Friday morning, Zack Snyder (featured right), Dave Gibbons, and the cast of The Watchmen sat down in front of an audience of 6,500 people and braced themselves. They’ve undertaken the Herculean, or perhaps Sisyphean task of adapting one of the most beloved graphic novels of all time. The trailer, released with The Dark Knight, seemed to lift the spirits of a lot of wary, on the fence fans, and gained a lot of new fans, drawn in by the gigantic and iconic imagery. But with the release of the trailer a full week before the Comic Con, what could they have to offer the rabid fans? How would people respond in the presence of the people responsible for this production? Is the movie going to be as good as the trailer? Will it be as good as the book?!?
Zack Snyder’s sheer fanboy enthusiasm for the project over the last several months has reassured a lot of fans, while irritating hardliners who hold that The Watchmen is unfilmable. Right now, I find myself stuck somewhere in between the two. The sheer density of the book is imperative to the storytelling. Everything is related, and the layers of different kinds of storytelling weave together to create a marvelous whole. There are several genres working at the same time: crime, romance, fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction And the sheer humanity of the characters — the fact that there are superheroes at all almost becomes incidental to the subtext and depth of the characters interactions! However, since this is a movie that needs to reach audiences, a lot of that is going to have to be pared down to one or two main storylines. Snyder has conceded this. Even if the movie turns out to be 3 hours long, it will still need to have a great deal of content omitted from the film.
Now I’m not so naÃ¯ve to think that everything from the book might have ever made its way into the film. But, I do think that the richness of all the information presented in the book is what makes it so significant. By removing certain aspects of the story, we’ll merely be watching a superhero movie, instead of a giant exploration of the human condition during that cold war period.
The trailer is full of iconic shots, which appear to perfectly match Dave Gibbon’s art for the series, panel for panel. However, there’s something about the images that look a little too polished, stylized and shiny. The art in The Watchmen is significant because it represents the standard drawing style during a golden age of comics, and when Alan Moore takes the story into uncharted territory, it catches the reader off guard and leaves us vulnerable, and at the whim of this unpredictable yet familiar environment. A large part of me thinks that if the movie were set in a world that felt more grounded in reality, and didn’t look quite so fantastical, the intensity of the story being told would be much more effective. Rather, Snyder has foregone this suspense and surprise to visually clue us in to just how epic this story is.
The panel discussion seemed to be more for the edification of the filmmakers and the studio rather than for the satisfaction of the fans. It seemed that the people invested in the film wanted to gauge the audience response, without really revealing much more than the previously released trailer. They wanted the audience to hoot and holler, and foam at the mouth for every morsel of this movie they could get their fingers on. They wanted every question during the Q&A portion of the panel to begin with, “First of all, this movie looks awesome.” Some one up there is aware of just how precarious the public opinion of this movie is, and wants the fans to get behind it so the rest of the public can as well.
The only new material they trotted out was a short reel of footage (a fair amount of which was in the trailer) set to some operatic choral music. This actually seemed to set a much more dire, and perhaps appropriate tone, than that by the Smashing Pumpkins song (originally written specifically for the Batman & Robin soundtrack) in the theatrical trailer. The material shown was of some of the less PG scenes, including Roarshach’s showdown with the police during his capture (with a great deal of detail on his constantly changing mask), the comedian using a flamethrower against some VC soldiers, a much more detailed look at the transformation of Dr. Manhattan, and the explosive and violent extent of his super powers. Once again, the imagery looks spot on perfect to the book, albeit a little bit glossier. Oh, and it’s almost all in slow motion.
That’s the other thing about striving for a perfect visual reproduction: if you spend the whole movie reveling in the aesthetic, where do you cram the story in? It may have worked for 300, because it was necessary to help transform a 75 page graphic novel into a two hour feature film, but it is by no means a substitute for the intrigue of the world in which this story takes place.
As for the audience’s response at the panel, many were in fact, awestruck. Many of the questions to the cast and filmmakers were about their experience and opinions of being involved in such a tremendous undertaking. “What was it like?” seemed to be a popular prefix to a question addressed to anyone on the stage. However, there were also some who seemed to share my concern for the plot, asking if the missing pieces would be included in any other form; dvd bonus features, viral marketing campaigns, or crafty websites. The answer to all of these, it seemed, was a hesitant yes. In some way or another, they intend to tell the whole story, just not all in the film.
In spite of all my nit picking and nay saying, which is admittedly a partial response to Snyder’s Eli Roth-esque cocksureness, the audience did sit in the presence of one half of the duo that created The Watchmen, Dave Gibbons, who seemed genuinely thrilled with the result. He said that he was absolutely amazed to see a world that he had imagined literally come to life around him, down to the smallest detail. When asked if he could ever convince Moore to accept and be proud of the film adaptation of his story, he responded “You know, I wish Alan hadn’t had such a terrible experience in the past, because I’m really having a great one.” So if Dave Gibbons is pleased with what they’ve made so far, perhaps you ought to take his word over mine. However, I’m going to remain suspicious of this film until I feel certain that they’ve done the message of the story correctly.