The Meticulous Recreation of The Watchmen

by Michael Lerman
March 11, 2009 11:52 AM
1 Comment
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I want to apologize in advance for adding to the complete oversaturation of the blogging about this film. I had some things I wanted to say and, at this point, I'm not even sure their original anymore, but here goes.

Following the precedent set by Cinematical’s Scott Weinberg, I’ve waited through the opening weekend (and then some) to say anything about Zack Snyder’s film “adaptation” of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ legendary graphic novel, “Watchmen.” Now it’s past Monday, so I guess all bets are off. I should mention, though, that while I have plenty to say on the film, this will be far from a review, so I recommend seeing it first. Or not, as the case may be.

I remember when Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road came out around Christmas, I heard a lot of criticism from devotees of the book. I, having not read the novel myself, was left with just an odd feeling about the film, one that I couldn’t put my finger on. It wasn’t until I saw Snyder’s carefully re-rendered rendition of Watchmen that understood. Mendes had taken the details from the book – leaving out the all of the heart and thematic weight – and presented the audience with a mere skeleton, non-cinematic plot structure and all. And now here I was, made to suffer through the same thing with one of my favorites graphic novels of all time.

Without giving too much away, I will say that at some point, in a wholly disheartening turn of events, Snyder and co. throw it all out the window, completely changing the third act from what Moore wrote and leaving me wondering why I sat through this painful recreation with every panel being honored by slowing down motion shots so that frames match book pages, every episodic piece of graphic novel structure allowing the film to have 20 minute flashbacks and every mediocre line of dialog that was never written to come out of the mouth of an actual human being - all stunting the creativity and promise that Snyder once displayed in his smart interpretation of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead.

Is it pressure? Do we damage these adaptations ourselves by showing the world that we watch them because of our love for the source material? It scares me to think that every time a Hollywood writer/director reads a post on a blog or a message board about how disappointed we as viewers are with the fact that our favorite detail got left out of the film version of our favorite book, they get closer to thinking that the only way to please the fans is to create a moving carbon copy, usually, one that, quite frankly, displays no understanding of the reasons why the original piece is loved in the first place.

While watching the film, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the final product would have been so much better if it was penned by David Simon and the rest of The Wire’s writing staff. At it’s core, Watchmen and The Wire share a lot of the same crucial qualities – deconstructing well-known character archetypes and giving them complex emotional landscapes, making them morally ambiguous players in a Shakespearean structure that isn’t afraid of bold and blunt societal allegories paying references to the darker politics in the world around us. But then I realized that, because of all these reasons, given enough creative freedom, Simon and his team may have produced something extremely close to a film version of The Wire itself and just called it Watchmen.

Even if you think that’s a bit of a stretch, and despite the completely frustrating derail of a misstep in the third act, the film still left me posing this question: Is it more accurate a interpretation of a great work to meticulously recreate every detail of the original within a new medium, or is it more astute (and perhaps even more respectful) to adapt the spirit of the original into a new coherent version, paying recognition to the new medium in which you are working? In other words, should the film be the book on film? Or should it be a film that accomplishes everything the book does but with a new artistic vision – one suited to filmmaking?

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1 Comment

  • wilsones | March 11, 2009 4:51 AMReply

    I think you do a previous work more justice when you adapt its spirit and disregard the urge to mimic. A page-by-page reenactment of a book or comic or whatever tends to not provide any true evoking of an original message and instead tends to rely on the message of the book to support the message of the film. I found Watchmen to be very visually exciting but I was so aware of every moment from the book that I felt the film had no message of its own. It simply just recreated the book's themes and story. I really didn't get much out of it. But think of every successful film adaption that you would consider great. Is it great because it was the best adaption of a book? No. It was great by itself and the soul of the film, regardless of the story changes, made you forget the book.

    With this in mind, I actually appreciated the reworking of the ending of Watchmen, because it presented to me a tighter story and not an out-of-left-field alien creature to be the villain at the end. It uses Dr. Manhattan against himself, gives his character a reason to leave (which is not very well presented in the book), and creates framing in the story where the book lacked that. Just one opinion. Love you brother. Take it easy..