More than 20 years after publication, after building a dedicated fan base and after a previous disastrous attempt, Alan Moore’s fantastic graphic novel Watchmen is finally turning into a big-budget movie. When I first heard the news I was cautious about being excited. After all, the story is huge; it’s a long comic with lots of focus on character over action, and subplots, backstory and parallel tales abound. But after seeing all the promotional pictures and trailers, I’m absolutely looking forward to seeing the movie. Here’s why:
5. The Story
Watchmen, first and foremost, is a wonderful story. As a deconstruction of the Superhero genre, Watchmen raises questions that we might not always think to ask, and many of them are left for us to answer for ourselves—Why do these characters dress up and fight crime? Is it right for vigilantes to break the law in order to save lives? What about just breaking the law? What makes a superhero—powers? Heroism? Do you have to be a good person?
Around the detective story and eventual big finish, Watchmen weaves characters with complicated motivations and relationships, plenty of secrets to be revealed and kickass moments all around. The subtlety of the writing and the understatement of emotional moments will be fantastic to see brought to the big screen by the cast, and if the movie’s anything like the comic, will require repeat viewing to catch everything.
4. The Visuals
Just look at this!
It’s beautiful. The visual effects on Doctor Manhattan are the most obviously amazing—I still adore that ambiguous look on his face after he vaporizes the guy—but the entire visual style of the movie is gorgeous. They picked some impressive moments to show off, too: The glass palace, Manhattan’s transformation, Rorschach’s mask, that silhouetted kiss. Laurie’s HAIR! I could fangirl about this for hours (and that’s sort of the point of the rest of the article) so I think I’ll just leave you to watch that again (and again, and again…) and let the pictures speak for themselves.
In addition to just being pretty, the visuals really do replicate the panels straight out of Dave Gibbons’ illustrations. Which leads me to:
3. Attention to Detail
Let’s take, for example, this picture:
And compare it to its counterpart in the comic:
(I’ll accept Mr. Gibbons’ apologies for not drawing the full photo very clearly)
Each pose is straight out of the source picture. The texture is the same on Nite Owl’s short-shorts. Some costume elements have been updated and redesigned, but others are almost exactly the same. Hell, minor characters like Silhouette (in the black) and Dollar Bill (with the cape) show up at all! Details down to the look on The Comedian’s face are carefully replicated. The changes that are made, like the addition of the banner, make sense and don’t intrude on the source.
Which, again, segues neatly into:
2. Loyalty to the Comic
This is related to number three, but more about the story and characters than the look of the movie. I’ve never read 300, but what I’ve been told by reliable friends is that a lot of the reason I didn’t love the movie is that I wouldn’t have loved the comic. Director Zack Snyder has a reputation of being faithful to his source material, one thing that Watchmen fans have been concerned about for years. Not an unfounded concern either; archived on the internet is a script for an unproduced first attempt that changed the ending, timeline, and otherwise would have been disastrous. (If you have the patience and free time, you can read it here.)
This time around, we can be relatively certain that the plot of the comic will be replicated, with changes only made for streamlining. Even material that doesn’t make it into the finished cut of the movie, like the Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic, has been promised to be on the DVD.
And finally, the biggest reason why I’m excited for the movie is:
1. The Timing
In the last couple decades, comic books have gotten darker and less kid-friendly (thanks in large part, incidentally, to the Watchmen comic and its influence), but it’s only recently that the darkness has made its way into comic book movies. On the heels of movies like V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight, it seems like the world is going to be ready for the violence and disturbing content in Watchmen. Not just people being shot with flamethrowers and dogs with their heads cut open—although the gore quotient of the comic book is pretty dang high—but emotional disturbances like the story of Laurie’s birth and the ambiguously moral ending, among other things. This is by no account a story for children, and the timing is right now for the general public to understand that. Now, this movie can be made with all the daring of the comic, pulling no punches and censoring nothing it doesn’t want to.
I’m gonna have to wait until March to see if my suspicions are correct, but I’m absolutely looking forward to the Watchmen movie. In the meantime, I’ll be reading the comic obsessively for even more subtleties, and watching the trailer on repeat until that song sticks itself in my head for good.