The 2008 Zach Snyder film “Watchmen” was an almost page by page adaptation of one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. Its minor omissions and additions to Alan Moore’s ground-breaking work were to clean up the ending for modern sensibilities, to infuse every scene with slow motion and finally to shove in more gore and sex. The gore and sex was also bathed in slow motion.
It remains one of the most faithful comic book adaptations off all time. It’s probably in the top ten best comic book movies as well, but really that’s due to there being less than nine really good comic book movies.
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The real problem behind Watchmen is the ghost in Alan Moore’s machine. Watchmen the comic book was really intended as a joke, the punchline to the set up of “What would comic books for adults look like?” Moore knew that comic books were fun because they were light, colorful, fast and daring, that impossibility lay beneath every cover. He also knew that adults were becoming the predominant market for comic books, and saw the approaching contradiction. Comic books designed for adults would be, by nature, bleaker and slightly less magical than anything written for a younger audience… and who would want to read that? He thought the adults, trying to recapture their youth through funny books, would be turned off by the ultra dark future of a world with real heroes.
As it turns out EVERYBODY wanted to read Moore because he’s bloody brilliant. By attempting to create a compelling parody of Superheroes through adult eyes he created a wonderous new story of alternate realities, grounded characters and capes like we had never seen before.
Watchmen as a film suffers from three major flaws. There is too much gratuitous slow motion sex and gore, it’s a fairly long and bleak ride and it will never be as good as its source material because of the difference between comics and film as mediums.
Zack Snyder is incapable of seeing these distinctions because, while a fine film maker with fun sensibilities, he doesn’t come off as all that bright.
How else are you going to explain the film adaptation of 300, Frank Millers hyper macho love poem to homoerotisism that is completely without self awareness or humor?
In 2005 Robert Rodriguez partnered with Frank Miller to make an almost shot for shot adaptation of Miller’s magnum opus Sin City. Sin City was to film noir what crack cocaine is to a can of Redbull. Every aspect has been cranked to 11… the subtle shades of gray inherent to black and white film have been stripped to their starkest and most limited definitions. If Phil Marlow was tough and could take a rap on the head, Miller’s Detective Hartigan could be shot eight times and live.
The film, like the comic, was a 500 pounds of pure fun, a nasty lion of a piece that tore up the screen like it was hamburger meat.
Zack Snyder tried to do the same with 300, but there’s a flaw. Rodriguez knew what Zack Snyder couldn’t figure out: Sin City was too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Making a colorless flick about gansta molls and tough goons punching priests is always going to find an audience, but no one was going to compare it to The Seventh Seal. 300 was a laughable comic book when it first came out, with fans and critics arguing it’s artistic worth in the face of rampant racism and homophobia. Anybody claiming it had anything to contribute to film would either be pathetically stupid or Frank Miller.
Miller, like the characters of Sin City, lives in a black and white world. Throughout all of his work there are simple messages. Women are usually whores who only create obstacles for men, unless they take on the noble aspects of men themselves. Men are to be strong, invulnerable and self-righteous. Men take what they want and answer to nobody.
We love Frank Miller comic books because they are as over the top as a prisoner during a jail break, but the repetition of his themes suggests that he believes the things he writes about to be true… and it’s one thing to write about a fictional gin town run by prostitutes and dirty cops, an entirely different matter when you’re trying to sell pages of naked men in ancient Greece slaying people colored black as historical drama.
What is the best comic book movie of all time? Pixar’s The Incredibles. Why? Probably because it was never a comic book.
Steven King got bent out of shape at Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his book “The Shining” because it didn’t follow the exact same storyline. King couldn’t see that when you attempt to capture lightning in a bottle twice, when you earnestly try to transcribe a book to film all you can ever hope for is a product that capture the feel of the book without messing it up.
A film is a different medium than a book, and a book is different from a comic. Above we have examined three comic book films that are slavish to their source material with various levels of success.
The Incredibles says so much more about superheroes, our relationship to our fantasies, our dependence on comic books and our need for do-gooders in tight suits than any other comic book adaptation, send up, remake and moving comic ever could. It has the freedom to be the best comic book movie because we can compare it to comics we remember without them being compromised or besmirched.
On a scale of “Comic book Movie Excellence,” where the Incredibles is a 10 and Tank Girl is a 1 (Jumpin’ jehosafats was that a stinking pile of turds) I’d give Watchmen a 7.5, 300 a 4 and Sin City a 9.
For reviews of the Batman films both present and past, as well as the Spider-man and X-Men franchises you should keep your eyes peeled for Unkiedev’s Comic Book Movies part 2: The Franchising!