do. If comics cre­ators only work with movies in mind, their comics will be like “movies that don’t move.” So, as a result, most of his work was essen­tially “designed to be unfilmable.” This Dork Reporter wor­ries that the forth­com­ing adap­ta­tion of Watch­men will carry on the tra­di­tion of miss­ing Moore’s point, and will sim­ply be a dark, nasty, and depress­ing story of vio­lence, sex, and deprav­ity star­ring super­heroes in sexy tights.

Rorschach in The Mindscape of Alan MooreRorschach’s cameo appearance

Moore declared to friends and fam­ily on his 40th birth­day that he was a magi­cian. That’s not “magic” as in the pulling of rab­bits out of prover­bial hats, but as in the explo­ration of areas out­side the realm of sci­ence. Magic is the explo­ration of what sci­ence does not cover, but some­times sci­ence describes the world in ways that might sound like magic. Col­lab­o­ra­tor Dave Gib­bons points out the Heisen­berg Uncer­tainty Prin­ci­ple, in which the more we learn what makes up mat­ter and the mate­r­ial world, the less sub­stan­tial it all seems. We can’t observe or mea­sure it; there’s noth­ing there.

Moore defines magic as “The Art,” and if art is the manip­u­la­tion of words and images to alter con­scious­ness, then art is magic, and a writer is a magi­cian. As Moore says in an inter­view with Daniel Whis­ton, his best gri­moire (or book of spells) is actu­ally a dic­tio­nary. Moore believes writ­ing is a “trans­for­ma­tive force than can change soci­ety” but by the 21st Cen­tury, writ­ing is seen as a mere enter­tain­ment. Whereas once, in less ratio­nal or sci­en­tif­i­cally enlight­ened times, writ­ers were feared. A witch could curse your crops or your health, but a writer could afflict you with a satire that could cause an entire com­mu­nity to laugh at you, and worse, for pos­ter­ity to con­tinue to laugh at you gen­er­a­tions after you die! Now, the power of magic is not only under­es­ti­mated, but abused. Adver­tis­ers work magic every day by manip­u­lat­ing and anes­thetiz­ing peo­ple en masse.

The Mindscape of Alan MooreDoc­tor Man­hat­tan as Da Vinci’s Vit­ru­vian Man

Moore posits the exis­tence of what he calls “Idea­space,” the land­scape of the mind and spirit. The var­i­ous sys­tems of magic, like the Tarot and the Kab­balah, are maps to Idea­space. He describes how writ­ers and musi­cians some­times feel like they are tap­ping in to some­thing beyond them, as if merely tak­ing dic­ta­tion. I myself once felt a faint, pathetic lit­tle echo of I think what Moore is talk­ing about. A high school friend and I used to com­pose and record instru­men­tal music for gui­tar and key­board. Our com­po­si­tions were of vary­ing degrees of seri­ous­ness, many just silly fun, but some fairly ambi­tious. While jam­ming around one of our sil­li­est tunes, I still swear I heard a melody in the music that nei­ther of us had played yet. My friend couldn’t hear it even when I fig­ured it out on the gui­tar and played it over the back­ing tracks we had already recorded. Per­haps I was just hear­ing musi­cal over­tones that were lit­er­ally present in the sound waves, but I remain con­vinced that, as silly as that par­tic­u­lar song was, I very briefly con­nected into some kind of world of music. I don’t feel like it was a piece of music that I wrote, more like some­thing that was already there, wait­ing, and I just had to hear it and play it back onto tape.

