Sunday, March 11, 2007

We're Watching the Watchmen: Moore and the Movies

Buried on the Wired Blog I found this lovely still, which should wet the imagination of just about every comics fan out there, while igniting the same level of dread at equal proportion.

Why dread? Shouldn't we be overjoyed to have one of the signature works of the comics medium finally transferred and adapted to the big screen with a great big budget?

Having suffered through more than enough adapted Alan Moore movies, I can say that the dread has long since overtaken the excitement portion of my brain. Why should we expect that this adaption will be any better than From Hell or V for Vendetta? I would love to say that "Hollywood doesn't get it." but I don't think that that is actually the case. I think the makers of V did get that elusive "it" but were unable to fully translate the material to the screen. I'm not so sure about From Hell, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt a little bit.

The problem lies in a couple different areas: one, primarily, being that Moore's work tends to work on a number of different levels all at the same time, layers of subtext upon subtext. From Hell builds upon itself and the degree of drama is inherent in that, since we all know the general story of the Ripper. The standard screenwriter's "A" story, "B" story and "C" story seems to not be able to convey the material in a fashion that allows it to be adapted without being disemboweled.

The second, and this is key, being the episodic nature, never more so than in Watchmen. Squeezing all 12 issues will require so much material being taken out that I doubt that the murder mystery part of the material will get its proper due, much less the underlying motivations of the different costume wearers, the history of the alternate earth, the relationship of heroes to the community during different time periods, etc. Look at Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling's most successful long form book in the Potter series: at 3 hours it plays like the short version of the book, with all the most important plot points, for the Harry Potter fan. Those wishing the real deal will work their way though the book. The same need to condense the material will most likely happen to Watchmen, and it will lead those non comic fans to say,"What's the big deal?"

A modest proposal: Watchmen as an HBO miniseries, like 24 or Carnivale, that would require the viewer to come back again and again as the clock moves closer and closer to midnight. I would allow the material time to breathe and the view digestion time to appreciate the subtextual material better. It makes the payoff at the end all that much better.

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