368: Why Middle-Aged Seekers Will Be Up Past Bedtime for WATCHMEN!

atchmen” is an “obituary for the concept of heroes in general and superheroes in particular, … an admonition to those who trusted in ‘heroes’ and leaders to guard the world’s fate — who are supposed to ‘rescue’ us and perhaps lay waste to the planet in the process.”

    Bradford W. Wright, author of “Comic Book Nation”

HAVE YOU BEEN sitting in a movie theater recently and, while you’re nibbling your first morsels of popcorn, suddenly watched a strange super-hero preview roll across the screen featuring a huge-watery-blue-looking hero and a strange guy in a fedora with mossy fabric over his face?
    I’ve heard the comments echoing around me in theaters, ranging from: “Not another one of those comic book movies!” to “What’s that?” to “Cool! I want to see that!”
    Today’s story comes from a writer who probably uttered the latter — addressed to the millions of us who still may be expressing skepticism or curiosity.
    For fans of comics, graphic novels and contemporary super-hero literature, “Watchmen” is far more than a series of comic books — so the attempt to bring this comic milestone to the big screen will be closely watched by many men and women. It opens at 12:01 a.m. March 6.

Here is playwright, cultural critic, gardener and online commentator Jim Leach’s


By Jim Leach

My heart still races when I watch the trailers.
    The soundtrack single “Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance delights me, both the song choice and performing artist. The cast possesses solid acting credentials. Certainly the hype-machine is in overdrive. Yet it grieves me to predict that the upcoming “Watchmen” movie will stink. I would LOVE to adore “Watchmen the Movie” as much as I adore Watchmen the comic. But  —

    Well, let me explain why this is so important.
    When it debuted in 1986, Watchmen the comic presented a nuanced and literate critique of American comics from within the world of American comics. It questioned the nastier implications of our childish fixation on costumed vigilantes and cleared the ground for more mature work in the medium.

    The appearance of Watchmen the comic is as historically important to American “graphic literature” as when another of Alan Moore’s works from the 1980’s, Swamp Thing, became the first comic in 30 years to be published by a major company without the imprint of the Comics Code Authority. Making a Hollywood movie of this achievement is a little like making it the theme of a ride at Disneyland.
    Fully entertaining movies can quite easily be fashioned from unreadably banal comic books, for instance anything X-Men related. Watchmen the comic is too important to be turned into amusement.
    Why am I so skeptical about this movie version?
    First it’s just not that easy to make a good movie even from a good comic book. And when the source material is a great comic book, the task is nearly impossible. After all, films based on other excellent comics by Alan Moore (From Hell, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) haven’t exactly been cinematic triumphs.
    Permit me to list two major reasons for my dire pronouncement:

The Rhythm of the Frame

    The makers of “Watchmen” the movie have achieved breath-taking recreations of individual frames from the comic. But translating a comic to the screen also requires sensitivity to the pace of these frames. The nine-frame grid of Watchmen the comic establishes a ticking pulse, one that hammers along with little relief until the catastrophe depicted in issue 12. Scene editing in movies, of course, also creates pace but “Watchmen” the movie would have to be quite an unusual Hollywood movie to have editing as formally rigorous or as quietly relentless.

Layered Narration

    Motion pictures and comics both tell their tales visually. But movies have other elements available, like sound. Comics must speak an entirely visual language even for their dialogue. The best comics take advantage of this fact to layer together multiple texts. For instance, Watchmen the comic weaves its main story with snippets from Rorschach’s journal, The Black Freighter comic as well as segments from the fictional tell-all Under the Hood. These layers are kept visually distinct through typography and frame placement and they all contribute to the richness of the story. “Watchmen” the movie will likely resort to voice-over narration for one of these layers and scrap the rest.

    But, let’s be honest here, shall we?
    I’m going. I can’t stay away.
    Despite my skepticism, I’ll be there among the midnight crowds on opening night, staying up long beyond my middle-aged bed time, to watch Nightowl, Rorschach, Ozymandias, Black Canary and the whole gang.
    I read (and re-read) the comics back in college as they came out monthly so I might even enjoy the experience from sheer nostalgia. But after the adrenaline and sleep deprivation settle out, I bet I won’t be the only one saying that Watchmen stinks as a movie.


    Visit Jim Leach’s own Web site: 20 Minute Gardener.

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