Thursday, February 03, 2005

And The Wind Began To Howl

So, the news broke last friday that the film version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen was officially in pre-production, with a completed script, assigned director, and projected time to wrap of eighteen months.

Now, I don't usually ally myself with the shouting fanboy herd, but...

There's no way in hell this is going to work. They can either go for a straight adaptation or a good movie, but they can't do both. So what we'll probably get is something that feels somewhat like Watchmen, but misses out on a lot of the things that makes it a great comic.

True fact: Watchmen isn't legendary for its plot. Or at least, it shouldn't be. So many of the post-Watchmen ripoffs have been awful precisely because they mimicked the plot without (a) understanding that cynicism and violence weren't the point of the story or (b) utilizing the medium to the extent that Moore and Gibbons did. Watchmen is a good story, but it's the telling that makes it brilliant.

I didn't start realizing everything Moore was doing with composition, pagination, and issue-by-issue plotting until the third or fourth read-through. That's how deep he plumbs into the power of the medium. I still discover new things every time I read it. It really is a kind of Citizen Kane for comics, in that it plays with the forms and structures in ways that enhance the story.


You can only do that kind of stuff in comics, where the images stay static on the page, and the reader is free to move back and forth through them at will, reading them in any order he or she chooses. In a movie, that's not he case; the audience is required to see the images in exactly the order the director presents (a fact exploited for effect by 2002's Memento, among others). If reel three is, when taken frame-by-frame, a perfect palindrome (as issue 5 of Watchmen is), no one can tell. Nor can a movie, bound by the rules of moment-to-moment storytelling no matter which moment comes first, correctly convey a man experiencing several discrete moments from his life simultaneously, as Dr. Manhattan does in issue 3. And then there's the Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic, which is self-evidently impossible to pull off in a flick.

And I won't even get into how impossible it is to fit the sheer amount of plot in Watchmen into a 90, 120, or even 180 minutes of film. Or how Hollywood has a long history of completely missing the point of Alan Moore's work, beginning with Swamp Thing and continuing into the upcoming Constantine.

I still hope it'll be a good movie. David Hayter's a talented scriptwriter, and Paul Greengrass made a perfectly decent conspiracy/action flick out of The Bourne Supremacy. But will it be Watchmen in fact as well as name? I'm skeptical.

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