- Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen was published in 1986-1987 as twelve monthly comic installments, each one a chapter or “Episode.” Set in an alternate reality “modern day” of the mid-1980s, the themes of this elaborately complex work are primarily humanity’s increasing sense of powerlessness in a changing, threatening world, the relationship humanity has with history, time, memory, and nostalgia, and a powerful twinned sense of fear and wonder at what humanity has wrought. The innovative graphic novel style incorporates text and drawings and also a comic-within-a-comic story and, at the end of each installment/chapter, excerpts from the memoir of one of the characters and case notes from Rorschach’s psychiatrist. Harping upon the still-prevalent Cold War fears of the time, Watchmen used a complex story medium to address complex, modern fears and concerns.
- Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is set in alternate-history 1985 as well, and its foremost theme is also fear. However, by placing oil companies up there with nuclear threats, it expresses fears for humanity that are less “of our own devising.” There is still a threat of nuclear destruction – prevalent even in alternate-history 1985 – but there is also a looming threat of environmental destruction as well. The film is concerned with power as well, examining who wields it and who does not, and how it is expressed in physical power. This is an intensely kinetic, loud, violent film, in keeping with director Snyder’s apparent preferred style. The colors are bright and vivid, and the shots are often carefully framed to suggest the comic book origin of the story.
- Zack Snyder’s visually pleasing homage to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ deeply original work is clearly reverently done. Pains are taken to preserve many visual details and character details from the graphic novel, though of course some things must be cut for length. There are plot changes which strike at the heart of longtime fans (full disclosure: I am one, having first read Watchmen in 1988 when it was published in its compendium form), perhaps foremost the ending. The tonal change is probably unavoidable, as the palpable sense of fear for humanity in 1986 was simply not the same as it was in 2009. Due to its violent nature, cataclysmic ending, and New York City setting, its meaning is inevitably given new shades in a post-9/11 world. The chaotic, frenetic style of the action sequences, shot in a high-contrast vivid “comic” color palette, also result in tonal changes from the original work. While clearly made with deep respect, the adaptation gets sloppy in a way that the precisely ordered panel work of the original would never suggest.
- “Watch: Patton Oswalt & Patrick Wilson Talk Zack Snyder’s ‘Slavish’ Adaptation of ‘Watchmen'” indiewire.com, Jan. 14, 2015
Noted geek raconteur Patton Oswalt discusses Watchmen with Patrick Wilson in response to an audience question at a public event.
“Zack Snyder made Watchmen ‘to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world'” thedissolve.com, Mar. 3, 2014
Some newer sources are popping up on the movie adaptation because of some (possibly unwise?) words uttered about the storied history of the Watchmen project in an interview with Snyder.
“From Frank Miller to Zack Snyder, and Return: Contemporary Superhero Comics and Post-classical Hollywood” miranda.revues.org, Aug. 2013
Academic paper on narrative structure in comic book movies, addressing both superhero movies and non-superhero movies. Makes the valid and interesting point that Watchmen is not truly a superhero comic structure, in that it is more about the shortcomings of the heroes themselves than any particular outside villain.
“Watchmen’s long journey from page to screen” denofgeek.us, Apr. 22, 2014
A history of the arduous process of getting Watchmen turned into a movie, and why it took 23 years.
- By virtue of the fact that the film was made in the 21st century but retained the original alternate-history-1980s setting, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen has a changed relationship with human perceptions of history and nostalgia that are notes of importance in the Moore/Gibbons original. In the very opening scene of the film, the death of The Comedian, we do get a brief glimpse of what could have been – on the television that Edward Blake is watching when his door is smashed in, Nat King Cole can be heard singing “Unforgettable” as part of a TV ad for “Nostalgia” perfume, which is produced and marketed by Veidt Enterprises. In the book, there are constant cues dropped about reverence for the past..until the ending, when Veidt begins to change worldwide marketing (Veidt Enterprises is a very large concern) to reflect a forward-looking attitude. Moore and Gibbons’ work was produced in the same time frame that it conveys, alternate history or no. Snyder’s work exists quite emphatically in a post-9/11 world, as most notably illustrated during The Comedian’s funeral scene, where the fog-enshrouded Twin Towers hover over everything like the ghosts they now are. That is how they will be perceived by nearly every audience member, especially at the time of the film’s release in 2009. This conscious decision by Snyder grounds the film very firmly in a 21st century mindframe, which has repercussions on the characters and their ideas about time and history (and, yes, nostalgia) that simply do not get updated. Snyder’s nearly slavish devotion to the look of the original work seems to mean that some ideological alignment is lost in the translation.