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Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Comics: Watchmen

Last night, I attended a wonderful "dinner and a movie" preview through Challengers. A good time was had by all, and Patrick and Dal should be beatified for their selflessness in giving up their seats. They are truly what makes Challengers the store we all want to frequent. The movie, of course, was Watchmen. One viewing, especially one at 12AM when I'm normally in bed by 11PM, feels very insufficient to write a cohesive and insightful review. Nevertheless, I shall make an attempt. I probably cannot do so without some spoilers; so you have been warned.

For me, the glory of Watchmen has always been its construction. It is so intricately fabricated with layers and layers of interwoven reference and meaning that I am forever finding new aspects and hidden items within its pages. Of all things, an obvious analogy is that the book is written the same way that a fine watch is constructed- each small piece hand-crafted and precisely fitted to work with the others to produce a final product that we too often do not appreciate. I recently heard a reviewer describe the book as "Talmudic" with meaning, which is a good description of a lot of Alan Moore's work. This is the deep level that Watchmen works at for me. At first read, I also appreciated the story, a noir-type mystery with an apocalypse backdrop and also a history lesson, but subsequent readings and critical examination has made the formation of the story more important to me than the story itself.

Instead of re-reading Watchmen before the film, I've been listening to the "Footnotes" episodes over at Comic Geek Speak. I highly recommend these as critical reference material if you've already read Watchmen. It's four to six guys who go through the book, issue by issue, panel by panel and discuss everything about it. It's great because there are enough differing opinions to really engage listeners with a variety of views and also a lot of in depth information about the comic itself. I did this to have the comic fresh in my mind while divorcing it from its visuals. I thought this would allow me to see the movie more as a creation of its own, rather than constantly comparing it to the comic.

My efforts were in vain; not through any fault of my own, but this movie does not want to be seen as separate from its source material. There are scenes which were basically story-boarded by the comic. The casting was superb, the set design is amazing [and was probably my favorite thing about the film*], and the sensitivity the movie had towards the interpretation of the comic was outstanding. However, that same sensitivity, I feel, kept the movie from having the same impact with me that the comic does. The movie keeps so close that it never develops as its own entity, despite the convenient changes to the ending. I just don't think that the general public will be able to embrace Watchmen the way that they did The Dark Knight or even V for Vendetta. It's just too long and too true and too much of an homage to stand on its own.

*Another favorite aspect of the film was the use of music to set the time period. Because Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985, all of the popular music in the movie comes from that time. It really allowed the viewer to identify the when of Watchmen, especially in the absence of other clues which the comic provided through vignettes of people other than superheros. The opening credits were also an extremely clever way to represent the historical aspects of the book in an economical way.

Obviously, I recommend both reading and seeing Watchmen. I'd say read it first and use the movie as a fun appendix. Then go read the rest of Alan Moore's work, especially Promethea and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Also, never see the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. On second thought, do see it. Then you'll have an even greater appreciation for what a true adaption Watchmen is and how it still falls short of its comic counterpart.


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