But if Idea­space is real place full of “infor­ma­tion” (non­ma­te­r­ial ideas and inven­tions), humans are accu­mu­lat­ing infor­ma­tion at an expo­nen­tially increas­ing rate, and Moore pre­dicts an apoc­a­lypse of sorts. If it con­tin­ues at this rate, the accu­mu­la­tion of infor­ma­tion will accel­er­ate to a point where it will effec­tively approach infin­ity around 2015. He doesn’t know what will hap­pen, but poet­i­cally describes the event as soci­ety reach­ing a boil­ing point and “becom­ing steam.” Moore’s ideas here are sim­i­lar to Ray Kurzweil’s notion of the com­ing Sin­gu­lar­ity, the point at which com­put­ers become so advanced that they can act of their own accord, and improve them­selves, and in effect become con­scious. What Moore has to say here is both fas­ci­nat­ing and fright­en­ing, but the film falls down by lit­er­ally illus­trat­ing his big ideas with overly lit­eral spe­cial effects sequences show­ing North­hamp­ton burning.

Other filmed sequences reen­act scenes from Watch­men, V for Vendetta, and John Con­stan­tine: Hell­blazer (a series ini­tially writ­ten by Jamie Delano, but star­ring the char­ac­ter Moore cre­ated for Swamp Thing). It prob­a­bly seemed extremely unlikely in 2003 that any of these prop­er­ties would become big-budget Hol­ly­wood films, and yet they now all have. In par­tic­u­lar, the two sequences from Watch­men and V for Vendetta almost surely didn’t make Warner Bros. (who owns the rights to the works) happy, but they seem to have allowed Vylenz’ film to be released nevertheless.

A bonus DVD includes lengthy inter­views with many of Moore’s col­lab­o­ra­tors, dis­cussing their own work as well as their col­lab­o­ra­tions with Moore. Moore’s wife Melinda Geb­bie, an Amer­i­can expat and illus­tra­tor of the porno­graphic novel Lost Girls, is more… well, nor­mal than I would have expected. She’s extremely intel­li­gent, with pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics, mak­ing her an obvi­ous part­ner for Moore, but to be hon­est, I expected more of a freak. Also, Dave Gib­bons does a wicked impres­sion of Moore.

Offi­cial movie site: www.shadowsnake.com/projects_completed_films.html

Maybe read: Frac­tal­mat­ter review

Maybe read: CHUD review

Must read: The Craft, by Daniel Whis­ton. An extended inter­view with Moore on the craft of writing.

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

10 Reasons the Watchmen Movie Will Suck

Sorry for the melo­dra­matic title, but be hon­est, would you have clicked through to this arti­cle had I used a more mea­sured head­line like “10 Well-Reasoned Argu­ments to be Mildly Appre­hen­sive the Watch­men Movie May Not Meet Expectations”?

Con­sider your­self a true admirer of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s graphic novel Watch­men (1986)? Read on for 10 rea­sons to be very, very afraid. Please note that I haven’t yet seen the movie, and the below rant is all com­ing from the per­spec­tive of some­one that cares about the book. Also be fore­warned that I can’t be both­ered to avoid spoilers.

1. The project has been cursed for years.

Numer­ous direc­tors have come before Zack Sny­der, and all have tried and failed. The rogues’ gallery includes no less than Terry Gilliam, Dar­ren Aronof­sky, and Paul Green­grass, and those are just the ones we know about. It’s too soon in Snyder’s career to issue a ver­dict on him, but it’s fair to say that these three direc­tors are all a fair sight more sea­soned and acclaimed than he. It’s likely that all three (not to men­tion their pro­duc­ers and screen­writ­ers) gave up on Watch­men for very good rea­sons. Gilliam, in par­tic­u­lar, famously had the good sense to agree with Moore that his book may actu­ally be truly unfilmable. And all this is not even to men­tion Warner Bros.’ dra­matic feud with 20th Cen­tury Fox over the rights to the project itself, even­tu­ally end­ing in Jan­u­ary 2009 with the two rivals begrudg­ingly agree­ing to share the prof­its (while not men­tion­ing that, I also won’t men­tion its fruit­less fling with Para­mount). Read on for still more ani­mos­ity and bad blood swirling about the long-gestating project…

