Beware spoilers for the WATCHMEN film and graphic novel below!
Talks of a WATCHMEN reboot have taken place for years; however, on June 20, 2017, news broke that Damon Lindelof, THE LEFTOVERS’ show-runner, will adapt the graphic novel for HBO.
WATCHMEN is noted for signifying a change in comic book tone. The work is often credited with commencing the Modern or Dark Age of Comic Books as well as being one of the greatest works of literature in the 20th century. With the first issues released in 1986, writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons depicted a dark world that parallels our own in social, political, and moral conflicts.
The 2009 film adaptation by Zack Snyder was highly anticipated by those seeking a superhero film that differed from all the rest. Unfortunately, the film divided audiences.
A Spectacle At Best
Let me begin by saying that I love the look of the 2009 film. I love the juxtaposition of color that embodies the comic book feel yet emphasizes the grittiness of the realistic tone. I love the slo-mo in the fight sequences despite the fact that my perspective may be an unpopular opinion. Now, does Snyder overdo the sex and violence in the film? Certainly. At times, it is distracting from the significance of the overall story. However, WATCHMEN is not your typical superhero film.
WATCHMEN is a story comprised of heroes without morals, heroes who have given up, and heroes who have become villains. There are no innocents in this story, and that is certainly difficult for an audience that has grown used to light-hearted superhero films to accept. With this, I particularly admire the performance of Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. You cannot help but sympathize with his idealistic faith in his duty as a vigilante. He truly sees good and evil as black and white and ultimately refuses to compromise.
Of course, Rorschach may appear to have the noblest perspective on good and evil, but the climactic events headlined by the hero-turned-villain, Ozymandias, challenges even the reader’s perspective. In an attempt to prevent nations across the world from engaging in World War III, Ozymandias unleashes an alien monster on New York City, killing millions. In doing so, he unites the world against a common threat. Yay?
A Displacement In Time
This resolution of conflict distinguishes WATCHMEN from other comic book stories. Is the villain actually the hero in this story? He prevents nuclear war and the potential extermination of the world, but he does so at the cost of millions of lives and public truth. So, one must wonder if his actions are ultimately justified. These are the thoughts the graphic novel leaves with readers, thoughts that do not resonate in the film adaptation. Though the adaptation of Rorschach’s death is quite emotional, the overall impact of the fruition of Ozymandias’ plan is underwhelming.
Another flaw of the 2009 film is the lack of emphasis on the subtleties that make the graphic novel a masterpiece. The work contains perhaps some of the most beautiful lines in literature. Unfortunately, though, the film overlooks those aspects. I felt as though the film ignores the poignancy of the dialogue and various thematic elements in favor of stylistic ones. Of course, style is a significant factor in an adaptation such as this. However, the features that make WATCHMEN a masterpiece should not be lost in translation.
Regarding the setting, I have read various comments on how it would be interesting for the new adaptation to take place in present day. Though I believe changing the time-period would be an interesting take, one must keep in mind that the original work occurs in an alternate reality. Though the story features various parallels to American society, it still occurs in a world that is not our own.
With this, Moore takes liberties in interpreting various events of American history, distinguishing the work as one of historical fiction along with other genres. Though I believe show-runners can establish an innovative setting, I believe it should be in an alternate reality.
The Forgotten Panels
I believe the new adaptation should maintain the original, ambiguous ending as well as Rorschach’s narration. Though Rorschach’s perspective is a biased one, he does not hesitate to depict the harsh reality of the Moore and Gibbons’ world. His traumatic backstory is certainly one of the hardest vigilante backstories to witness. With this, I hope the new series will spend time fleshing out each main character’s origin. Every character contributes to the overall story, and 2009 rushes these developments. This fault renders these characters unidentifiable.
Another interesting aspect of the graphic novel is the inclusion of a frame story, “Marooned” of the fictional series, TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER. It is an allegorical survival tale about a shipwrecked sailor who attempts to make his way back home to warn his loved ones of the Black Freighter’s impending doom. Though one can have many interpretations of that original tale, I believe it parallels Rorschach’s resilience in his perception of justice.
In his efforts to save the world, the potential truth that mankind is inherently evil slowly renders Rorschach insane. Overall, is the story necessary to include in the adaptation? No, but I would still love to see how the show-runners could include it.
A New Hope
WATCHMEN is an incredibly dense work. There are plenty of compelling characters who defy the orthodoxy of superheroes and vigilantes. Because of this, I fervently hope HBO does the work justice. It is one comprised of a murder mystery, plot twists, psychotic heroes, and potentially rational villains. WATCHMEN is certainly a graphic novel that thrives on ambiguity.
It leaves the reader with questions on their own worldview, begging the question of whether humans are inherently evil. Though most of the characters in the work compromise the truth and ultimately support the villain’s motives, the final panels of WATCHMEN depict a hope in that there are individuals who will never stop trying to save the world.