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Who’s Going to Watch the Watchmen? Hurm!

By Bert Ehrmann
March 6, 2009

WatchmenThe massive scale of the Watchmen (1986) series of comics is staggering. Consisting of twelve issues and over 380 pages of content that deals with everything from childhood abuse, sex and murder as well as the threat of total nuclear annihilation – the mind-boggling complexity of Watchmen had kept this fan-favorite story from being translated into film form for more than 20 years. Directors such as Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky (to name a few) have tackled the Watchmen only to deem the property as too massive and unfilmable as a single movie.

Personally, I never thought that a Watchmen movie would ever happen. So I can’t tell you how excited I got when I learned that someway, somehow, writers David Hayter and Alex Tse and director Zack Snyder had “cracked the code” and were filming a Watchmen movie. 

WatchmenThe Watchmen story is set in an alternate reality 1985 where Richard Nixon is still the President, relations with the Soviets have soured to a point where most are convinced that a war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. is immanent (if not already underway) and the costumed superheroes that were ever present from the 1940s to 1970s have been outlawed and have all but disappeared.

The story opens with the gruesome murder of ex-Watchmen member the Comedian (think a psychopathic Nick Fury) who is attacked in his apartment, beaten and thrown out a window to a death at the pavement below. What follows is the investigation of the murder by Rorschach (like Batman but more crazy), the last active member of the Watchmen and the ultimate reactivation of the rest of the Watchmen team.

The Watchmen include: Nite Owl who’s a cross between Batman and Iron Man, Ozymandias who’s the world’s smartest man and has turned this into great wealth, Silk Spectre who’s the group’s one woman member and is extremely tough and quick with a fist and Doctor Manhattan that is the one being on the planet that possesses superpowers and has single-handedly kept the U.S. as the world’s only (no pun intended) superpower. 

WatchmenAs the team investigates the circumstances behind the Comedian’s death they begin to uncover hints of an overarching conspiracy that could literally spell the end of the world and doom for all. And that’s not to mention all of the extra material in the story including excepts from books chronicling character biographies, newspaper and magazine clippings of past Watchmen successes and even a comic within the Watchmen comic entitled Tales of the Black Freighter that all peppers each issue of the story. 

Before Watchmen, most “adult” comic stories featured visions of sex and violence and little actual story. And though the Watchmen story has its share of sex and sometimes extreme violence, it also has a story that’s regarded as one of the best comic stories ever. In fact, in 2005 Time Magazine named Watchmen as one of their “100 Best Novels 1923 to the Present.” Which would put Watchmen on par with the likes of  To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath and The Catcher in the Rye.

WatchmenWhat the Watchmen comic did was to prove that adult themes could translate well to the comic form and that there was a market for this sort of material. All sorts of other breakthrough comic stories would follow virtually reinventing an industry that up until that point had been catering to the youth/teen crowd.

I see the release of  the Watchmen movie with both excitement and dread. The creators of the film have to do a lot of things exactly right to please both the fans of the comic material as well as members of the general public. Namely discarding just enough of the massive source material in order to properly tell the Watchmen film while at the same time not loosing focus on the overall Watchmen universe.

Oddly enough, there was some doubt that Watchmen would make it into theaters up until a just few weeks ago. Both 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. claimed that they held the rights to release the movie and took their disagreement to court. Things were only just recently sorted out allowing the release of the movie to proceed on schedule.

Do movies like Watchmen and The Dark Knight (2008) mark a direction to more “adult” comic book movies? I can only hope. Watchmen opens in theaters March 6.