Friday, January 30, 2009

Who's watching the Watchmen?

I'm sure I will be seeing the upcoming film adaptation of Watchmen.It is far too enticing for me to be able to ignore. I have, to a certain extent, enjoyed seeing the trailers and film stills from the movie. It has been interesting and fun to see the images from the book brought to life.
However, if I could, I would go back in time and prevent the movie from being made. I've said this on various occasions to various people and am always asked why I would do such a thing. So, here are my reasons! (Many of these reasons may come off as being slightly self-righteous or sentimental, but when you've spent as much time and money on comics as i have you can feel a little bit of righteous indignation or emotional strain about the subject of your passion)

Even the best film adaptations of comic books are poor substitutes for the comic book upon which they are based (the only exception i can think of is Sin City, which is nearly an exact replica of the book). The original fans of the comic book have subconsciously adapted to the influx of Hollywood interest in comics. The most we can hope for is not a good adaptation of the comic, but that whatever Hollywood decides to pass off as an adaptation will be a good film. There have been many good films. I have liked many of them. This being said, none of them have ever been able to match the scope of wonder or the fantastic nature of a comic book.

If you've read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, or any other book on comic book theory (yes it exists), then you know that comics only function because of a certain amount of mental participation on the part of the reader. As such, comics provide the ingredients that your mind needs to create the story. Your mind creates the action that links what may often appear to be unrelated images. It is not a straightforward story-telling style like film, or arguably even prose. I cannot sit in front of a comic for a few hours and allow it to tell me a story and lead me through the plot until i reach the conclusion. Instead i have to participate with the story, and provide it with the energy it needs to tell the story. This lack of participation on the part of the movie viewer alters the very nature and feeling of the story, until the connection between the comic and the film is superficial at best.

Further, comics have no budget, no sound effects, no special effects team, no actors. In other words, comics have no limitations. If you can imagine it you can make it into a comic book. The same cannot be said of film. Subsequently, comics are often changed drastically in order to facilitate the making of a movie. I won't go into details, but one part of Watchmen has been altered entirely because what happens in the comic "just wouldn't work in a movie." As such, the film adaptations of comics water down the imaginative qualities of the original creation, leaving us too often with more high budget action movies (obs. I love high budget action movies, but not when it rides the reputation of a comic book to its grave. Case in point: Wanted).

Watchmen is such an intricate and context specific comic that any film creation of it will invariably lack the significance of the comic. As we have seen already by the removal of "Tales of the Black Freighter," and the missing plot point I mentioned above, among other things, the nature of Watchmen and it's story telling is too layered for a 2 to 3 hour film to do justice to.

Contextually, Watchmen came about as a paradigm shift in comics. The comics of the Silver age had all been awash by bright colors and 4 colour half-tone printing. The characters were often 2 dimensional do-gooders who had lost any depth of character and been emasculated by the self-imposed comic code. Watchmen, along with a few others, shifted the focus of comics away from the flat stories of meaningless vigilantes and decided instead to focus on characters, tone and theme the same as any other form of literature would. It was, in essence, the deconstruction, of the superhero. This post-modern (yipes...sorry guys, grad school) approach to superheroes is what made Watchmen revolutionary and important to comics. Will that be the case with film? No.

Further, Alan Moore, the CREATOR of Watchmen, doesn't want it made. As someone who aspires to write comics, I can't help but sympathize and side with him. Hollywood has already ruined some of his other works. They turned V into a crusader for democracy instead of the hellbent anarchist he was (In Moore's own words, V was "specifically about things like fascism and anarchy. Those words, 'fascism' and 'anarchy,' occur nowhere in the film. It's been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country"). They made such a mess of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that its not even worth talking about. From Hell was a weak attempt at translating the comic to film. Alan Moore's genius (yes, i feel justified in saying that he is a genius of the comics artform, and there are not many i would say that about) has been exploited and abused so many times, that he has asked for his name to be removed from the films based on his work, and the comics themselves. I can't imagine dedicating myself to my work and then being so repulsed by how they were treated as to want my name removed from them. Sad. In reference to Watchmen, Moore has stated "There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can't." And yet, that will be disregarded and made into another big-deal comic movie.

As a comic fan, I am tired of hollywood leaving its muddy footprint in comics while the comics industry is slowly dwindling and breaking down under the current economic conditions. I don't want to buy a comic just because it has Milo Ventimgilililila's name on it. I don't want the latest issue of the Jenna Jameson comic. I don't care to read Nick Cage and his son's comic. And on the other side of the coin, I'm tired of seeing my favorite character ruined by Ben Affleck. Im tired of directors treating comics like they are just another piece of campy kitsch that should have "BOOM!" and "SLAM!" all over it. Watchmen is not just another comic book. Watchmen is the masterpiece of comic books. It is our magnum opus. It is the great hope for all comic nerds that someday comics will be respected as a legitimate art form, and perhaps even economically viable. Instead, in recent years, we have only been reassured that comics only matter insomuch as they can provide fodder for big budget, poorly made, summer blockbuster films, and merchandising rights (for example the prequel video game that is already being made (or is made? i dunno) BARF). I may try and fist fight every douchebag i see dressed as Rorschach this halloween. (yes, im aware that half of my friends probably will.) Seeing bad variations on the joker last halloween made me just about lose my mind.

Those are my main thoughts about it. I think that's about it anyway, im tired and can't think of anything more.

They are all probably selfish reasons, but i'm ok with that. Watchmen is something special to me, and will continue to be after this movie is forgotten (go ahead: "so what's the problem if it isn't going to effect how you feel about it?!" eff you). None of them are very pragmatic, but im not interested in pragmatism right now. And like i said- will i see the movie? probably.

Please feel free to argue any point you want. I feel like i know all the counter arguments, but i'd like to see if something new comes up.


naomi said...

Since I know little to nothing (nothing) of comic adaptations, I can't really argue on any point there. Bret was telling me that the end of the Watchmen movie is nothing like the novel though. I think that actually might be a good thing, so they aren't overreaching and trqying to sqaush like 9 movies into one.

Jendar said...

i did like the watchmen movie, but is definitely not as good as the book. i just love that book.