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Don't watch the 'Watchmen'

 

Last updated 3/12/2009 at Noon



To tell a story, one must be conscious of the medium through which one shares it. A novelist builds his story like a house, with written words as its foundation and structure, while a radio presenter uses the inflection of his voice to move it forward.

Though a stage performance and motion picture create a viewable experience, the movie actor has the power of the close-up while a stage actor must use more dramatic gestures for his more distant but live audience.

In each case, the same story needs to be stretched and molded to make the most of the particular advantages of each medium.

In a day when adaptations are a dime a dozen, screenwriters and directors should be acutely aware of this; there must be a balance between staying true to the story as to not alienate the original fans but also playing to the strengths and avoiding the weaknesses in film as to not turn off the general audience.

Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” simply did not achieve this equilibrium.

But one should not fault Snyder for the film’s poor adaptation, for from the beginning the cards were stacked against him.

Unlike Frank Miller’s comic “300,” which was arguably drawn like a movie story board, Alan Moore specifically wrote “Watchmen” to explore the storytelling strength comics have over films in particular areas.

While the characters and plots obviously have an important role in the comic, Moore cared more for the telling of the story than the story itself.

Ironically, almost immediately after its publication in 1986 the comic was considered movie material, with many industry giants, such as Terry Gilliam, being attached to the project at some point.

But each time the project would lumber forward under new leadership, it would immediately stall again as the new staff would come to the same conclusion as the previous: “Watchmen” could not be adapted to film.

After the success of Snyder’s film adaptation of “300,” Warner Bros. brought him onto “Watchmen.”

Like “300,” Snyder used the comic as the storyboard for the film. To any who had read the comic, this is immediately apparent, as every scene in the film is crafted to replicate panels from the original, with painful accuracy.

But Snyder doesn’t just replicate particular scenes from the comic; he duplicates the entirety of the comic almost page for page, with only minor sub-elements removed to keep the film’s length manageable (though I’m positive they will appear in a DVD release).

But what visually worked in the comic did not work for the film. One scene in particular stands out: that of the god-like Doctor Manhattan sitting on a rock on Mars, contemplating an old photograph of himself and his first love before his transformation into his current form.

Within the comic, the segment was intended to illustrate how he perceives time in a nonlinear fashion, with each panel representing a different part of his life that he experiences simultaneously.

Within the film, as each frame can only be shown one at a time, the effect is lost and instead transforms into a simple narrated expositional montage. What came off so brilliantly within the comic falls flat when replicated within the movie medium.

It’s hard to say who this film is intended for, as its particularly graphic violence, continual nudity and graphic sex scene removes it as a family film.

Its length and focus on character exposition will bore general audience members, and most fans will find it fails to capture the essence and feeling of the original.

I recommend those who want to experience the Watchmen do so the way it was intended. Read the comic.

“Watchmen” is 163 minutes long and rated R.

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