Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Tragedy Of Watchmen

Admit it, you knew this post was coming.

The Watchmen trailer is out (no, I won't link it here), and the Geekdom has cheered its approval, complete with fists punching air. The San Diego Comic Con has a model of Nite Owl's ship on display for fanboys to walk through and gawk at. Everyone's playing it like the trailer has shown us a glimpse of pure genius, like we will be weeping our eyes out when the final masterpiece is unveiled.

This, unfortunately, is the reality. Let's think about it for a moment. Would the fanboy geekdom wield so much power and influence had there not been the Internet? Now is the Age Of The Geek. Now is their time. With fast and wide connection, wired throughout the world, the geeks even dare go up against the Weinsteins. Now if that's not power, I don't know what is.

Now, with this much enthusiasm and approval for Watchmen, anything short of a hit for the movie would be unthinkable. The positive reaction so far is just a symptom of the current need for slickness and style. And that's what Zack Snyder is all about. All style, no substance. That's also why 300 was a massive hit among the fanboys. We can safely blame Sin City for this. From thereon, movie adaptations of comicbooks became much more concerned with emulating the panels of the comicbook, in lieu of everything else. The oohs and aahs of the fanboys came from seeing how much 300 the movie looks like 300 the comicbook. No fanboy much cared for the racist and fascist overtones. Hell, it's an awesome movie to look at, why politicise it?

Snyder's modus operandi for Watchmen seems to be more of the same. The first information released on the Net was about how painstakingly Snyder and gang paid attention to every detail of Dave Gibbons' artwork. If only movie adaptations of comicbooks were so easy, every comicbook movie would be a hit. Why did Christopher Nolan and his brother have to crack their skulls to come up with such a brilliant script when just emulating every panel of The Killing Joke would have been enough?

The very basic, simple point missed by folks like Snyder is that: even if your Watchmen don't look like they do in the comicbooks, but you have a story of substance to tell, and you're able to retain the essence of what the original story was about, it would be a good movie anyway.

The first thing already wrong with Snyder's vision of Watchmen is that everything is slick. Everything is cool. I've said before, there's a reason why the superheroes' costumes, as rendered by Gibbons, look a little odd and ill-fitting. It's not just the superheroes are older and paunchier in the present time of the story. The idea Alan Moore grapples with in the book is that if superheroes did exist, they would be the odd ones out. They would be the outcasts. They would be weirdos. Having that much power would screw your head up in some ways.

But it looks from the trailer like there's just going to be more "carnage in slow-motion", as someone described. The way the guy explodes at Dr Manhattan's touch is cool. The way Nite Owl's ship comes out of the water is cool.

Having seen The Dark Knight, I have to wonder what Watchmen would have been like had the project gone to Nolan. Nolan would have understood, he would have dug even deeper into the story, probing the very nature of the Watchmen. Moore's book is a dark, disturbing, and terribly unsettling story, and you come away from it not being able to look at superheroes the same way ever again. At least I did.

Snyder obviously didn't. There's a reason why Watchmen was, for many years, considered unadaptable. But it seems Snyder so easily jumped into it, and churned out a movie in record time.

That has got to be cause for worry.

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