I think Watchmen is probably unfilmable.
That said, I’m stoked for the movie. And I am one of those “actual females” that wit at Rolling Stone saw reading the comic recently, most likely. Though I’ve been a comics junkie since high school (about 14 years), I just got around to Watchmen this summer, after I got well and truly sick of explaining that I hadn’t read it.
And yes, it is brilliant. Probably the best comic ever. Because Watchmen is a comic about comics–metafiction, as a few friends noted on my personal blog. Watchmen has a comic-within-a-comic, is a meditation on the nature of superheroes, and messes with the spatial nature of the form as much as is possible.
(possible spoilers here, but really, I was probably the last Newsarama person to have read Watchmen, right? none of you are still waiting, are you?)
In movies and television (and even radio), action and plot are arranged in time. Even if you have a movie like Memento, that messes with the procession of time, events still happen one after another and unless you’re at home with the DVD, you can’t go back and rewatch them.
In comics and prose fiction, events are arranged in space, on a page. Even more so in comics, because images are arranged flat on the page. Techniques in the writing and art are used to speed up or slow down the time you spend on a page or panel, so each page demands a different commitment of time.
The title “Watchmen” has multiple meanings–”Who Watches the Watchmen” being the obvious one, but there’s an entire subplot that revolves around the breaking and repairing of watches, put in to stress the importance of time to the story. (I wrote about Watchmen and time more here.)
Dr. Manhattan experiences all time at the same time–when he flees to Mars to escape his breakup with Laurie, he sees his past and future meshing at once. This chapter jumps forward and back in time not just page by page, but panel by panel, moment by moment. Flashbacks in a movie are fine, but I’m just not sure that there’s a way to create the feeling that the comic does, that all time is the same thing to Manhattan.
The comic-within-a-comic bit has been discussed more as an unfilmable point, and I’ve heard suggestions from an actual comic to a voiceover to a separate short film screened before the feature. Even a split screen. Yet none of them will have the same effect.
Sure, you can tell the essential story of Watchmen without the metafiction elements, and it could still be a great movie. (Witness The Dark Knight.) Alan Moore is an exceptional storyteller even when he’s just using a linear plot, and Watchmen has all the elements of compelling fiction–a cast of living, breathing, hurting characters, a complex, fast-moving plot, danger, action, sex, war, love, and a world on the edge of collapse. Right now, as we teeter on the brink of financial meltdown, Watchmen’s brooding world on the brink seems prescient not because of its visions of war, but because of its sense of mere mortals fighting against the gloom.
If the film can capture the feeling in the last scene between Laurie and Dan, where they’ve lost, their beauty has faded, they’re aging and facing a world they don’t know how to deal with, but they’re still able to love, then it’ll be better than almost everything I’ve seen this year. Hell, even if it’s just a good superhero action movie, my money won’t be wasted.
But it won’t be Watchmen.
Tawk amongst yahselves.