Watching the Watchmen


So, Empire Online has a shot by shot breakdown of the Watchman teaser, which has a lot of direct matches to the Dave Gibbons’ art. And this really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Zach Snyder demonstrated with 300 that he gets the whole ‘comic book as storyboard’ approach, and at this point, offering anything less than a bunch of images that are iconic from the Watchman book would be just fueling the fanboy fire about how badly he’s going to fuck it up.

Firstly, let me just say that, as a string of images go, the teaser is a very nice bit of eyecandy. It’s captivating, confusing, filled with lots of motion (and people getting kicked), and says, “I am two hours of eyeball porn.” It does the job of bringing interest to the project for those who know nothing about it, and on that front: aces, Mr. Snyder. You have done well.

However, I can’t quite figure out how he’s going to do any better than “The Alan Moore Film That Sucked the Least.” Granted, the bar isn’t all that high, but the Watchmen has been such a fevered part of the comic reader’s landscape for a generation (really, twenty plus years now), that any attempt to do anything other than transform every panel into a moving picture is going to piss someone off. Even Nolan’s re-imaging of Batman has taken two movies so far, and they’ve barely gotten into what makes Batman the viligante that he is. How does Snynder think he is going to beat the ire of the foaming fanbase?

The film is going to be an adaptation. It can’t be anything else, or it will be a mess as it tries to cram all of its substance into anything less than three hours (and, really, for all of Snyder’s presumed pull with the studio, do you think they’re going to let him turn in something longer than three hours?). He’s already said the Black Freighter is out, and that’s a given. That’d be the first thing I’d cut too.

[William Goldman once said, when asked about trying to translate Stephen King to the screen, that you have to be willing to cut everything but the tone and the intent, otherwise you’ll never fit it all in; he was talking about Misery, and no one bitches much about the edits on that one. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire cut, what? three chapters from the beginning and ditched all the Quidditch stuff, and no one noticed, because the story was still there on the screen.]

I guess my interest in the Watchmen film isn’t that it is going to be a faithful recreation of the book, but that it is going to be an interesting interpretation. When you look at Kubrick’s Lolita or Lyne’s version, you don’t watch them for how well they cleave to the book, but how much insight the director’s vision gives you into the material, how much you learn about your own understanding of the book by seeing someone else’s interpretation. I don’t care much for Cormac McCarthy’s style, but No Country For Old Men is a book I know backwards and forwards because the Coen Brothers’ version offered so many points to discuss about artistic choices.

This is wishful thinking, I know, but maybe we could look upon Snyder’s version of the Watchmen as that sort of opportunity: a place from which to discuss how choices and interpretations transform artistic expression, and how our reactions reveal our intent and our identities.