Precogview: Why "Watchmen" will probably suck

I reread "Watchmen" last week to prep for the movie, and it only confirmed what I have long suspected, since the first time I heard they were making a movie out of it, actually:

Any "Watchmen" movie will suck.

It's too big, too multi-layered, too heavy with meaning, too good as a comic book to fully translate into a film. The greatest moments of the piece are purely comics moments -- The Comedian being flung out of a window, hanging in the air, cutting in stop-motion to the drop of blood on the happy-face button, shards of glass suspended around him like a halo. John standing in the snow, staring at Rorschach, unsure himself what he will do. The frozen tableau of New Yorkers dead in the street beneath a monstrosity. Ozymandias staring in thought after the departing Dr. Manhattan, wondering what he meant by "It's never over."

Those are moments that work best in the medium of comics, which relies on the combination of time's stoppage on a page where you can still see everything else going on around it. Taking that into a movie, which exists only in time, only when in motion, is going to be a challenge for anyone.

Look, I'm not one of those people who think that a great work of art in one medium can never work in another. I'm too illiterate and lazy to go name examples, but you should go think up some for yourself, what am I, Wikipedia? But "Watchmen" ... man, it's dense. It packs layer onto layer of meaning, echoing itself in ways that are just really complex and difficult to pull off. To do it you'd need someone who really understands the source material, who's studied it and understands its essence in his (or her) gut.

And from what I've seen in the trailers, that guy ain't Zack Snyder.

The first thing that bugs me is that Nite Owl is slim and trim, in peak athletic form. It doesn't bug me in the same way that, say, Superman's briefs being too brief bugged some fanboys in "Superman Returns". I don't care about that kind of thing. And it doesn't bug me in the same way that casting Michael Keeton as Batman teed off some people back in the day. Those are cosmetic changes.

But a skinny Nite Owl isn't freaking Nite Owl! The whole point of that character is that he feels flabby, feckless, helpless, impotent, his whole life out of its rightful shape. He's not just fat for the sake of being fat, he's fat for a reason. Taking that away from him is like saying "We can't have short people in a major motion picture, make the Hobbits taller." The Hobbits aren't just small because Tolkien got hold of some bad 'shrooms, they're short because their whole point is to show that ordinary, even smaller than ordinary, people can make a difference. That ordinary is the way of the new world, and that's all right.

What I'm saying is, missing the point of Nite Owl being fat misses such a fundamental aspect of the entire story that I fear the director has completely missed everything else, too.

The visual styling also worries me. What I mean here is that part of what "Watchmen" was about was the concept of taking the every day, grimy, gritty, real world and introducing a fantastic element -- Dr. Manhattan and costumed heroes -- into it. Moore and Gibbons very carefully built a world on that premise, a world painstakingly realistic in every other facet. That's what makes all of these changes wrought by Dr. Manhattan believable. And in light of that completely unrealistic element, the costumed regular guys seem all right. They work. They fit.

But from what I see in the trailers, Mr. Snyder has turned the whole thing upside-down. He's taken the one supernatural element, that feeling of something that's out of the ordinary, and made it the substance of the whole film. The graphic novel is about an ordinary world with super-heroes in it, while it looks like we're going to be getting a super-hero movie, period.

A movie is not a comic. It's not a novel, it's not a play, it's not a TV show. It's a movie. I get that. I don't expect works of art that jump from one medium to another to be just like, or even mostly like, its source material. But the spirit of the thing has to be maintained or else you end up with some soulless abomination like "Wanted", where you just sort of scratch your head and go "What was the point of that?" The movie looks pretty, but even that makes me nervous -- the novel is dirty, dark, and disturbed. It shouldn't be shiny and glossy and perfect, which is what I think we're being given.

A friend asked me one time why, if I love super-hero comics so much, I don't go to see every single super-hero movie released. And I answered, "It's because I love super-hero comics so much that I don't go to see the ones I think are going to be really, really bad. I care too much to see them diminished." I fear "Watchmen" will be such a film, although I hope -- I really, really hope -- I'm wrong on this one.

