(Minor Watchmen spoilers)
I don’t trust movie reviewers – they spend most of their lives watching terrible films so when something slightly less mediocre comes along they tend to praise it to the skies. So I’m not encouraged by the good press The Watchmen is getting from the critics.
The original graphic novel by Alan Moore (pictured, right) and Dave Gibbons is often called ‘the Citizen Kane of comics’, which is now very apt because when most people watch Kane for the first time they wonder what the hell the big deal is. That is the best movie of all time? But just as Citizen Kane changed the way movies are made, The Watchmen influenced almost every comic written in the last 25 years, something that will seem like a big deal if you read a lot of comics, not so much if you don’t.
For example, The Watchmen deconstructs the classic superhero narrative. Superman spends all his time fighting to save humanity – Alan Moore realised that if someone really was superhuman they’d feel no empathy with the human race and be indifferent as to whether our species was wiped out. Superheroes also tend to work with the US government. In Watchmen Moore points out that a villan who enjoys raping, torturing and murdering people is much more likely to wind up working for Uncle Sam than some goody two-shoes. And if a supervillan really is a world class genius then they’ll be able to anticipate that the heroes will attempt to stop them and make sure that they can’t.
This kind of cynicism was astounding in the early 80′s and is commonplace now, although few writers have the balls to end their stories the way Moore and Gibbons did.
The ending to The Watchmen is one of its most celebrated qualities – apparently the film has changed it, getting rid of the notorious ‘squid’ in favor of something else generating squeals of outrage amoungst the comic book fanboy community. I’m not married to the squid, but I will be disappointed if they abandon the spirit of the ending, which is that Veidt’s intellect makes him unstoppable (‘it happened thirty five minutes ago’), and he has presented the world with an overwhelming external threat.
I’m betting that the new ending will miss the point, simply because I doubt any of the people making this movie actually ‘get’ Watchmen on anything other than a superficial level. They know its cool they just don’t know why. So they’ll try and stay as faithful to the source material as they can but in the process of adaptation they’ll be forced to make creative decisions that undermine the point of the characters and the story.
Watchmen isn’t my favourite Alan Moore comic – I think From Hell (the subject of another terrible Hollywood film adaptation) is his masterpiece, although I haven’t read The Lost Girls yet. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series are also a lot of fun. Reading any of them will certainly be more rewarding than watching the upcoming film.