Monday, January 07, 2008

Waiting for the Detectives

Will we finally watch the Watchmen? Maybe. The current word is a March 2009 movie release. In brief:

They are in production, filming and doing CGI. Dave Gibbons is on board and enthusiastic. Alan Moore, predictably, is neither. Zac Snyder - he of 300 - is directing. The script is by Alex Tse, reportedly a rewrite of one of the earlier David Hayter scripts, and also reportedly script doctored by both Snyder and various others. Notably, Tse's name currently appears nowhere on the official Watchmen web site; and as an ironic side note, neither does Moore's, the producers apparently having learned something from the V for Vendetta debacle.

From all reports, and from the early production stills, the movie is going to closely follow the graphic novel's plot - which is both good news and bad news, in my opinion. Bad news, because I share the opinion of Moore, Terry Gilliam and others. I'm not sure Watchmen can be made into a movie... at least a movie that makes sense or is entertaining to anyone but superhero fanboys. Good news, because I'm more than willing to be proved wrong.

But it's a frustrating plot line, which I know from personal experience, because I even tried my hand at writing a script adaptation, breaking down about 75 script pages into the story. You have multiple characters and multiple storylines. Do you follow that and confuse the audience by switching from character to character, story to story, from the present to flashbacks and then back again? From the Earth to Mars and back again? Do you focus the story on one character - Manhattan, Dreiberg, Rorschach - and build up that story at the expense of others? And what do you do about the so-called "murder mystery" plot, which is the weakest part of Watchmen? It's a character- not plot- driven novel, and I don't see how that's going to translate to the big screen.

Me, I focused on Manhattan, as I've been as fascinated as Moore with the question as to what would happen if the superman ever really walked the face of the Earth (short answer: nothing good). And predictably, independently I came up with the basically the same story and same end to my story as did Sam Hamm, who wrote one of the first Watchmen scripts. "Predictably," because it's an obvious conclusion, and not very good.

But, Moore's plot and ending itself isn't very good or believable. But Watchmen - the 12-issue comic or collected graphic novel - is a work of genius, overcoming those weaknesses. Few people finish Watchmen and reflect that Ozymandias' Outer Limits-like scheme doesn't appear to be the brainchild of the so-called "smartest man in the world." They think of Jon Osterman, of Dan Dreiberg, of Walter Kovacs, of Laurie Juspeczyk, and of their various aliases, faults, triumphs.

Can the movie pull that off? We'll see.

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