Who Tackles the Untackleable?

The opening credits of the “Watchmen” movie were shown at WonderCon, and they’re amazing. If the rest of the movie can live up to the first 10 minutes, I’m sold.

I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Watchmen, which makes me something of a pariah among My People. I can appreciate how well it’s put together, and I appreciate all the layers of symbolism and the literary and musical allusions and the way the storylines weave in and out of each other and its influence on a couple of decades’ worth of comics and TV series like “Lost.” But there’s no “spark” to it. Nothing to grab hold of me and make me really invested in what’s happening, like there is with many less impressively constructed stories. I’ve been re-reading it, to see if I were just too young to appreciate it in 1988, but it still strikes me as cold and self-consciously literary. Kubrickian, even.

So I haven’t been all that excited about the movie [warning: that site takes over your browser]. At least, until this morning.

This is WonderCon weekend, and the first panel of the morning was about the Watchmen movie, with director Zack Snyder, artist of the original comic Dave Gibbons, and most of the cast. Midway through, they showed about 20 minutes of the movie, including the opening credits and scenes with The Comedian and Nite Owl II. It was extremely well done, and now I’m anxious to get in line opening weekend with all the other comic book geeks.

There is an excessive amount of the sudden-slow-motion during fight sequences, which will date this movie firmly circa 2006. But as friend Jeff H points out, it has the effect of freezing the action into individual comic panels. And seeing as how the comic is so firmly dated in the mid-80s (but eerily relevant to the Bush administration), placing it as a “product of its time” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The people on the panel didn’t get a lot of time to talk this morning, but Dave Gibbons had a good quote: he said that as he was drawing the comic, he would imagine a movie in his head and pull out individual static scenes to draw. The movie that’s going to be released, he claims, is the movie that was in his head.

And I believe it. It’s clear that everyone involved in the making of this movie reveres the comic book and wanted to do it justice. And whatever your opinion of 300 and the Dawn of the Dead remake, you certainly couldn’t fault them for the visuals. And Solid Snake gets a ton of credit from me for working on the screenplay of my favorite comic book movie and understanding what makes comic book movies cool. So take that mindset plus those visuals plus very intelligent and literary source material, remove some of the prolonged manifestos from the comic and replace them with slo-mo fight scenes, and the outlook is very promising. It’s still possible the whole thing falls apart after the opening credits, but worst case you get to watch something really pretty for two and a half hours.

One thing that I did find alarming: people in the convention hall didn’t seem to understand that the character of Rorschach is not a hero. Any time there was even a hint he was about to be on screen, and the crowd went apeshit, clapping and cheering. It’s entirely possible I’m just over-reacting, and it’s as harmless as college kids hanging posters of Travis Bickle up in their dorm rooms, or for that matter, dressing as The Joker instead of Batman at conventions. But I always assumed that a big part of Alan Moore’s satire in the comic book was in forcing the reader to identify with one of the most loathsome characters in the story. It’s a parody of late 70s anti-heroes like The Punisher, I always assumed, taken to extremes to show just how dangerously unstable these guys are. Hurm.

So I can’t wait. Legendary Terminator: Salvation director McG claimed that Snyder has “tackled something everybody thought was untackleable.” In his own barely-literate way, he might just be right.