Saturday, March 10, 2007

Who Watches...?

Some time back, Lucy at Bang2Write posted on film adaptations. Whereas her post was directed primarily toward literary as source material for movies, there is one other current fad to take into account: comic books.

Since Richard Donner got it pitch perfect with Superman: The Movie in 1978, we’ve had the good, the bad and the utterly stupid! Tim Burton made a dreadful mess of DC Comics’ other mainstay, Batman, kicking off of a positively series of films that got progressively worse until, after a long hibernation Christopher Nolan successfully resuscitated the character.

DC’s main comic book rival Marvel messed around with cheap and cheerless, mediocre television movies before hitting the big time with Spiderman and X-Men. In their wake the floodgates opened, hurling a razzle-dazzling array of characters off the page and onto the screen.

As expected not all of them were good, especially when the movies dispensed with the subtext and simply relied on four-colour spandex-clad super men and women knocking seven shades out of each other. In those instances they relied on an audience of kiddies attracted to the bright and shiny, and fanboys well past college age who still lived with their parents.

This year Ghost Rider has blazed a trail across the screens and 300 is almost upon us. Come the summer the Fantastic Four will be back. After a mediocre origin movie, the sequel is literally going for the bright and shiny with the arrival of the Silver Surfer.

Oooooh, shiny!! But the real treat, apparently, is the soon-to-be-realized Watchmen.

The comic book for people who don’t read comic books, Watchmen, created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, was first published by DC Comics in 1986 as a twelve-part limited series. Collected into a trade paperback, the “graphic novel” was later selected by Time magazine in 2005 as one of “the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present”.
Set in an alternate America, victorious in Vietnam, where Richard Nixon is serving his fifth term and the United States and Soviet Union are inching toward nuclear war, Watchmen begins with the murder of a veteran government agent and one-time costumed adventurer. The investigation into his death gradually brings together the group of crimefighters, forced to retire by a government Act that banned “costumed vigilantes”, as they begin to uncover a plot that has far-reaching global consequences.

As a movie plot, that’s pretty neat. Without the colourful superheroics, it verges on territory already filled out by Edge of Darkness and Pixar’s incredible The Incredibles. Woven around the central plot of Watchmen is a multi-layered narrative that sees the characters forced to struggle with both ethical and personal issues and their own neuroses. With its non-linear narrative, each issue of the limited series is built around advancing the story from their perspective while using shifting time frames to fill the reader in on their background and motivations - a device now facilitated by Lost.

Whereas Frank Miller’s graphic novels Sin City and 300 have a hard-boiled brutality and visceral urgency to their illustrations, allowing them to transfer relatively easily and recognisably to the screen, Watchmen is much more exacting and precise. While comic book scripts typically run to 32 pages, Alan Moore’s scripts for the series averaged out at 150 pages per issue.

The pages of Watchmen are filled with multiple recurring themes and motifs - beginning with the blood-stained smiley face – recurring secondary characters, and a comic book within the comic book – the pirate adventure Tales of the Black Freighter – which, as post-modern metafiction, acts as a parallel commentary to the ongoing story.

Since the film rights were snapped up the project has bounced about between 20th Century Fox, Universal and Paramount with directors Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass trying, and ultimately failing, to bring what Gilliam called an “unmakeable” project to the screen.

Now the project is at Warner Brothers, owned, like DC Comics, by Time Warner, with 300’s Zack Snyder set to direct. To whet the fanboys’ appetite and get them all aquiver, an authenticated test frame has already been inserted into the latest 300 trailer showing the psychotic vigilante Rorschach.

Which means, hey, it’s a Rorschach test! (Boom-boom! You’ve been a great audience; don’t forget to tip your waitresses).

A masterpiece of storytelling on paper, whether Watchmen succeeds on screen, or ends up as a mediocre film, remains to be seen. As the Doomsday Clock counts down all we can do is wait and see.


At 3:42 pm, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

It would be nice for an Alan Moore adaptaton to be so good that he'll be able to keep his name on a film and keep the money for a change.

At 4:32 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

Clever boy...

At 4:42 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

If I can’t play Rorschach, then it won’t be worth watching.

Not that I’m a mental or anything... ;-)

At 6:43 pm, Blogger Ian said...

Actually I think it was Blade that kick-started Marvel's success at the movie emporiums. It was the surprise success of that film which encouraged the film companies to take a chance on X-Men and Spider-Man.

Of course if they'd known how Blade II and Blade III would turn out they probably wouldn't have bothered!

At 10:14 pm, Blogger Lee said...

If Moore had his way, future printings of Watchmen wouldn't even have his name on them. I doubt he's likely to make a penny off the film, the property being owned in its entirety by DC.

As the movie has been in development hell for the best part of twenty years, I don't hold out a lot of hope for it.

At 10:25 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Ian, yeah I avoided any mention of Blade because, well having to write the words Ghost and Rider together was bad enough.

Lee, adapting Watchmen for the screen will be on one big bastard hiding to nothing.

But then Snyder's 300 has just opened in the US with a $70 million weekend. So if he wants to make Watchman there won;t be anybody there saying no.

At 3:49 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Omigod, the geekery is spreading... AND IT'S MY FAULT THIS TIME! DAMN YOU ALL!!!


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