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach in the movie WatchmenHave no fear! Right-wing, sex­u­ally dam­aged, socio­pathic nutjob Rorschach is on the case

2. It doesn’t have Alan Moore’s blessings.

Worse, it doesn’t have his apa­thy either. Moore didn’t seem too per­turbed by the From Hell (The Holmes Broth­ers, 2001) and League of Extra­or­di­nary Gen­tle­men (Stephen Nor­ring­ton, 2003) movies. He didn’t col­lab­o­rate on them, nor did he care to even see them. Basi­cally, he shrugged, and trusted his books would live on in their own rights. But the results in every case so far have been dis­as­trous: ter­ri­ble films that retained lit­tle of what made the books mat­ter. In ret­ro­spect, it seems Moore showed extra­or­di­nary patience with the first two films that man­gled his books, and that he now have no mercy for those mess­ing with V for Vendetta and Watch­men makes per­fect sense. Addi­tional legal and eth­i­cal skir­mishes with DC Comics and Warner Bros. over The Wachowski Broth­ers’ and James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta (2006) led to Moore tak­ing his name off any comics work to which he does not con­trol the copy­right (essen­tially every­thing he did for DC). In the cases of the V for Ven­datta and Watch­men films, he has put his money where his mouth is and offi­cially deferred all of his roy­al­ties to his col­lab­o­ra­tors David Lloyd and Dave Gib­bons. You have to admire the integrity of any­one will­ing to leave that much money on the table. One ray of hope for those that appre­ci­ate the book, how­ever, is that Gib­bons has been actively col­lab­o­rat­ing on the Watch­men pro­duc­tion. Hope­fully his con­tri­bu­tions have helped to keep the film­mak­ers on target.

3. At least one character has been horrendously miscast.

One of the curses of hav­ing read a book enough times to inter­nal­ize every detail is to also have very clear men­tal images of the char­ac­ters. The Watch­men pro­duc­ers were prob­a­bly right to avoid cast­ing any espe­cially well-known faces. Based on what I’ve seen so far, sev­eral of their choices do feel right to me, espe­cially Patrick Wil­son as Daniel Dreiberg (Nite Owl) Jackie Earle Haley as Wal­ter Kovacs (Rorschach), and Matt Frewer as Moloch. The 30-year-old Malin Aker­man is cer­tainly a very attrac­tive sight onscreen, but her char­ac­ter Lau­rie Jus­peczyk (Silk Spec­tre) is sup­posed to be almost 40 in the novel’s present. I’m giv­ing her the ben­e­fit of the doubt for now, but the real prob­lem is Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt (Ozy­man­dias). Goode is, sim­ply, totally wrong. Veidt should be ridicu­lously hand­some, like George Clooney, but utterly dis­pas­sion­ate and ice-cold, like Keanu Reeves. He should radi­ate intel­li­gence and self-confidence, like Kevin Spacey, and be incred­i­bly fit, like Michael Phelps. But Goode here seems shrimpy, ugly, and weaselly. His mush­mouth dia­logue in pro­mo­tional clips has him affect­ing some kind of botched accent or speech defect. If I were the Watch­men cast­ing agent, I’d Aaron Eckhart’s agent a call.

This scene between Lau­rie and her mom Sally Jupiter (Carla Gug­ino), the orig­i­nal Silk Spec­tre, drops a big hint as to how to mea­sure Laurie’s age (spoiler alert!):

A scene between Veidt and Dan, dur­ing which Goode’s per­for­mance stuns me in its total, absolute wrong­ness for the character:

4. Snyder has reportedly tarted up the action.

Early reports are that Sny­der has amped up the sex, vio­lence, and action. Read­ers of the book will recall that Silk Spec­tre and Nite Owl come out of retire­ment by effect­ing an aer­ial res­cue from a burn­ing ten­e­ment build­ing. As io9.com rightly notes, Snyder’s ver­sion of the scene sets entirely the wrong tone. The book shows Dan and Lau­rie as old pros that can basi­cally sleep­walk through such a mis­sion, and yet the movie has them out­run­ning fire­balls in slow motion (Snyder’s direc­toral call­ing card). Other early reports are that a rape scene, already hor­rific and shock­ing in the book, has actu­ally been made more tit­il­lat­ing and explicit for the film. Jef­frey Dean Mor­gan (The Come­dian) told MTV News that the scene is “really vio­lent” and the movie is “rated ‘R’ for a reason.”

Thrill as Silk Spec­tre and Nite Owl escape slow-motion fireballs:

5. Snyder’s adaptation may be too worshipful.

In DeZ Vylenz’ doc­u­men­tary The Mind­scape of Alan Moore, Moore notes the super­fi­cial resem­blance between comics and movie sto­ry­boards. He believes that an under­stand­ing of the mechan­ics of cin­ema can inform comics writ­ing (and vice versa), but if comics writ­ers wor­ship movies too much, their comics will be reduced to “movies that don’t move.” It also works the other way: Sny­der has already proven his skill to lit­er­ally recre­ate comics pan­els into cin­ema with his lurid adap­ta­tion of Frank Miller’s bonkers graphic novel 300 in 2007. Worse, Warner Bros. has pro­duced an atro­cious “motion comics” ver­sion of the orig­i­nal Watch­men graphic novel (avail­able now on iTunes and soon on DVD), com­prised of motion-graphics ani­mated ver­sions of Dave Gib­bons’ art­work, read aloud by a sin­gle voice actor. As Scott McCloud spent an entire book demon­strat­ing (Under­stand­ing Comics, 1993), the way that comics “work” is much more than that: the inter­play of sequen­tial images and (option­ally) words. If Snyder’s movie is sim­i­lar to 300 or the Watch­men Motion Comics, then it might as well just be called Watch­men for Illit­er­ates. We don’t need a mov­ing, talk­ing ver­sion of the book; we can always read the book.

BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin inter­views Sny­der and spe­cial effects cre­ator John Des Jardins about their efforts to make an exact­ingly faith­ful adap­ta­tion of the source material:

6. Paradoxically to the above point, the changes that Snyder does make may be the wrong ones.

Any­one who’s so much as flipped through the book will real­ize that its com­plex­ity is irre­ducible. I per­son­ally can’t imag­ine what must be sac­ri­ficed to squeeze the essen­tial nar­ra­tive down to a 2 1/2 hour movie, so thank­fully Enter­tain­ment Weekly has com­piled this list. Sny­der has recently admit­ted to cut­ting what I feel to be one of the most heart­break­ing and sem­i­nal sequences in the entire story: the sense­less mur­der of Hol­lis Mason (the Golden Age Nite Owl). Sny­der also hints he has changed the book’s cat­a­clysmic cli­max. I don’t mind los­ing the spe­cific details if screen­writ­ers David Hayter and Alex Tse have devised some­thing suit­able to replace it.

7. One word: “Watchmen”

Sev­eral trail­ers and TV spots released to date include both Rorschach and The Come­dian speak­ing the word “Watch­men.” To any­one that’s read the book, this is an egre­gious sin (almost as bad as say­ing “The Watch­men”). As such, the trail­ers make it seem as if “Watch­men” is the name of some kind of super­group like the Fan­tas­tic Four or The X-Men. True, in the book’s back­story, there was a group of heroes called The Min­ute­men in the 1940s (Moore’s equiv­a­lent to comic’s so-called Golden Age). A sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of heroes gather in the 1970s (includ­ing many of the main char­ac­ters of the book) to dis­cuss forg­ing a new group called The Crime­busters, but they imme­di­ately break up. At no point in the book is the word “Watch­men” ever spo­ken, by any­one. Its only appear­ance in the book is the occa­sional graf­fiti “Who Watches the Watch­men?” in the back­ground of some New York City street scenes. Accord­ing to the all-knowing Wikipedia, the Latin phrase “Quis cus­todiet ipsos cus­todes?” comes from the Roman poet Juve­nal, asked by Plato in the socratic dia­log Repub­lic (380BC-ish). In the con­text of Watch­men, the mean­ing is obvi­ous: the pub­lic is ask­ing of their self-appointed pro­tec­tors, who’s pro­tect­ing us from you? But who’s pro­tect­ing movie­go­ers from film­mak­ers that are dumb­ing down this story?

