Posts Tagged ‘watchmen


Watchmen: apparently it really happened

There are peculiar goings on with the Nielsen BookScan weekly charts (as published in the “Review” supplement in the weekend’s Guardian) lately. The comic Watchmen is listed as the second most popular book in its category this week, a jump from its position of 5th last week. Hardly that odd! With the hype over the film adaptation, people are obviously trying to see what the fuss is about. Prior to the film’s release several reviewers (particularly in the newspaper supplements) suggested that despite the comic’s cult following it was largely forgotten by mainstream readers, which was a handy way of admitting, “we may be writers on popular culture, but we’ve never heard of this thing before.” With Watchmen, a lot of people are having to catch up with a culture they’re supposedly experts on.

But that’s not what I’m on about here. What’s odd about Watchmen’s placing is the chart in which it’s placed. Nielsen seems to consider the book a paperback non-fiction, along with such publications as Marley & Me and Jamie’s Red Nose Recipes. I had thought it was fiction myself, indeed, science fiction. But no, it seems there really was a bunch of superheroes in the 80s, including a great big blue fellow who reconstructed himself at a molecular level, and there really was a nuclear standoff between the US and USSR that only ended when half of New York was levelled by an artificial “alien” squid. It’s just that I didn’t notice this before.

Sarcasm aside, it’s hard to see this as anything but sneer on books produced in the graphic novel format. They simply don’t belong in the chart for real novels (which, incidentally, is topped this week by Marion Keyes). Personally, there is not much I despise more than when people insist on calling comics “graphic novels”. To me it’s a desperate attempt for comic books to be regarded as serious literature, which only serves to admit that comic books’ standing as serious literature needs to be defended. I grew up reading comics and I’m not ashamed of that. Nonetheless, it’s a genre that does deserve at least a little respect. Watchmen is a book that accomplishes more than most proper novels I’ve read, and if sales reflect that then so should the charts.

It could be argued, I suppose, that Watchmen is more than simple fiction. It is, in fact, a treatise on the superhero genre, and as such is provides a non-fiction discussion on this genre’s usual tropes and literary devices. It’s an interesting hypothesis, and I look forward to an academic discussion on it. However, it’s a hypothesis outside the scope of a sales chart. I can’t see this as anything other than snobbery, which there is far too much of in literature.


A Watchmen review (because I can)

Cynical as I was about the possibility of adapting Watchmen for the cinema, I found myself lining up for the first possible screening I could attend. Sacrilege or not, I could not let it go by. I don’t want to waste time explaining why the comic is so important or what it means to me, except to say I’ve enjoyed observing all the band-wagon jumping over the last few months (especially Eoin Butler’s spectacular point-missing feature in yesterday’s Irish Times). Still, as the original comic is such an important work with an enormous scope, every fan was anxious about a bastardised version slapped up for a cinema audience.

So does it work? Does Zack Snyder do the source material justice? Well, no! Of course he doesn’t. Any adaptation was going to an exercise in damage control, impacting the plot a little as possible my removing its least important element (an almost impossible task given how expertly weaved the comic is). Nonetheless, there is much about the film to admire. Zack Snyder arguably does the best job with the story that anyone could have. Ok, the dialog is more that dodgy and exposition infests almost every scene, but it’s hard to see how this could be avoided while keeping the plot intact (which Snyder largely achieves).

However, an adequately condensed story alone cannot justify an adaptation. While there is much here that works (casting is for the most part inspired, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian and Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach being the highlights), every high point is met by a bum note. In trying to cram in – often verbatim – the comic’s key scenes, they often appear rushed and plastic. Occasionally Snyder has too much respect for the source material (for me the most significant instance of this was when Rorschach is being interview by the psychiatrist, where he explains when exactly how he became Rorschach). There are flashes of true brilliance, such as a stunning opening credit sequence that gets much of the comics plot out of the way while giving a fascinating overview of a 20th century populated by superheroes (the Last Supper motif is a bit of a cliché, but this is very, very easy to overlook). This bit alone is tempting me to go see it again. However, even this brilliance is trumped by the film’s “what the fuck were they thinking” moments, specifically, the coldest, most voyeuristic and down right gynaecological sex scene I’ve seen outside proper porn.

The violence also sticks in the craw a bit. When the first trailers indicated that Snyder was going to employ the same stop-start slow-mo sequences he perfected in 300, some worried he wasn’t treating the story with due accord. I argued that his hyper-stylised sensibilities suited a dissection of the superhero genre. In practice, however, it doesn’t really work. For one thing, the special effects aren’t quite as special as they need to be. CGI looks like CGI. More importantly, it gives the piece a cartoonish sheen. And considering how extreme the violence is (much more so than the comic. If fact, I’m quite shocked John Kelleher saw fit to give this a 16 cert), it comes across as overly indulgent and in incredible bad taste.

So that’s my review of Watchmen. There is much to admire, and it’s nowhere near as bad as I feared or as disappointing as, say, certain revisions of 1930s archaeologists or galaxies far, far away. Overall, however, it’s hard to see what the point of the film is. It brings nothing new for those who’ve read the comic and gives the game away for those who haven’t.

Incidentally, my favourite moment watching this film was something that happened quite outside it. As it started, some uber-nerd yelled, “shut up,” as loudly as he could. Now I hate unruly cinema patrons as much as anyone, but nobody was talking loudly or being inconsiderate. I guess he had been waiting 25 years for this moment and he wasn’t willing to humour anyone.