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Watchmen

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So, someone is turning The Watchmen into a movie.

Honestly, I think this is a bad idea.

Now I’m not motivated by the usual knee jerk reactionism that they’ll ‘ruin it’. I just don’t see the point of doing it. I don’t see anyway to adapt something like The Watchmen into a film, and keep the spirit of the series.

Before I expound on this, a little history for those readers who aren’t comic book geeks, and so may not be familiar with the series.

Watchmen was a mini series that came out in the 80s. It was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. While it was put out by DC comics, it is set in a self contained universe with its own heros. Though, it isn’t hard to draw analogies between the characters in the series and the characters from the old Charlton line of comics, which were originally going to be used to tell the story. The series is basically a deconstruction of the medium of super hero comics. That over simplifies things a little bit though.

The best example I can come up with to put the series in its proper context would be to say it is kind of like the day you found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real. You tried to pretend that it was a lie, but deep down, Christmas was never the same. Watchmen took the archetypes that are common fodder in super hero comic books, and deconstructed them. It exploited the cliches to their logical ends. And it made you question the motivations of the supposed heros. In short it asked, if these were real people, what would really motivate them and how would they really act?

It isn’t to much hyperbola to say that the series eventually became one of the greatest things that has ever happened to the medium and one of the worst. Writers still, 20 years later, try to grapple with the repercussions of the series. A lot of people complain about the ambiguity in comics these days. That good isn’t always good, and bad isn’t always bad. This thread pre-dated Watchmen, but the series put such a fine point on the whole idea that it could no longer be ignored. Everyone knew that it was mom and dad who put the presents under the Christmas tree, and it was done in such a spectacular way, that to pretend otherwise was to come across as trite or irrelevant. Moore himself has been unable to escape the grasp of his own creation. And has been known to grumble about what he set in motion from time to time.

Before you get the wrong idea. I should point out that the series isn’t the cliched ‘dark’ story that you may believe it to be. There is that element to the story, and it is that element that is the story’s most lasting cliche, but there is also a fair amount of hope and love in this series as well. It is possibly as close as the medium has ever gotten to really capturing what real life is like, in comics. If you have ever wondered what it would be like if super heros really did exist, Watchmen is one of the best places to start looking (Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is another great example)

Now back to the movie. Watchmen has a story, and it isn’t a half bad story at that. The story though exists so that Alan could expound on his ideas. The purpose of the story was to explore the world of super hero comics and to take it in a direction that it had always shied away from in the past, but one that probably did need to be explored. With out those ideas, the series is a decent to good story, with decent to strong characterization. It isn’t Watchmen though. To divorce Watchmen from its own ideas is to steal from series the whole point of the series. In short, with out the ideas, there is really no reason for Watchmen to exist.

And here’s the crux. The ideas behind Watchmen, aren’t just tied to super hero comic books, the ideas are super hero comic books. Alan did not intend to shake up movies or television or any other kind of collective fiction. He wrote the series to change the fundamental nature with which we approach super hero comic books and succeeded beyond even his wildest ambitions.

I guess it could be possible to create a Watchmen film that kept that spirit alive, but I’m not sure I see the point. The thing is though, that the film would bomb, and bomb hard. It would only have any meaning to comic book geeks. To people who have an investment in the medium. No one else would really grok it, because it would be so tied to the medium. The only people who buy classic prog albums are people who really love classic prog. To the rest of us, it is just 30 minute keyboard solos.

No, the chance that the film will be presented in a way that holds true to the spirit of the series, is so small as to be non-existant.

And so, I’m left alternating between feeling ‘blah’ about the movie and wish desperately that it won’t be made. Of course, every day makes the latter harder and harder to hope for. In the end. I’ll probably go see it. And I may even walk out of the theater thinking that it was a pretty decent film. It won’t be Watchmen though. That much is certain.

Written by Matt

September 25th, 2007 at 9:48 pm

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