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Who Isn’t Watching the Watchmen Movie?

March 5, 2009 By Dennis Burger

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Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic
Watchmen Live Action

I'm not, dammit!

I’m starting to feel like a nerd pariah.

Seriously, I may well be the only geek in the ‘verse who isn’t even slightly interested in seeing Watchmen this weekend. Even my wife gets a gleam in her eye when we see the trailer, and she’s never read the comic!

Mind you, my lack of interest in the film has everything to do with my love of the comic. But before you write me off as just another elitist prick that simply can’t abide film adaptations, consider this: I adore V for Vendetta in both its comic and cinematic forms. I love the film adaptation of the supposedly unfilmable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I may well be the only Tolkien fanatic in the world who prefers Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings to the book! The point is, I’m no stranger to blasphemy, and I have no problem when artists take liberties with beloved source material when translating it from one medium to another...

But not with Watchmen. It seems to my mind that there’s an inescapable Catch-22 inherent to this film. With Watchmen, Alan Moore set out to prove that comics could be used to tell a story that wouldn’t work in any other medium. And I for one think he succeeded brilliantly. Never mind Moore’s hatred of all things Hollywood these days. Never mind the fact that he refuses any and and all film credits. (After The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, who can blame him?) Watchmen works as the complete and utter opposite of a film, whether or not Moore’s objections to film adaptations in general has any merit.

The brilliance of this story is indelibly tied to its form: take it and make a great movie out of it, and it can’t possibly be Watchmen anymore; put Watchmen on the screen in any recognizable form, and I can’t imagine how it’ll work as a film—at least not a good one. The only way to make a comic book work on the silver screen is to adapt it, and to adapt Watchmen would be to destroy it.

But we’ve already been down this road, haven’t we? Sin City, one of my favorite comics of the past decade or so, would have made a brilliant film noir. I say would, because unfortunately we haven’t seen a film version of it yet. What we’ve seen is a comic book that moves at 24fps. The same can be said for 300—a pointless endeavor that can only be described as a comic book for the illiterate.

And now the director of 300 is promising us a slavish cinematic version of Watchmen. And for the life of me, I can’t see the point. I’m not angry about it. Nothing has been taken away from me. My beloved graphic novel still sits on my shelf in three different incarnations (two of them slipcase-covered hardbacks). I just can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in a direct translation from page to screen. The thought of it bores me. If I’m going to drop $20 and sit in a cinema for two-plus hours, I’d rather watch a film, thank you very much—one written with the unique strengths and weakness of cinema in mind. If it’s an exact copy of Watchmen I’m looking for, I’ll just read the book again.



Speaking of Watchmen, and speaking of adaptations, and speaking of comic books for the illiterate... and speaking of two heaping scoops of irony in every box... after writing the above, I received Warner’s Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic—a $36 Blu-ray that consists of nothing more than frames from the original comic, chopped up and animated South Park-style, while Tom Stechschulte narrates and provides dialogue (even for the female characters). Imagine The Marvel Super Heroes series from 1966 with better art and beautifully rendered colors, but populated with cross-dressing Avengers.

If the intended audience for the Watchmen film escapes me, imagine me trying to wrap my brain around this thing. Were it any other comic book, I might be able to rationalize it as being for the little ones—but a gritty, heady Cold War allegory replete with graphic violence, sex, adult situations, and a big blue hero who walks around with his—*ahem*—“cow out of the barn” for most of the story? As it stands, I can only assume that the demographic for this BD includes the terminally lazy and people who are allergic to paper.

I’ll admit, I did get one thing out of Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic: its lack of panels sent me back to the comic yet again, with a renewed appreciation for Dave Gibbons’ original layouts—his brilliant use of symmetry, and the way he used it to reinforce thematic and narrative parallels.

Oh, and the package did include a coupon for $7.50 off the price of a Watchmen movie ticket, so maybe—despite my overwhelming lack of enthusiasm—I’ll accompany the missus to the multiplex this weekend, so she doesn’t go alone. My diet has been decidedly lacking in yellow grease as of late, anyway. And maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong and Zack Snyder has managed to make a movie out of Watchmen, instead of another pointless chimera. But I’m not holding my breath. At best, I'm hoping the BD will make a good Show-Off disc in a few months.


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