Here’s a TV spot with both Rorschach and The Come­dian speak­ing the word “Watchmen”:

Here’s the full scene dur­ing which the Come­dian seems to refer to the 1970s group as “Watchmen”:

8. These characters are definitely not “cool.”

Nearly every char­ac­ter in the book is psy­cho­log­i­cally scarred, some deeply so (with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of Hol­lis Mason — the orig­i­nal Nite Owl — who comes across as the only one who turned to vig­i­lanteism out of a gen­uine need to help peo­ple). Rorschach is a right-wing sociopath (Watch­men hav­ing been writ­ten in the mid 1980s, think of a cos­tumed Bernard Getz or Charles Bron­son). The Come­dian is a fas­cist and a rapist. Ozy­man­dias is an ego­ma­niac of the most dan­ger­ous sort (think George W. Bush, except infi­nitely worse). Dr. Man­hat­tan is not even human, and unlike the some­what anal­o­gous Super­man, is devoid of emo­tion, empa­thy, or com­pas­sion. New York City was recently host to a Comic-Con con­ven­tion at which more than a few bor­der­line psy­chos left the sanc­tity of their moth­ers’ base­ments to walk around the city dressed up as the sex­u­ally dam­aged, vio­lent nutjob Rorschach. The imagery and clips released from the movie so far only seem to rein­force the per­cep­tion of these char­ac­ters as cool and badass.

9. The merchandise makes me cringe.

What creep would buy and dis­play a stat­uette of the rapist and fas­cist The Come­dian? Or if you want to rob a bank, you could do worse than don a Rorschach ski mask, about which io9.com has already remarked. Only an Ozy­man­dias action fig­ure [http://www.dccomics.com/dcdirect/?dcd=10047] makes sense in an ironic kind of way, for the char­ac­ter heav­ily mar­keted his super­hero per­sona for per­sonal profit. As for why these tie-in items make me feel queasy, please refer to No. 8 above.

Adrian Veidt Ozymandias action figure from the movie WatchmenOne of the most ironic aspects of the whole Watch­men movie hoopla is now that you can actu­ally own a real Ozy­man­dias action figure

10. And finally, Hollywood is taking away one of the last remaining comic book masterworks.

Warner Bros. Pic­ture Group pres­i­dent Jeff Robi­nov pro­claimed to Enter­tain­ment Weekly his loy­alty to the source mate­r­ial: “The movie is impact­ful, tough, and true to the book that we all loved, and I’m very proud of it.” I’ll try to set aside my imme­di­ate gag reflex at the use of “impact” as an adjec­tive, and hope that he’s right. Hol­ly­wood has already bru­tal­ized Moore’s From Hell, V for Vendetta, and League of Extra­or­di­nary Gen­tle­men. The books were read by rel­a­tively small num­ber of peo­ple, but the movies were seen by mil­lions who who may never even know the source mate­r­ial exists, let alone read it. Watch­men, like all of Moore’s comics work, was cre­ated for comics. None of the pre­vi­ous adap­ta­tions of his work have sur­vived the adap­ta­tion process, and were mis­in­ter­preted and puréed into milquetoast.

