Who watched the Watchmen?  

Posted by Jonathan E Johns

I feel somewhat obligated to write about the film WATCHMEN.

The graphic novel was one of the few that I read first, and what turned me onto both Comic books, and graphic novels in the first place. It introduced me to a new form of literature, and a new world of imagination. It set the bar pretty high right off the bat, though, and ever since, nothing has quite compared.

I've re-read the book several times over the years, and it seems every time I find another layer buried in the story, another depth to the alliteration. I believe that this layering is what both makes the book great, and doomed the film from the start.

On the surface, the book reads almost like a film storyboard. As it flows from scene to scene, it draws you in by is movement. And this movement, I think, tapped into the imagination of the generation it was written for like nothing that had been written and/or drawn up to that time. I think many comic books attempt to draw action and movement by capturing a frame of the movement, and giving you the opportunity to imagine the just-before, and just-after, where as in Watchmen, the frames are drawn for you. Basically, most comic books read like photographs, and the Watchmen reads like a motion picture.

This seems like it would translate tot he screen quite easy, and honestly, the film felt like it was scene for scene, right off the pages of the book. In that sense, the film was brilliant. But the depth, and layering came from the words, and can't quite translate to the screen, just like any book has a hard time translating to the screen.

The great thing about any book is that we get to 'see' whats happening in our own imagination. We visualize the characters as they are described to us by the authors, and our own memories and experiences color the people and places. If a New England Summer is written in a book, we each imagine what that may look like and feel, and for me, never having visited the place, I am left imagining what I've seen in pictures, and how my own Summers felt in the mid-west. Seeing a 'New England Summer' on the movie screen, I am sure a Director would include scenes of Ice Cream trucks with little sweaty kids all around holding up their dollars for a push-up, old men on porches, with panting dogs, and the sounds of insects buzzing in the air. These images on the screen relay the heat of the moment, and 'set the scene' for us. But in a book, you see the kids I just described as kids you imagine seeing, and on the screen, the director casts the kids, and we don't get to, or have to imagine much. Sometimes, what we imagine, and what the director interprets conflict, and we are disappointed. I was not disappointed by how the director imagined the Watchmen.

But a graphic novel that requires a good 6-8 hours to really read and absorb just doesn't make a great translation to the big screen, even in three hours.

To relate another idea of mine, if Comic books are like photographs, and the Watchmen is a motion picture, I guess I would have to say it is more like a black and white silent movie. I can't imagine someone remaking a Charlie Chaplin Black and White silent film into a High-Definition, wide-screen, Computer-animated Film. It sure would make it look great, but it just wouldn't translate. Partly because it would just give us too much, and partly because the brilliance of Chaplin was creating what he created within the boundaries of the medium he had. There is evidence of this already in existence, for when Chaplin made 'talkies' they weren't as successful as his older silent films. The boundaries, in this case, though, are opposite, in that the three hour epic Watchmen film is limited by the boundaries, and the graphic novel is only limited by our imagination.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 16, 2009 at 2:43 PM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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