Something old, Something new. Something borrowed, Something blue.
As a sporadic comic book fan growing up in the 1980’s, one would think the original 12-issue graphic novel ‘Watchmen’ would be among the stack of comic books I collected over the last two and a half decades but you would be wrong.
I didn’t discover ‘Watchmen’ until several years after it had already been published. Even then, once I was informed that only one of the so called “superheroes” in the novel actually has superpowers, I completely lost interest in reading it. Flash forward to 2007 when news broke that a ‘Watchmen’ movie was in production. My interest was rekindled. A ‘Watchmen’ movie? Why would they make a ‘Watchmen’ movie before ‘The Justice League of America’, ‘Avengers’, or even the plucky ‘Teen Titans’ I wondered? The fanboy sites caught on fire. It was like someone finally made a movie for them. Not just because it was the popular thing to do.
I decided to borrow the graphic novel from a friend to investigate what all the excitement was about. I was blown away. Writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons are brilliant. They transcend the medium. This is not merely a comic book or a graphic novel, this is an extraordinary piece of literature. Now I became just as excited as the fans who waited decades to see the movie. How could they have waited this long? Maybe my ignorance spared me some sort of unnecessary frustration. Pictures of the characters were released online. It was like feeding morsels of cheese to starving mice. The fanboys went crazy. Then the complaints came. Why are the actors so young? They’re supposed to be retired superheros, right? Why is Rorschach so short? Dan Dreiberg should have a pot belly like he does in the graphic novel. Rumors followed. The script changed the original ending and no “Tales of the Black Freighter” in-story narrative. Then the trailer calmed the doubters. Director Zack Snyder was religiously faithful to the heart of the graphic novel in ways that mattered visually and verbally. The integrity of the novel and its violent depiction of an alternate 1985 America was not compromised for the moviegoing demographic and big box office returns.
Perhaps a more fitting title would have been “Will Pop Culture Embrace ‘Watchmen’? Maybe it Has Already.” What does ‘Ghost’ (1990) and ‘Watchmen’ have in common? Ask “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof. The graphic novel has had a near subliminal effect on pop culture over the decades. Is the memorable scene of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze kissing at the end of the film inspired by a similar smooch from the graphic novel? Lindelof cites ‘Watchmen’ comic’s use of origin-story flashbacks and hidden clues as a major influence on his hit TV series.
There isn’t a single doubt that fans of the graphic novel will flock to the theaters to see ‘Watchmen’ but will it be embraced or ignored by pop culture? So far Hollywood has adapted three of Alan Moore’s graphic novels: ‘From Hell’ (2001), ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ (2003) and ‘V for Vendetta’ (2005). All of those films featured big stars but under performed at the box-office. Snyder has a different approach. He cast up-and-coming; not well-known actors, in hope moviegoers will see the characters not stars onscreen. But you have to get them into the theaters first. Warner Bros. has been working overtime distributing promotional material, attending movie conventions, posting online Video Journals, clips, posters, buying expensive TV spots, selling video games, toys and soundtracks — not to mention selling millions of books. All while battling 20th Century Fox over rights to the film. Still I doubt the movie will become a pop culture phenomenon on the same level as ‘X-Men’ or ‘The Fantastic Four’. Besides do you really want your kids eating cereal with a picture of the masked vigilante Rorschach on the box? I shutter at the thought.