Final Thoughts

Moore and Gibbon’s Watch­men is per­haps the sem­i­nal graphic novel to date. I’m not the first to say it, but Watch­men is the Cit­i­zen Kane of comic books. It’s a tow­er­ing, com­plex, and multi-faceted mas­ter­piece. It has the kind of scope, ambi­tion, and nar­ra­tive exper­i­men­ta­tion that makes it one of the few graphic nov­els that deserves to be called a novel. Time Mag­a­zine rec­og­nized as much by nam­ing it one of its All-Time 100 Nov­els in 2005. Just as it’s incon­ceiv­able that Cit­i­zen Kane be adapted into another medium (the­ater? poetry? inter­pre­tive dance? or for that mat­ter, comics?), so too do I shud­der to imag­ine Watch­men trans­lated into any other form. My biggest fear is that mil­lions of movie­go­ers will expe­ri­ence Watch­men in this incar­na­tion as a big-budget escapist spec­ta­cle, and never be aware of its spe­cial source material.

Most of Moore’s graphic nov­els are exactly that: nov­els. Watch­men, V for Vendetta, Lost Girls, and From Hell are all finite and self-contained. There are no sequels, pre­quels, or spin­offs. Watch­men is being heav­ily mar­keted as another in a long line of super­hero movies, fol­low­ing the mas­sive suc­cess of Iron Man, Bat­man (read The Dork Report review of The Dark Knight), and Spider-Man fran­chises. All of these are open-ended, ongo­ing episodic series that have lasted for decades. How many movie­go­ers will not under­stand that Watch­men is based on an actual novel? Will they antic­i­pate a sequel? Let’s pray that Warner Bros. isn’t plot­ting one, lest Moore really lose his temper.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian in the movie WatchmenThe Come­dian is no Cap­tain America

Only Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus is more well-regarded, if per­haps less widely read. Watch­men too might have earned such top-shelf gar­lands had it not been set firmly within the his­tor­i­cally juve­nile genre that utterly dom­i­nates West­ern comics to this day: men and women that dress up in tights and fight crime. Super­heroes. They’re for kids, right?

To any­one famil­iar with Moore’s oeu­vre, it’s clear he does gen­uinely love super­heroes despite his repeated attempts to rip them apart. With Watch­men and the even more piti­less Mir­a­cle­man (now trag­i­cally out of print, maybe for­ever), Moore tried to inject a degree of psy­cho­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal real­ism into comics. But gen­er­ally speak­ing, audi­ences (and pub­lish­ers) mostly latched onto the super­fi­cial ele­ments of vio­lence and sex, ush­er­ing in a few decades of super­hero comics that were grim and gritty but lacked depth and imag­i­na­tion. As the comics chased the aging gen­er­a­tion that grew up read­ing Watch­men and its prog­eny, it left kids behind. In 1999, Moore did try to atone for his inad­ver­tent rev­o­lu­tion with a line of comics that attempted to re-inject whimsy, clever sto­ry­telling, and inno­cence back into comics (espe­cially in the Tom Strong and Tomor­row Sto­ries series). But even so, today most acclaimed comics lie out­side the super­hero genre, includ­ing Neil Gaiman’s The Sand­man (fan­tasy, mostly) and Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man (sci­ence fic­tion, mostly).

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian in the movie WatchmenThe Come­dian is dead. Ground floor com­ing up. The jokes just keep coming.

Watch­men is one of my favorite books, and I’ve prob­a­bly read it at least 10 times over the years. So obvi­ously, my love for it feeds into my appre­hen­sion that it may be mis­han­dled. But there have been other much-loved books that I haven’t been espe­cially wor­ried about. Stu­art Gordon’s film based on William Wharton’s novel A Mid­night Clear is an excel­lent (and rare) exam­ple of an exceed­ingly faith­ful adap­ta­tion that works. Also, as much as I loved Cor­mac McCarthy’s novel The Road, I’m quite look­ing for­ward to direc­tor John Hillcoat’s film, as opposed to dread­ing how he might screw it up. Although it should be noted Hill­coat has the excel­lent The Propo­si­tion (2005) on his résumé to com­mend him, while Sny­der only has Dawn of the Dead and 300.

