Sunday 20 July 2008

Who's Gonna Watch the Watchmen?

If you’ve followed my old wafflings for a while, you’ll already know that if there is one thing that makes me jittery, it’s movie adaptations of comic books\graphic novels.

I’m not really bothered about the films that feature characters from comics (your Batman’s, Hulk’s, Spiderman’s, Superman’s etc etc). The stories for these are usually developed especially for the movie, so if they suck, it doesn’t really taint your comic book enjoyment of these chaps. No, the ones that make me nervous are the adaptations of specific stories - fuck those up on the big screen and you also soil the original comic.

Take ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ for example, one of my all time favourite comic books. A really clever and intelligent story, beautifully written and drawn, and one I’ve re-read many times. Unfortunately the film of it was a ‘dumbed down’ turkey of the highest order. This pisses me off on two accounts….

1) It taints the original comic. I now can’t read the book without thinking of that god-awful film.
2) It gives non-comic readers more ammo to take the piss (like they need any more ammo!), as they naturally assume that the comic was equally as naff.

Nearly 25 years ago, Alan Moore (story) and Dave Gibbons (art) invented the ‘graphic novel’, when their 12 issue masterpiece ‘The Watchmen’ was collected into a 400 page book. This incredible deconstruction of the superhero, revolutionised the comic genre, prising it away from what was until then almost exclusively ‘kids territory’.

In an alternative USA in 1985, superheroes are all but extinct - after a police strike, a law was passed banning all lycra clad do-gooders from interfering with crime solving. Forced to hang up their capes, the superheroes have gone into retirement. One of them (The Comedian) gets murdered, and rebel Rorschach starts to investigate.

Moore pulls out every trick in the bag - flashbacks, autobiography excerpts and magazine articles all go into the mix to bring this story to life. As the story develops, we start to learn that many of these caped wonders were not the all-American heroes they tried to portray. They have skeletons in the closet, hang-ups and personal problems… I.e. they are real people! There is a very clever sub-plot involving a "traditional style" comic book about pirates which merges in and out as the story progresses. You’ve got to keep your wits about you on this one!

And it’s this intricate story telling in the Watchmen, that has kept it off the cinema screen for all these years. 3 or 4 attempts were made, but each one was eventually abandoned as the makers slowly realised it was impossible to transfer it to celluloid. In 2001, Alan Moore said of these attempts "With a comic, you can take as much time as you want in absorbing that background detail, noticing little things that we might have planted there. You can also flip back a few pages relatively easily to see where a certain image connects with a line of dialogue from a few pages ago. But in a film, by the nature of the medium, you're being dragged through it at 24 frames per second."

But it looks like the latest attempt to make it into a film (due for release in 2009) is actually going to make it, and this weekend the very first trailer hit the net. As opposed as I am to the making of this film, I have to say this taster looks pretty decent - but then who ever saw a trailer that didn’t look promising??! Alan Moore is still not impressed, he has already had his name removed from the film, and recently said “I shan't be going to see it. My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel, a comic book. It's been made in a certain way, and designed to be read a certain way: in an armchair, nice and cozy next to a fire, with a steaming cup of coffee."

If you’ve never come across the Watchmen, do yourself a favour and give it a go in the way Alan Moore wanted you to - in the comic medium (and don't forget the fire and the coffee!). It’s still in print, and even the local library usually caries a copy. It’ll change the way you view comics forever.

Here's that trailer:



E F RICE said...

Hello Piley. I have never read the Watchmen and having read your post I feel I should. I like the trailer and if I can offer some more promise to your early optimism, I notice it is directed by the same guy who did '300'. If you haven't seen that I highly recommend it. So I will finish my book on the Spanish Civil War and give Watchmen a go.

By the way who is that singing, sounded like the Smashing Pumpkins lead singer ?

Ta da mate.

Piley said...

thanks EF. I belive a certain Mr J Gestures BOUGHT a copy a while back, so you may be able to cadge a read.

Ypu, spot on with the music, "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning" by the Smashing Pumpkins, which oddly isn't on any of their albums, it's taken from the "Batman and Robin" soundtrack.


Mondo said...

They always look good in the trailer - don't fall for it. Amazingly me being a comics nutter and all that, I've never been able to get into The Watchmen.

Found a couple of links that'll be right your passage recently check my CM blog for details

Piley said...

I'll be keeping very pesimistic on this one Mondo don't you worry!

funny enought, Lew Stringer has done a similar post over on his excellent 'blimey! it's another blog about comics'.

Anonymous said...

Something else I've never read and, as ever after reading your blog, something I feel I should. Now if I can just get them to pay me to sit at home and catch up on all the things I've missed. Thought the trailer looked ok but that's the whole point of trailers.

Anonymous said...

Watchman is one of the cleverist most incisive graphics I have read. When you lent it to me I was blown away. I am interested in seeing the film despite Alan Moore's protestations (he doesn't want any of his stuff filmed so it was obvious that he wasn't going to endorse this).

Nazz Nomad said...

I have some faith in the director... I like what he did with 300 visually and felt that his remake of Dawn Of The Dead was alot of fun.
He's been interviewed admitting that he is aware of what's at stake with Watchmen... if it is anything less than very good I would be shocked.
I kind of look at it similarly to when the mini-series of The Stand came out... another "untouchable" book. As a TV movie, The Stand was of course much lower budget, but I felt the material was treated very reverentially.
It won't be the comic, film is a different medium... even Sin City (and that was pretty damn close) offers a different experience (graphic novel vs movie).
But. look at it like sex... it can be different but still enjoyable.