Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Watching the Watchmen's dignity

It's now a little more than two weeks until Watchmen opens, and I have no earthly idea how this movie is going to play out. None. There's plenty of geek excitement about it, that's for sure. There's already frothing about the changed ending, about whether it will be the worst thing in the history of cinema or, as this guy from Time Magazine seems to believe, a life changing, borderline religious experience. A "miracle". On the other hand, others might find it a simply baffling mess, vastly over-rated, silly or taking itself too seriously.

I'm looking forward to seeing it. I might even hold off and wait to see if I can catch it on IMAX when I'm in Ottawa. And yet, through all of this, I have a sense of unease. And it wasn't until I saw this little blurb, accompanied with the image you will see below, that things began to crystallize a bit for me.

Yeah, a blue Dr. Manhattan condom. And part of me does go, "Well, that's mildly amusing and clever." But couple that with some stuff I've read by some of comics biggest name creators (mostly on Twitter) and you get an overlying sense that a lot of them feel really....bad about this movie. That it might be fine. It might be a great cinematic experience. But they're not entirely sure this movie ever needed to have been made, no matter how good it is. And they're horrified and more than a little embarrassed by the marketing that's gone into it.

Keep in mind these are people who have written Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Batman, the X-Men and other series that have been turned into massively promoted movies. And these people are looking at the marketing and wincing.

Plus a lot of them feel bad for the guy who wrote the series, Alan Moore. I won't go into the long, convoluted history of Alan Moore and the Watchmen, except to mention these few points.

1. Alan Moore is a genius and no serious discussion of the greatest comic book writers in history can be had without his name being featured prominently.
2. Moore, like most geniuses, is a touch mad. Depending on who you listen to he's either a very sweet man who is misunderstood or a deeply crazy man who worships a snake god.
3. He also has a long running feud with DC comics, who published Watchmen. The feud is deeply complicated and immensely bitter.
4. He also hates Hollywood. He was probably distrustful for many years, but the brutal circumstances surrounding League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is finally what did him in. So on top of being a waste of money, a hideous distortion of the brilliant comic and the film that drove Sean Connery into retirement, it also did serious damage to one of comics' greatest creators.
5. Moore isn't messing around with his hatred either. He famously refused option money for both V for Vendetta and Constantine and told producers to give it to the artists - David Lloyd and Dave Gibbons. It's likely he turned away several million dollars when he did that.

But perhaps most importantly, he honestly doesn't see the need for books or comics to be made into film. I believe someone once famously said to him that some director ruined From Hell, to which Moore responded along the lines, "No, the book is just fine. It's not ruined at all."

And yet, you still get the feeling he would be mortified by all of this in a deeply English way. The toys, the posters, the...condoms. And God knows what else that might come down the pipe.

So yeah, there is a certain rabidness among fans looking forward to this, but I get the feeling among professionals there is deep sympathy for Moore, who believes he's been screwed over by Watchmen. But also, this is an important comic to just about every comic fan. Time Magazine listed it as one of the 100 most important literary works of the 20th century. This isn't just another comic book. If the Daredevil movie sucks, oh well. People are far more protective over Watchmen. I suspect Moore's not alone among comic book professionals in believing this movie should never have been made. That maybe some literary works should just stand on their own and not have to suffer the degradations often involved in translating something from the page to the screen.

By the way, it is a great comic. I don't know that it's my favourite of all time or even my favourite of Moore's work - I'm still quite partial to V for Vendetta - but it is a spectacular comic, especially when you start deconstructing everything Moore and Gibbons were trying to do.

I really do recommend picking it up and, I suspect, it won't be a problem finding a copy over the next few weeks. One of the good things, I guess, about the massive marketing push currently taking place.

Last Five
1. Reason for our lost love - Ron Sexsmith
2. All my life - Foo Fighters
3. Bastard - Ben Folds
4. Pistol of fire - Kings of Leon*
5. I'm gone - Lloyd Cole


Anonymous said...

