Wary of Watchmen
Is there anything that doesn't become a little disappointing when its sold through Hot Topic?
Get these kids off my lawn
I am old. Not old enough to have had the wisdom to spend my allowance on Watchmen during the time of its initial release rather than TMNT or whatever I was buying instead. But old enough to glean the importance of Watchmen when it was being collected as a "graphic novel" by Warner Books back in the mid-to-late 80's. Old enough to have read the comic before graduating high school in the early 90's. And old enough to have seen plenty of other sci-fi, comic, fantasy, etc... properties misunderstood, mismarketed and considered a failure. So if I'm a bit skeptical of the mass marketing of what is ostensibly one of the greatest super-hero comics of all time, you'll have to forgive me.
I'm an old crank. It's why I read Jimmy Olsen reprints and back-issues.
The problem is that I actually do believe in Watchmen as not just one of the greatest superhero comics, but one of the top comics in general (at least of the comics I've had the pleasure to read). It's not just Moore's story, characters, setting, etc... exceeded virtually anything else in the genre, but his work with Gibbons to use the form of sequential art, pushing the boundaries of medium as part of the narrative (just as Miller shattered the comic panel with Dark Knight Returns) to tell a story that has kept comic readers talking for more than two decades.
This reader firmly believes that it's unlikely that any of the synergy found in Moore and Gibbon's work will find its way to the screen, no matter what direction director Zach Snyder gives his art directors to just lift images from the book.
I hold the comic in reverence that is not profitable in the way that a Hollywood, big-budget, super-hero flick needs to be profitable. Not just the movie, but the million ancillary products that go along with the thing, the endless licensing for t-shirts, etc... Especially for the audience that will undoubtedly buy the shirts because they look "bad-ass", just as I see those trucks driving around town with the Punisher logo, and one sincerely doubts that the guy behind the wheel would know Frank Castle if he dropped a grenade in his lap.
I hold Watchmen in such reverence that I was quite happy that the comic would never be translated to film. And they've tried for decades. I still recall reading about first stabs at the effort back when Comics Scene was in print.
Not Exactly "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"
One is left to wonder: Will Watchmen be appreciated for what it is, or will audiences leave the film with the same "?" floating over their heads that accompanied them leaving Ang Lee's "Hulk", or "Superman Returns". Both movies basically failed to meet expectation by virtue of a lack of a finale in which the protagonist goes mano-a-mano with his evil counterpart (Iron Man, Batman Begins, any of the Spidey movies). Instead, opting for more ambitious, if more ambiguous endings, looking at the character struggle rather than the clear good v. evil struggle.
That's not to suggest that a movie like Iron Man did it wrong, and I'd mention that the X-flicks were still a success despite the decidedly ambiguous conclusion of X2.
But it's also no secret that general audiences want their guys in the white hats to have a clear-cut victory, with a pummeling of our antagonist as the proper, necessitated-by-justice come-uppance. Spoiler alert! They do not usually welcome the decimation of New York by a genetically engineered behemoth squid with telepathic abilities and the successful actualization and vindication of the villain's schemes as a conclusion. End spoiler! This doesn't even begin to address the fact that Watchmen, the comic, is incredibly light on action, and very much about people standing around and talking. Sometimes in superhero suits, but also... a lot of time, they aren't. And, of course, the movie is period piece about the recent past, but with an alternate history... Which... how is that crucial 13-25 year old audience going to latch onto that?
Nonetheless, the public has been sold for a few years that Watchmen is not just a great comic, but a great book. Time even went so far as to included the book on their 100 All-Time Novels list a few years back, and the trailer uses superlatives such as "the most celebrated graphic novel of all time". The trailer looks gorgeous, and the editors have pulled some of the better lines from the book to pull the viewer in... My point being, expectations are going to be high.
Spaceballs: The Flamethrower!
But more than anything, I'm skeptical of how the comic-to-movie has been appropriated by the licensing folk. It's one thing to have kids running around in Spidey t-shirts, but quite another thing to imagine a world in which kids could easily be wearing a Rorshach costume come Halloween. Masked vigilantes with E.D., sociopaths who've parlayed their skills into steady government work, etc... don't usually find their way onto a lunchbox, but...
