Adaptation: “Watchmen”

Written by Nick Workman September 14, 2011

Adaptation is a bi-weekly column that looks at the transition from book to film. Find out if the book sucks or the movie sucks, and which one, if any, you should check out. Also, tune into my weekly radio show Nerd Alert on 94.9 CHRW

The Story:

Alan Moore’s Watchmen

Alan Moore’s 1987 limited comic book series Watchmen is a breakdown of the comic book mythos. Before Moore took it upon himself to reshape what a comic could be and what you could explore through the medium using superheroes, comic books were lowbrow, simple adventure stories. This week Superhero A would fight Villain B. Next Week, Superhero A would fight Villain C. Next week Superhero A might have to team up with Superhero B in order to thwart Villain E. They were repetitive stories. For Watchmen, Moore took the cardboard cut outs of familiar superheroes and applied different interpretations to them. All of a sudden the sexy female that readers for decades of comics had always known to be a fun loving, gee golly, crush was now someone who faced spousal abuse and ridicule for her choice of costume. The tough guy superhero was still the guns first talk later guy, but Moore looked at how this would be in the real world if there was someone like that. How psychotic would a person have to be if they roamed the streets with a mask and a gun? Moore simply took the comic book world and applied real world problems to it.

Watchmen is often cited as not only a ground breaking event in the comic book industry, but it is also considered the best comic book in the world. The comic is layered in different interpretations. You can read it from a feminist perspective, or from a political standpoint about fascism and the role it plays in who wields power. Moore was aware of these different interpretations that a reader can have towards Watchmen because he did it intentionally. He wanted readers, both new to the comic book world and those familiar with it, to look at the medium differently and what it is capable of. Everything that is in Watchmen, from small references to other comics to the way it is drawn and laid out, is meant to be there as a representation of what the comic medium is capable of. This is why it has been considered the most difficult comic to be adapted.

The Adaptation

Anyone who would have adapted Watchmen would have failed no matter what. It is meant to be read as a comic. That is the way it was designed. It was not meant to be watched. It was meant to be read and looked at. It was meant to be able to take one’s time to look at a single panel for minutes, then come back to it, and see it differently. In Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation of Watchmen, you cannot do that.

Zack Snyder is often applauded for the looks of his films. He had previously adapted another comic into a movie, 300. He is widely known to take panels from comics and apply them to shots in his film, and he does that here. His heart is in the right place, and for a lot of the shots in the film it does look like the comic book panels. The problem is that it does not have the same impact. You can show us something in two different mediums, and they can look nearly 100% the same, but each one gives us a different emotion, and the emotion that Snyder is showing us is not the resonating emotion that Watchmen should give. The same thing with the look happens with the actors of the film. They are well acted and look the part, but they are cardboard cut outs of the characters in the comic book.

Any adaptation has to leave out certain parts that would slow down the pace of the film. However, leaving out background details, changing what characters say, and changing the ending of Watchmen lessens what it was meant to be. It is meant to be a reinterpretation of the comic medium and a breakdown of its mythos. It is not mean to be a comic adapted into an entertainment film.

My Rating: 4/10

Skip the movie, pick up the book. It is ground breaking in what it is. Time Magazine even listed it as one of the top 100 greatest novels of all time. Other recommendations by Alan Moore are The Killing Joke, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Lost Girls.

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About Nick Workman

Nick Workman: Co-host of Nerd Alert, editor of news, writer of reviews, and lover of all that involves imagination. If he is not on his computer working on We Eat Films or Nerd Alert, you can probably find him in a big comfy chair, sipping a cup of coffee, with his nose deep in a book.

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