Not knowing much about comics/graphic novels I hesitate to comment on this for fear I'll look even more dense than usual.

But I'll say this, when I saw a trailer the other day for the Movie I instantly thought "Wow, that was an inspired trailer". Its inspired because it made me lust after the movie, and I literally have no idea about the Watchmen and all the back stories.

At least I recognized that the trailer was inspired and that it might have very little to do with the quality of the movie.

Here's another thing I've learned about comics and film. Movies like Spiderman and Ironman are good movies because they are well written, not because they are based on fidelity to the original work. The audiences (while there is a certain amount of cross over) are not necessarily the same.

Did that make any sense?

towniebastard said...

Oh, I think the trailers are pretty awesome as well, and I'm looking forward to the movie.

However, characters like Spider-Man and Batman, I think fans don't expect religious adherence because there have been so many different stories told about those characters over the years. Batman has been around more than 70 years, Spider-man nearly 50 years. As long as the writers show a clear respect for the characters and write a good story, that's enough.

But Watchmen is different. There were 12 issues and that's it. Fans judge this one more by the standards of 300 or Sin City, which were nearly exact adaptation of the original source material.

Also, Watchmen is like the Bible of comics. To give credit, the director knows if he screws this up he can never go to a comic convention again because the fans will kill him. He's already promising a director's cut DVD that's 3.5 hours long, just to make rabid fans happy.

No, I think the point I was trying to get across is that I feel bad for writer Alan Moore, who will never watch this movie and has been so embittered (probably justifiably) by the entire comics into movie process, that he can get no joy out of watching his creation become a movie. And I think a lot of people in the industry feel the same way.

Having said that, they're still probably all going to rush out and see the movie. I just hope lots of people read the graphic novel as well.

Adam Snider said...

I'm very, very hesitant about the Watchmen movie. I've always been of the opinion that, to do justice to the source material, it would have to be filmed as a mini-series, rather than a feature length film.

However, from what I've seen, it looks like care has been taken to do a good job with this movie. Although, if the director's cut is going to be 3.5 hours (which doesn't surprise me), then I can't help but wonder who much has been cut to fit the theatrical version into a more "acceptable" length of time.

On the plus side, as long as the movie doesn't completely suck, it'll likely turn a lot of people on to the graphic novel. As far as I'm concerned, the more people who read the book, the better. It's a classic, and should be read even by those people who think that comics are just "kid's stuff."

Simon said...

I just read Watchman for the first time. Three thoughts come to mind:

1) This is a very complex stories with complex characters;

2) I can't wait to see the movie; and

3) I'm not sure how they can do it justice.

towniebastard said...

Well, the 3.5 hour cut includes an animated sequence for the pirate story. And that lifts out of the main story pretty easy. I never understood why Moore included it in the first place. Then again, the sheer volume of things I've likely missed or don't understand about Watchmen could choke a horse.

And Simon, numerous directors and writers have abandoned hope on Watchmen, especially when studios have tried to cram it into two hours. Terry Gillam, who had a crack, walked away and said it could only be told as a 6-hour mini-series.

We'll see. The director, Snyder, actually improved on the graphic novel 300 when he adapted it to screen. If he pulls it off, it will be a miracle and fanboys will worship at his feet forever.

Adam Snider said...

Ah, well, the pirate comic bits never really made much sense to me, anyway. I mean, I understood them (I think), but they weren't particularly necessary beyond an mildly interesting exploration of what comic books would look like in a world where "superheros" were real.

If that's the main element that extends the director's cut into 3.5 hours, then perhaps it's not such a big deal (and, perhaps, they didn't cut as much as I fear from the main story).

Having said that, I'm still not entirely sure how Watchmen can be turned into a 2 hour film without gutting it of all its many subtleties. I'm trying to keep my expectations low, so that I'm less likely to be disappointed, but I'm still somewhat worried that I'll end up hating the movie.