There are certain themes and intellectual pursuits that are best left to scribes. A picture may say a 1,000 words but what does it actually say and to whom is it actually speaking? The written language, at times, makes interpretation and therefore adaptation easier allowing more people to understand their world and how it relates to others as well as the authors. It can do this with tone, authority and audience sensibility like few other mediums. “Talkies,” however, eliminate a lot of the pensive swordplay that can occur when one reads the written word – when they read just the black type against yellowed paper – and they must use all their experiences to inform upon the words selected. They do not have a godly author to create an experience that they must either accept or disregard the visualized outcome.
By definition movies – at times – ignore their audiences to follow a storyboard vision. This is the case with Watchmen. In this film adaptation of Alan Moore’s “graphic novel,” Zack Synder adheres to the Moore bible to the delight of Moore fans but the determinant of movie goers. Watchmen is great as a canvas for an intellectual debate about the viability of mankind, the struggles of inner demons for heroes and those who we depend upon to keep us safe. But as a movie it lacks plot, great dialogue and an emotional connection that makes you want to care about the characters enough to sit for nearly 3 hours without wishing that Dr. Manhattan would stay on Mars and leave us to our destruction. Sure the movie uses flashbacks to tell the back story of the main Watchmen anti-heroes but they are so flash and so back that watching them I felt and hollow.
The plot is thinner than diner napkins. The action staid and frustratingly familiar. The characters – though clearly more than meets the eye – are missing a D and thus are 2-D narrators forced to navigate us through a time in which their lives were infinitely more interesting than the present. The actions moves Watchmen but not enough to avoid boredom. And when one of the anti-heroes mutters, something to the effect of “I’m no usual comic-book villain,” I actually laughed out loud at the irony.
This was certainly a “Talkie,” trying to cram all that intellectual pontificating found in the black and white book pages into pithy, stoic unblocked scenes. Quentin Tarantino does this but well because the dialogue he uses is as vivid or at least infinitely more interesting than any action he could replace it with. Not so is the Watchmen. Show don’t tell I say. Some people have complained about the violence and the sex. And yes there was plenty of both and graphic in nature unnecessarily so. But I’m more concerned with people who would think that this material – written or otherwise – belongs on a list with the heading “100 Greatest Novels of the English Language,” which is exactly what happened with Moore’s original graphic novel. Either the folks at Time Magazine don’t read much or this was included as a joke. Then again I’ve read 26 out of 100 on Time’s list and there were several others I just could not stomach – Franzen’s The Corrections comes to mind.
For the Watchmen may have broken the usual rules concerning graphic novel (and let’s call it what it really is a comic book) and went beyond its barriers, but it barely makes the cut as literary. And because Zack chose to stay so closely with the Moore’s vision cinematic it is not.