I assume Bill was planning an official Watchmen talkbalk, but I thought it was important to have one a few days before the film is released. Right now, if you haven't given up on the project, you're probably at your maximum level of anticipation. This is the most interesting of all possible Hollywood adaptations, because its source isn't even a little bit stupid and yet contains the kinds of scenes that scream blockbuster while having a structure that many consider unfilmable. If there's any time to vent spleen about what you need in a Watchmen adaptation, or even better, what you think you need before you know exactly what you're going to get, this is the best of all possible times.
In order to do this properly, we must make liberal use of spoilers, but to be cautious, I won't use any in this initial post. The eye notices the strangest things by accident. And yes, Bill, I still haven't seen a Watchmen trailer, but I have seen one commercial.
In the past few days, I've been reading a bunch of Alan Moore interviews online. A Wired piece, recently linked to by IMDb, was particularly interesting. Already skeptical of the idea that artists are the most qualified to understand their own art, I couldn't get past Moore's mantra that Watchmen is unfilmable, or even the more esoteric view that its meta-comic construction makes cinematic adaptation pointless. Joss Whedon even said, "It's a comic book about pop culture as viewed through a comic book, so I didn't see the point of making a movie." Well, ok, but Bram Stoker's Dracula was basically the Blair Witch of its day--horror by way of primary document. But would it have made sense to criticize adaptations of Dracula for not following the structure? Is the world of the fiction interesting without the structure, without the theory? In the case of Dracula, and of course in Watchmen, I'd say it is. And why the hell can't a movie be about pop culture as viewed through a comic book? It's certainly less obvious than just making another movie about pop culture as viewed through a movie.
Let's say for now that it's filmable. I mean, fuck, it's coming out Friday. So what are the obstacles in adapting Watchmen as a Hollywood picture? Effects, structure, and tone.
Twenty years ago, the effects would have been a pain in the ass, but these days, if you have enough money to throw at the problem you can do pretty much anything you want. You still can make stupid decisions, but I don't doubt that Dr. Manhattan will be very, very blue.
Twenty years ago, the structure wouldn't have been as much of a problem, but these days, if you have enough money to throw at the effects, you aren't allowed to play with the structure. I don't care if the little excerpts and documents at the end of the Watchmen books were originally intended to be there. There was a time when I would rather have seen an Under the Hood feature than a Watchmen feature. In fact, imagine a movie about the Minutemen that ends with the correction, "God exists and he's American." Still, the flashbacks are so carefully planned in the books that you have to intentionally screw them up, so there's even hope--up to a point--for structure.
The tone is tricky, though, because it shifts based on the point of view--sometimes grim, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes just sad. Snyder's completely capable of failing to find the right tone. He even said about his next film, "I wanted to make an action movie that's just, like, crazy and sexy and dark and just cool. I don't want any rules, and I don't want any pedigree. I just want to go crazy and shoot some shots that make me remember why movies are badass." That's right, the Watchmen director fondly remembers his younger days, when making movies was significantly more badass--unlike Watchmen, which is really, once you get down to it, not badass. So it's safe to say that I'm nearly afraid on a Brett Ratner level. But at the end of the same interview, Snyder says, "The thing is, you can get crucified on the same cross that you worship." I don't think Ratner would care about getting crucified.
As likely as it might be to screw up effects, structure, or tone, they're not the real problem. It seems banal, but the real reason to think Watchmen is unfilmable is simply length. In other words, it's the same reason it's hard to film any novel--density. Hollywood doesn't want a movie to be more than 160 minutes, because well, Gone with the Wind came out a long time ago, or because Godfather 2 was boring, or because Titanic will never make any money, or something. With 600 minutes to work with, there are some novels you still couldn't adapt perfectly. Who, deep down, really thinks Peter Jackson made all the right decisions about the pacing and tone of The Lord of the Rings? The really sad part is that you could make a definitive Watchmen in four hours or so, but we won't have that option.
And in this era, I think that's a mistake. How many people do you know who watched an entire season of a television show in one sitting? I know someone who watched the first episode of 24 on television and then watched the next 23 in one sitting. I also know someone who downloaded the first 11 Watchmen Motion Comics and watched them in one sitting. I did.
What do I need to see in the Watchmen movie? I need a Rorschach who seems crazy because of calm determination and not because he's a badass. I need some time spent understanding the three eras of heroes. I need Dr. Manhattan trying to mindfuck us on Mars right in the middle of a murder mystery. I need to know that Tales of the Black Freighter will fit in properly to an extended version, even if it doesn't make it into this one. I need Nite Owl to be impotent and then cured right after the ramp of his ship fucks a window. I need the ending to feel less rushed than it does in the book.
What do you need?