07 March 2009

Who watches the Watchmen? I do!

You see the poster. You look up at the post title. So you expect a review of Watchmen, which premiered yesterday in theaters.

Sorry, I’m only deceiving you. You will get a full Watchmen review, but I will make you wait until Tuesday because I want to post it as my entry for the Black Gate blog. The movie’s exploration of comic book legendry and how the superhero archetype functions in the contemporary world seems analytical enough of the genre of the fantastic to get inclusion on the site. Plus, more people read the Black Gate blog than read my blog, so for a high-profile new movie like Watchmen, one of the year’s most anticipated films, I can grab more traffic if I place it up at a high traffic site. Besides, I’ve worked on some genuine obscura recently over at Black Gate, so its time for a touch of populism.

Nonetheless, I do have some short notes on the film, and some pre-review commentary.

I’ve read the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and I agree with everyone else who has read it that it represents a high water-mark for the medium. Alan Moore set out to create a work of comic book art with the same depth as classic prose literature, and I believe that he succeeded. Watchmen shows how the graphic novel can emphasize the novel part of the name. I consider Watchmen a novel, with no need to qualify it with the “graphic” part, and place it beside other favorite novels of mine.

But it still remains a “graphic” novel, and Moore and Gibbons try to use the illustrated serial art to tell the story in a way that neither a film nor a prose novel could. It is a tale ideally suited to its medium. So when Alan Moore complains that Watchmen should not and cannot be made into a film, I understand where he gets the stance.

But prose novels do much that movies can’t as well—and get adapted into fine movies all the time. So Watchmen can get the same translation to cinema screens. No one expects to see a reproduction of the graphic novel on-screen—an impossibility anyway—only an interpretation of its story, and hopefully a good one.

And is it good? Yes, extremely so. Although running about two hours and forty minutes, the silver-screen Watchmen only feels draggy in a few places; otherwise it has the same compulsive action and constant interest of the source material. I’m intrigued to learn what people who haven’t read the graphic novel will think of it. My friend who saw it with me, and who hasn’t yet read the book, told me that he thought “it was a lot to absorb.” Absolutely, and in this way it’s similar to another superhero movie redefiner, The Dark Knight.

I do have some complaints. Principally the choice and usage of source music. And Malin Ackerman’s performance. There’s also much to say about the the way the movie has to adapt its complex material, and some of the choices made, but you'll get all of this and more on Tuesday—after you’ve all had a watch the Watchmen.

Yeah, Rorschach rocks. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Hurm.

Update: And here it be.