Its unlikely that the licensing folk have done much to understand the world and story of Watchmen, and decisions in these arenas are not made with either the source material or, often, the movie so much in mind. It's what you can sell teen-agers at Hot Topic during the buzz leading up to the movie, and maybe in that first three-weeks of release before the kids have moved onto something else.
The hope, of course, is that there's just a licensing office that is going to do their thing, just as if they were told to make pennants of Benjamin Button, or... heck... say they were re-doing "Wuthering Heights", maybe we'd get a Heathcliff t-shirt, because that's the way the kids these days understand their media. If its not a product they can wear on their back, then what is it...? (I said I was old and cranky).
All of this is coming, by the way, from a Superman fan with literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of Superman gear around his house, from coffee cups to those goofy pennants. But... that's been Superman for the past 70 years. The character largely exists as a licensing opportunity at this stage in his existence. When we get great movies and comics from the character, that's almost a by-product of the licensing arm, not the other way around. Superman is also a character, and not a specific tale (save for the "sent in a rocket from the doomed planet, Krypton" etc... bit). We can afford tales that maybe go askew from the comics and not feel The Man of Steel has been compromised, or that his face on a t-shirt seems cynically commercialized if you're familiar with the property.
It's going to be everywhere and nowhere
I do not, of course, relish the co-option of Watchmen by the wider populace. The folks who will appear on Halloween as Rorschach (a Rorschach I am convinced will be largely neutered in the translation to the film, as the producers look for their "Wolverine"). The kids hanging out at the mall in their smiley-face button shirts fresh from Gadzooks, convinced the old man in the Superman t-shirt doesn't understand how "bad-ass" superheroes are these days...
But I'm projecting a lot of what I saw after the release of "The Crow" onto today's kids, who may not well care at all about this flick.
The worst thing that can have happened to Watchmen is that the studio and Snyder decided to treat the work like they would any other superhero property. Make it family accessible. Make it ready for a sequel. Make it safe for selling t-shirts, what-have-you, to the tween-age set.
It would also be remiss not to mention the rumors regarding a change to the ending of Watchmen to make it "better" for the general audience. A change fans have raised alarm about, but the sort of thing studio folk have, for as long as there have been super-hero movies, assured comic fans that they know best... As troubling as the change is (and how it simultaneously messes up several plot points from the story), it also leaves the Watchmen fan wondering what else the studio feels they can do better...
I sincerely hope I'm wrong about Watchmen. I look forward to the first, early, non-AICN reviews (certainly we can look forward to the Film Fodder reviews).
"300" was kind of bad
It's entirely possible Zach Snyder will knock it out of the park and all my fears will be put to rest. The fact is that I loved "300" the comic, and felt "300" the movie was an over-stylized, faux-macho music video with awful pacing and dubious sustainability as a film for the ages. Yes, parts looked like "300" the comic, but imitation is easy. Especially in a three minute movie trailer.
I am skeptical of both director Zach Snyder's ability to craft the book into a 2 hour film, and what the studio will want to do with it once they decide what should go into a final cut (Snyder has clout, but not "final cut" clout). Translating a behemoth like Watchmen to a 2 hour film is a task that better men than he have undertaken and failed.
Add in the sexy costumes, the slow-mo cinematography, et al... that we've seen, and I'm expecting more of what had me slinking down in my seat during "300". Not Dave Gibbon's astounding interpretation of the script brought to life.
Still, I guess you have to keep an open mind, set-expectations low, and you might be hugely surprised (worked for me when Iron Man turned out to be a really terrific movie).
But keep doing what you've been doing, comic nerds. When someone asks about the movie, tell them to read the book first. Assure them they'll be happier looking at pictures on paper. Put the comic in their hand or point them to the comic shop. Mr. Moore needs the money.
Questions? Comments? Hate mail?
Come on, I can take it.
Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.
He likes Superman.
You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at firstname.lastname@example.org