Some prose works have arguably been improved as movies, or at least trans­lated into great works in their own rights. To name a few exam­ples mostly in Watchmen’s arena of science-fiction: Alfonso Cuarón’s Chil­dren of Men (read The Dork Report review) is more grip­ping and vis­ceral than P.D. James’ novel. Rid­ley Scott’s Blade Run­ner is some­thing else entirely than Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep. And at the risk of incur­ring the wrath of sword-and-sorcery geeks every­where, I’m pre­pared to argue that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films improve enor­mously upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s insuf­fer­ably tedious books. Oh yeah, I said it. Bring it on.

So why am I so appre­hen­sive about Watch­men in par­tic­u­lar? Because it has been his­tor­i­cally mis­un­der­stood and mis­in­ter­preted for 20 years and I see no sign that Sny­der is see­ing any deeper than its sur­face. If Moore’s Watch­men tried but failed to per­ma­nently revi­tal­ize the super­hero genre by lay­ing bare its inter­nal luna­cies, what is Snyder’s movie try­ing to accom­plish, and will it too fail?

Offi­cial movie site: watchmenmovie.warnerbros.com

Must read: Why I will not be see­ing Watch­men by Kevin Church

Must read: Spoiler Alert: WATCHMEN is Fuck­ing Awe­some by über-geek (that’s a com­pli­ment) Wil Wheaton

Must read: What Hap­pens if Watch­men Flops? by Graeme McMillan

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:


V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta movie poster


For all the neg­a­tive buzz regard­ing Alan Moore’s total dis­avowal of the adap­ta­tion, I was sur­prised to find the film kept far closer to the book than I expected. Closer, in fact, than the two other trav­es­ties of Moore’s comics, League of Extra­or­di­nary Gen­tle­men and From Hell. Per­haps not coin­ci­den­tally, it’s bet­ter than both, if by itself still not very good.

It’s impos­si­ble for me to imag­ine how I would have reacted had I not read the book sev­eral times, but I sus­pect I would have had very mixed feel­ings either way. When if comes to movies based on comics, it’s the pre­rog­a­tive of every fan­boy to obsess over “what they changed.” So let me point out a few changes I feel illus­trate how the film­mak­ers either mis­un­der­stood or delib­er­ately warped some key themes that make the book what it is.

First, Evey’s life (and the future Great Britain, for that mat­ter) as seen in the film is in a far less des­per­ate state than in the book. The book opens with her at the absolute end of hope, her par­ents dead and her­self alone, black­listed and unable to sur­vive. She makes a mis­guided and pathetic attempt to pros­ti­tute her­self, runs afoul of the cor­rupt police, and is “saved” (in more ways than one) by V. Her sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to V’s seduc­tion is much more plau­si­ble if she her­self is already a vic­tim of the state. In the film, she’s a rather happy per­son with a reg­u­lar job, and her encounter with V is moti­vated by a redun­dant invented char­ac­ter called Deitrich. Every theme Deitrich rep­re­sents is already cov­ered by the char­ac­ter Valerie (which is, inci­den­tally, lifted almost unal­tered from the book).

But per­haps the biggest devi­a­tion is the very nature of the fas­cist state Great Britain has become. In the book, it’s some­thing that just hap­pens; a form of order that arises out of the chaos fol­low­ing a nuclear world war. In the film, the great soci­etal dis­rup­tion is a con­spir­acy machi­nated by a cabal of shad­owy old white men, who then step in and profit from the recon­struc­tion. Of course, the film­mak­ers are obvi­ously reach­ing for an anal­ogy to the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion, Car­lyle Group, Hal­libur­ton, etc. While that may make the story of the film rel­e­vant to today, it obscures a more pow­er­ful point of the book: it’s far more scary when fas­cism arises out of the com­mon con­sent of the peo­ple, as it did with Nazi Germany.