12 Responses to Precogview: Why "Watchmen" will probably suck

  1. I think it will work really. Not perfectly but it will probably be the BEST Watchmen movie a mortal man could make.

  2. I have not yet had the opportunity to read “Watchmen”, though i hope to do so soon. I found the trailer interesting visually,and even if it deviates from the book, it may likely still be worth the ticket price. This is the same mindset i had going in to see Ghost Rider, and it worked well then. Ghost Rider was by no means a great movie, but it was entertaining, had amazing special effects, and it had Sam Elliot in it, so i was pleased overall. My point is, Watchmen will at the very least have some redeeming qualities.

  3. But Watchmen needs to be so much more than Ghost Rider. It was a masterpiece in graphic novel form and, as Jeff says, was full of layers of meaning.

    Personally, I think the thing is doomed because of the time constraints. I can’t even explain the many layers of the Watchmen universe in 90 minutes – I’ve read it about a hundred times and notice something new with each re-reading. The slick styling also sucks, and you know some producer was saying, “Zack, baby, who wants to see a fat guy in a tight suit?” with no idea of who Nite Owl even was. I am not going to pay $10 to see a work of art I’m well acquainted with reimagined by people with no idea of what made it art.

    My criteria will be the smiley faces with a scratch through the eye. That symbol shows up in some form many times throughout the novel, and if we see those in the movie it’ll indicate that some effort was made and incline me to be more lenient. But, at best, I see this as sucking for the same reason “Hitchhiker’s Guide” did, in that it’s just too layered to translate well.

  4. …of course, the real question after Watchmen the Movie is:

    “Which director will tackle Moore’s ‘Promethea’?”

    Ow! Ow! I kid! Put down the bats and knives!

  5. Well, Hitchhikes’s wasn’t so much a translation as it was a new version of the same story, much like the novel was a new version of the original radio scripts. Not that that connects to Watchmen, but I just thought it was an interesting bit of trivia

  6. *Hitchhiker’s

  7. I’m willing to give it a fair chance for one reason: I read an interview with Snyder saying that he agonized on how or if to include the Black Ship segments. They finally decided to cut them (but from what I understand they will show up in animated form in the DVD), but the mere fact that Snyder seemed to be aware of their importance to the story seems to bode at least somewhat well…

  8. You know what will be the worst thing about it? All the people who say “Whos watching the Watchmen? I AM!”

  9. OH GOD! I hadn’t even thought about that, and now it’s already sucking out my will to live

  10. Well, According the movie is 2h35 minute for the theatrical cut, a little bit more than 3h for the special edition version and nearly 4h for the ultimate colector’s edition, wich is the special edition cut with the Black Freighter added trough it.

    You want a dense work that has been adapted successfully into a movie? Lord of the Rings.

    Jeff, did you see the lastest trailer? In it, you see Dan Dreiberg without costume and he is clearly a little bit overweight. Also, keep in mind that what you saw is a TRAILER. A trailer’s goal is to drive people to see the movie. In order to do this, they must show you the most adrenaline-packed sequences in 60 seconds. If you had to convince me to see say, Titanic, in 60 seconds, what would you show to me? The sequence where the boat trip over, or the 15-minutes heartfelt dialogue sequence between the two protagonist.

  11. Hmmm … you know, Collex, in Broken City they showed Batman having fake abs in his Batsuit to conceal body armor. If they play up that angle or something similar to explain Nite Owl’s appearance, I could go on board with that detail. That only leaves me with about 99 other details to worry about.

    But I’m really hoping you’re right about the times and the effort going into the adaptation. And I actually kind of like Peter Jackson’s version of LOTR (I did miss Tom Bombadil, but not many other people did), so you’ve made me a little more optimistic.

  12. What is Broken City? A comic-book I’ve never read?

    Well, I can’t say every detail will be respected , it’s an adaptation after all. But I’m cautiously optismitic. Remember it could have been way worst. Before Zack Snyder came aboard, the studios were going to update the story to that “War on Terror” concept you Americans are so fond of.