Why Watchmen Worries Me

February 24, 2009


I’m not opposed to adaptations on general principle. I’m not even one of those people who insists that a film remain absolutely faithful to its source material: High Fidelity is just as brilliant a movie as it is a book despite entirely Americanizing the setting and characters, and Sin City was a pretty bad movie largely because it attempted to copy the panel to the screen almost verbatim. A good adaptation requires compromise, but it also requires a faithfulness to the spirit of the source material.

So I’m a pretty open-minded guy. But when it comes to Watchmen, I’m pretty skeptical.

For one thing, there’s Zack Snyder. I enjoyed 300, but it wasn’t a particularly deep or complex movie. Most of the dialogue consisted of grunting and shouting, and about 90% of the visuals were directly translated from the book. The one element Snyder added to the screenplay – the reprehensible Queen Gorgo’s “fucking for my country” subplot – was nothing to write home about.

I haven’t seen Dawn of the Dead, though I wouldn’t mind, but again – it’s a remake of a zombie movie, and not the sort of thing that qualifies one for the work of Alan Moore. For all this, I’m not sure why the trailers proclaim Snyder as a “visionary”, considering that his two big hits have been a remake and an adaptation.

And Watchmen demands a lot. It demands a lot of the reader, and is not prone to giving things away or providing easy explanations. It is, as many readers discover, not about plot; many complain of nothing “happening”, of it moving slowly and (apparently) without real direction. The plot is almost beside the point: It’s about characters and setting and detail. (And, if you want to get into that sort of thing, superhero deconstruction) It’s true that many readers come away with “Rorschach is Badass” as the overriding theme of the book, but the considerably less sexy Black Freighter and the text pieces are every bit as essential.

There’s also the matter of the trailer. Now, don’t get me wrong: I understand that the point of any movie trailer is to make the film as appealing as possible to the largest potential audience, and it’s not necessarily representative of the final product. I initially avoided Fight Club because the trailers made it look terribly generic, but when I finally gave in it became one of my favourite movies.

But the Watchmen trailer just feels too shiny. Everything looks cool and exciting. Slow-motion shots proliferate to the extent that Malin Ackerman looks like she’s auditioning for the next Charlie’s Angels sequel. And people keep saying “Watchmen” as though it’s meaningful in terms of the characters’ relations with each other.

Ackerman also gives this interview, in which she describes her character as “a strong, powerful woman who fights like a man and loves being who she is,” which halfway backs up my Charlie’s Angels reference. Laurie absolutely doesn’t love who she is, resenting her mother pushing her into the superhero business and feeling conflicted about her relationship with Dr. Manhattan. She’s much the same as Nite Owl: She probably does want to be a superhero on the whole, but isn’t guilt-free about it. Turning the Silk Spectre into a butt-kicking hot babe is exactly the sort of thing that threatens to turn Watchmen into just another generic superhero movie.

Maybe it won’t be. Maybe Snyder really gets it, maybe he really has the talent to pull it all off. Maybe I’m wrong?

Just to prove I’m not all gloom and doom, I’ve got to say that the Official Doctor Manhattan condoms are a brilliant bit of marketing. (Although a digitally enhanced penis is a whole troubling area I’m not even going to touch.) We can only hope the eventual Watchmen video game will be this good.