After recently seeing the adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic Watchmen (dir. Zack Snyder) my mind became a stewed mess of half formed opinion, bittersweet reflection and indecision. I don’t think I’ve been stumped with a dilemma so arresting for a while. And considering this was a big budget Warner Brothers blockbuster, I had the startling thought that perhaps I’m starting to go soft.
I enjoyed Watchmen. I have to say it. Or I think I did. Sitting there, watching panel after panel of Dave Gibbon’s artwork recreated on the silver screen, I was content. Yet after the screening, when I had left the theater, even when I went about my daily business for the next few days afterwards, I felt the nagging feeling of unrest within. This unrest caused me to become East Anglia’s most accomplished mute for the next couple of days. The unrest was really quite disturbing. After all, it was just a film, adapted from a comic book. That’s okay. That’s normal. I can speak about that surely?
Apparently not. People wanted to discuss the film. I couldn’t join in. People wanted a recommendation for the film. I couldn’t give an answer. Even conversations with those I saw the film with became strained and incredidly brief. I could not help explain why the Comedian was killed. I could not agree nor disagree when my compadre’s discussed the changed ending Snyder and co. devised. Not wanting to burden them with the engima burning inside my head, I kept my silence.
Until now of course. Let me explain my dilemma. It is probably simpler in concept than deliberation. My dilemma is this. What exactly is this film? Many have gone on about Synder’s faithfulness to the original novel. Great. I agree. Snyder’s taken the bullet and made a competent version. It’s all well and good and the faithful argument stands, justified and validated. Good for Zack Snyder. Good for David Hayter, the screenwriter. Good for all the other fans. Good for Warner Bros. Good for everyone; have a pat on the back.
But I’m not interested in the fidelity of the graphic novel. Sure, it’s a nice bonus. But I’d much prefer a ‘Watchmen’ film, not an audio/visual companion. That sounds more malicious than intended, but the point still stands. What could there possibly be in the film that justifies its existence, production and marketing in a way that the graphic novel couldn’t deliver? Well, moving images probably, but that’s missing the point slightly. Of course, if you pretend the novel is a flick book: voila, moving images.
No. The one thing on my list I wanted the adaptation to tick off was that this film be an open invitation to the uninitiated; something to entice, intrigue and garner interest from those who would either be unwilling to buy any comic whatsoever or to those who have not even heard of the Watchmen. You could say I want it dumbed down, that I want it tame, commercialised and generic. I do not want those things, of course, but it must be understood that these things are simply the results of adaptation conducted incorrectly. Synder and co. went the other route, and while they may have pleased the ‘Faithful’, they have pretty much baffled the rest of the world.
The film is a closed piece. It’s an exclusive movie. It’s great for fans of the comic to see it on a big screen, but Watchmen was made to be a graphic novel, to push that medium as far as it would go, and the inspired flourishes within the comic simply cannot be replicated in any other medium. Perhaps that means a ‘true’ adaptation was doomed from the get go and that if one was to ‘open up’ the world of Watchmen to a wider audience, the things that truly make Watchmen “Watchmen” will have disappeared. But still, my point stands: this film turns people away.
And its a shame because the effort and determination that went into the films production deserves more. The film’s a mess, but its a good mess. Dr. Manhattan’s ‘origin’ – for lack of a better term – is fantastic as a self contained story that manages to capture a sliver of the novel’s rhythmn, even if the links tying it together with the rest of them disrupt any chance of the facade-like plot taking precedence. The majority of the casting is simply inspired: Jeffrey Dean Morgan IS the Comedian; Jackie Earle Haley Is Rorscharch; Patrick Morgan Is Nite Owl. The film looks gorgeous, from every little detail to every large brushstroke.
There’s alot to be desired when it comes to the choice of music in the film, for instance Simon and Garfunkel was a poor choice in the light of day for the Comedians funeral, but we can forgive a little; Snyder was obviously given a little too much free reign and hopefully his musical choices will be reviewed a little more thoroughly next time.
Less said about the juvenile violence the better.
Point is, where do you stand? Amongst the ‘Faithful,’ with their bright ‘at-least-it-wasn’t-awful’ attitude and treasured receipts for a pre-ordered Extended Cut DVD? With the disenchanted, who relish the chance to claim for their own whatever ‘in vogue’ comic Hollywood takes next, and then ridicule the resulting adaptation? Or with the confused, baffled majority of the public who may wonder, forever even, what Watchmen was ever really about? It’s a missed opportunity, but time will tell.
I’m a little of all of them by my own admission. Though I must say, rebooting the Fantastic Four is the worst idea ever in the History of Botched Adaptations, second only to making the Fantastic Four into a film in the first place. All the Pretty Horses comes close.