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Watching Watchmen, or: No, But I Read the Comic Book

So: Watchmen. Heard of it?

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's 1986 graphic novel? Blah blah postmodern masterpiece, blah blah deconstruction of superhero tropes, blahdee blah changed comics forever?

And (now that the lawyers have finished thumping one another about the head and neck) coming soon to a theater near you? March 6, in fact?

Sound familiar?

I know: As a rule, brainy NPR types like y'all prefer to read a given book before seeing the film made from it. That way, when you meet up with other brainy NPR types, you can discuss the sundry alterations that were made to the plot for the sake of budget, running time, narrative cohesion or monumental directorial stupidheadery.

But what about those brainy NPR types who haven't read Watchmen but have seen the trailer, which promises the kind of desultory superhero stuff (slow-mo fight scenes, big 'splosions) that one expects from comics-to-film projects?

They might well think: Why bother? It's just more masked dudes in fetish gear running around beating up on folk, no?


After the jump: Reading Watchmen before watching Watchmen -- the case for.


The Charlize-Theron-in-Hancock Factor:

It's kind of a whodunit, and you can bet that some critic's review will give away too damn much information -- enough for you to guess who's who and what's what -- so you might as well get it over with.

The Trailer is a Thin Tissue of Lies! Lies I Say, Lies!

The team of individuals around which the film revolves is not, as the trailer would have you believe, an assemblage of tough, butt-kicking action heroes who take no guff and give no quarter, and do it all in slow-motion. They're a bunch of deeply flawed schlubs with a laundry list of hang-ups. Trust me: The trailer promises Delta Force; the reality is closer to The Apple Dumpling Gang.

A Comic Book David Foster Wallace Would Love:

The book comes with a passel of supplemental material that adds layers of history and roundedness to its deeply imagined world: Excerpts of books and essays written by the characters, psychiatric case files, press clippings, popular comic books, and more.

Follow the Trail of Sugarcubes:

You can spend hours scanning Dave Gibbon's panels for recurring imagery: smiley faces, clock faces, people smoking weird pipe thingys, topknots, sugarcubes, the Gunga Diner, wiser-than-it-seems graffiti, and a host of other background jokes and clues.

Slavish Reproduction is the Sincerest Form of ... Something:

Like the directors of 300 and Sin City, Watchmen's director has evidently used the book as a working storyboard (read: many shots of the film are exact recreations of panels from the comic.) If you read the book beforehand, you can be like those annoying guys who sat next to you during 300 and kept grunting with amusement whenever they recognized a particular setup. ...Fun?

No Zellwegger Shame!

The publishers haven't changed the book's cover to cash in on the film's release, so it won't be like that time you waited too long to read Bridget Jones' Diary, had to pick up a copy with Squinty McWhatsherface on the cover, and you couldn't read it on the bus without feeling like a huge dork.

The Big Unbelievable Thing That Happens Near the End:

It's big, and it's unbelievable -- in fact, the director found it so literally unbelievable that he decided to change it. Was he right? Or was he, as certain corners of the Internet would have you believe, a pig-ignorant Philistine hack whose focus-grouped sensibilities have destroyed a masterpiece for all time?

Only one way to find out for yourself.

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