When I heard last year that Zack Snyder would take the helm of the upcoming Watchmen movie, I was more than a little nervous. I was probably terrified. Written in 1986 by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, Watchmen represents the zenith of sequential storytelling – the Mount Everest of graphic novels. It turned the superhero archetype on its head, examining a group of flawed, costumed men (and one woman) as they unravel a murder mystery and deal with very real personal issues. While not the most important comic ever written, it challenged and pushed the medium in ways hitherto unattempted. If you know nothing about the book, I’d direct you here (Wikipedia, natch) for what is likely a more succinct synopsis than I could provide. My explanations are nothing if not rambling.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are like Lennon and McCartney. Watson and Crick. Howard and Rollins. They’re a comic book dream team, top of the heap in their profession. Where does Zack Snyder fall? Somewhere in the middle. He’s not the awful director most French New Wave-weaned film students like to think he is, but he’s no Coppola, either. His two major films – a Dawn of the Dead remake and last year’s 300 – were both serviceable but lacked any sort of dramatic weight. His visuals, while actually kind of remarkable, tend to favor spectacle over story. This is a guy who can make a decent blockbuster, but not someone who could weave together complex plotting and intricate character development. This is not the guy who could faithfully adapt Watchmen.
In the five years since receiving it as a Christmas present, I’ve read the book at least four times. I have lines memorized, panels etched into my consciousness, and a lengthy “best ever” analysis ever-ready for anyone masochistic enough to listen. In short, I treasure Watchmen like some do Pride and Prejudice or Catcher in the Rye or The Bible. It’s this love and devotion that I worried Zack Snyder would trample on, laughing as he desecrated all my favorite moments and indiscriminately killed my fondest comic book experience. That is, until last week.
Suddenly March 6th, 2009 doesn’t look so dour after all. Both items can only highlight the good, I know, but I find myself eating whatever negative words I hurled in Snyder’s (general) direction. The look of the graphic novel is rendered cinematically with astonishing accuracy, from the “Easter Eggs” that fill every panel to the (imagined) texture of each character’s costume. And if there’s any truth to Jeff Jensen’s EW article, Snyder understands the tremendous responsibility he’s been given and is enthusiastic about meeting fan expectations. No matter what my faith in the project, I was always going to be “watching the Watchmen” in theaters next winter. But now I can do it without an ulcer.
BONUS LINK: Those of you with advanced Watchmen degrees should check out the very cool “Motion Comics” available free on iTunes. Chapter One (of 12, faithful to the hardcopy) is available now.
… Everyone else should just read the book now.