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

I. HERE’S WHAT’S WRONG WITH: The Violence

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

II. HERE’S WHAT’S WRONG WITH: Adrian Veidt

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

III. HERE’S WHAT’S WRONG WITH: The New Ending

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

IV. HERE’S WHAT’S RIGHT WITH WATCHMEN

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: