In all honesty, I have to admit....I'm a little less-than-enthused about the upcoming Watchmen movie.
It's not the source material - I waited patiently for every single issue when it came out. I owned a now-well-worn first edition trade. I now own the Absolute edition. I just don't feel the overwhelming enthusiasm that many other fans do. Part of it is, admittedly, Zach Snyder - I'm a little leery (based on his IMDB profile) of anyone whose work consists more of adaptations/remakes that creating new material. Anyone can recast material, especially from a visual medium like comics and graphic literature, and I would be more confident if Mr. Snyder had directed an original (to him) screenplay. It's also critical with an author like Alan Moore, whose comic work is extremely dense, multi-layered, and assertively original. In fact, looking at many adaptations of Moore's work, it's easy to see why he's been critical - two of the last three adaptations of his graphic novel work missed the boat completely.
For example, From Hell - the graphic novel - is a completely well-layered meditation and exploration on the identity of Jack the Ripper which integrates conspiracy theory, Eddie Campbell's portrayal of the squalor of Victorian-era London, and some well-mannered storytelling into a book that slowly seduces the reader. In short, it takes you into another world. However, the Hughes Brothers' 2002 film adaptation never lets you forget that you're watching a movie - from the way-too-gorgeous set design to the "arty" camera movies, all the way down to Johnny Depp's you-gotta-be-kidding-me fake British accent...they hit several of Moore's story beats, but they manage to boil down a well-crafted story into a slightly above-average slasher flick.
(Now, several of you will be objecting to my characterization of Johnny Depp, and I openly admit - I don't like him as an actor. In my opinion, his performances always seems self-aware, and a little too self-conscious...of course, the only movie I've enjoyed him in was Ed Wood. Putting his performance aside, the movie From Hell just doesn't work - if you want to watch another movie, based on many of the same theories and source material that Alan Moore used in the graphic novel, hunt down Murder by Decree, which stars Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes. And...it's directed by Bob Clark, who also directed A Christmas Story. It's a little bit dated stylistically, but trust me - you'll have a much better time and enjoy it a lot more).
Of course, there's always the film adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or LXG, as it was called, to capitalize on another successful comic franchise). When I think of this movie, one question comes to mind:
"How could James Robinson - who wrote Starman, one of the greatest and most literate of comics - fail so miserably at adapting Moore's comic?"
This is, as many people know, the movie that led Alan Moore to have his name removed from future movie adaptations, primarily because of a lawsuit alleging that he wrote the graphic novel to help Fox secure the rights to the screenplay. However, the original graphic novel was a unique blend of alternate-world history and public domain characters seemingly pilfered from Librivox. In short, Moore's graphic novel used his main characters as proto-superheroes, long before the days of pulp literature. The movie, however...well, it has the stink of producers wanting to cash in. We all know Mina Murray in the comics was a victim of a vampire...but in this movie, she is a vampire. (Or, at least, has vampire powers). Granted, some of the changes were due to legal considerations (since Universal owns the movie rights to Welles' novel, The Invisible Man simply became an Invisible Man). It's a movie that doesn't try too hard...and that falls flat.
(I didn't see Constantine, because I'm allergic to Keanu Reeves. Ergo, I won't mention it in this column)
But personally, my favorite Moore adaptation would have to be V For Vendetta. I have blogged about my love for the graphic novel - and the movie - and watching the movie again, I realize that although many liberties have been taken with Moore's story...it's probably the best adaptation because the changes make it resonate more powerfully in today's times.
When Moore wrote the series, the world was a much different place - Cold War tensions between the United States and the USSR meant that many other countries - like England - were often like uncomfortable children whose parents were arguing. Although many of the plot details were changed to reflect our current post-9/11 climate (and, alas, some Matrix style visuals), this is a film that reinforces many of the themes of the graphic novel - the nature of governments vs. people, the emphasis of self-definition vs. conformity...so what if Moore felt that the eggs-in-a-basket was off? By his own admission in interviews, films and comics do two separate things...and when one medium is adapted into another, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It means shaping the story to have a similar impact...and in this way, Vendetta works because it hits many of the same story beats, but provides the same kind of texture and multiple layers of the original graphic novel.
Stephen King has written that, when a book of his would be adapted to a movie, he would talk to the movie and consider it like a child heading off to summer camp. He didn't love the book less, but he also knew that it would be a different. When an author - any author - spends a great amount of time creating something, there's almost a parental relationship to the work. Alan Moore has every right to be cynical - after all, his hard work has been (in some cases) reshaped beyond repair. Although I liked Watchmen, I have great concerns that Zach Snyder is so focused on telling Moore's story...that there will be little (if any) resonance to it. It may prove to be an almost shot-for-panel remake of the comic...and quite frankly, the best Watchmen movie is the one that plays in my head every time I reread the graphic novel. So if I seem a little less than enthused...it's because I'm concerned that I may not be shown anything new that resonates with me - it's that I wonder if this is a movie that is being made simply because the director wants it to be made.
And now, for a closing thought:
Alan Moore has consistently asserted about how his novels have been "ruined" by Hollywood treatment, but perhaps he should take some lead from noir author James M. Cain.
When Cain's Double Idemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice were adapted into movies, a book critic once asked Mr. Cain how he felt about his books being "ruined" by Hollywood. Mr. Cain's response was to point to his bookshelf and say, "They haven't been ruined - they're all right here".
As long as his works are published, Mr. Moore has nothing to worry about.
Coming soon - what a 70 year old pulp hero shares in common with a six-month-old show on ABC Family. The Road to Perdition and A History of Violence. And it's all leading up to our first anniversary column in November.
But don't just read - feel free to discuss this month's column in our forums. Or head on over to my blog for more related writings.
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general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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