Review: “Watchmen” Release Unleashes Fanboy Ingratitude


Poor Zack Snyder.

The director should be kicking back at home in Pasadena celebrating what is sure to be a monstrous debut weekend for his take on "Watchmen," the "unadaptable graphic novel."

Instead, he finds himself ducking the flameballs being tossed by a small but vocal cluster of the Fanboy Collective that believes Snyder is bastardizing Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons' classic comic-book series.

(Before it was collected as a graphic novel, "Watchmen" was a 12-issue limited series released in 1986.)

You would think any fan who's ever dreamed of sitting down for breakfast at the Gunga Diner with a copy of "The New Frontiersman" would be thrilled that someone, anyone, managed to crack Watchmen's cinematic code and give it theatrical life.

Instead, these diehard ingrates -– many before they've even seen the film -- are decrying "Watchmen," saying it should not and could never be a good movie, and to attempt to do so is unnecessary and foolish. Good grief. You would think it was Michael Bay or Brett Ratner at the helm.

But Snyder's one of us. He was the guy who made "300" a worldwide sensation. He also knows "Watchmen" inside out.

He used the clout he earned with "300" to basically force Warner Bros. to let him do "Watchmen" the right way. No stunt casting, no "War on Terror" modernization and no PG-13 sanitization. It's "Watchmen." Blood has to spill, Nite Owl can't get it up without the cape, and the blue guy has to be naked. Snyder got it. Why can't the geeks?

As a matter of full disclosure, I am one of said geeks. In fact, I will match my fanboy credentials against anyone's. I've been reading comics since the stone age, when we grabbed them off the 7-Eleven spinner racks and have spent more $$ on useless pop culture knick-knacks than I care to reveal here.

I've also read "Watchmen" and seen the movie. You know what? It's a tremendous adaptation. Considering how dense the original story is, it's amazing just how much Snyder crammed into his 163-minute epic.

The main characters get fully developed story arcs, their strengths and weaknesses on full display. The cold-war gloom and pessimism that permeated the book practically chokes out any chance of campiness sneaking into the film. And we get perhaps the greatest opening credits in modern-movie history, serving as the table-setter for the slightly skewed reality in which the story takes place.

Yet all some people want to do is bitch and moan because there’s no squid.

The squid was a great twist at the end of the comic series. But you know what? There is no way you were going to make that sequence work on-screen, especially for those not familiar with the story. It's enough that you're asking them to accept a giant blue super man who gets pissed and goes to Mars. But a giant man-made squid that unleashes a massive psychic blast that wipes out millions in Manhattan? I don’t think so.

Snyder's revised ending (not going to spoil it here for you. Go see it for yourself) doesn't change the result. It only alters the McGuffin used to achieve that result. The end game remains the same, and in the context of a film, even a 163-minute one, it works.

If you can't accept that certain things simply don't work onscreen as well as they do in comics, then stay out of the theater and keep yourself locked in your grandma's basement with your 6-foot stacks of TPBs and your PS3. Because there's no way to please you.

We geeks are our own worst enemies. For years, the comic-book cognoscenti complained at the lack of respect Hollywood showed our four-color fantasy books. We asked for big-budget superhero spectacle, and the studios gave us ... Dolph Lundgren as The Punisher? Roger Corman's Kmart-budgeted Fantastic Four?

Then "X-Men" and especially "Spider-Man" showed everyone how magical comic-book movies could be when done right, and the genre quickly became a gamma-powered box office gorilla.

By all rights, Fanboys should be dancing arm-in-arm outside movie theaters like the Ewoks after the Battle of Endor, celebrating this golden age of genre cinema. Instead, many of us find the dark cloud hiding behind every silver lining. We bash creative choices before they even reach theaters.

If it's not the lack of spandex in Bryan Singer's "X-Men," it's Peter Parker's organic web-shooters getting their Underoos in knots.

Adapting written works, even those with pretty pictures accompanying them, calls for certain liberties are to be taken. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

Let's not forget the mother of all adaptations, Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He made major changes to the story but I defy anyone out there to say those movies weren’t magic.
Incidentally, that was another adaptation many thought should never have been made. "Impossible," they said. "It’ll never work," they insisted. Jackson has $3 billion and about a dozen Oscars as proof that it did.

By definition, an adaptation means to change to adjust the original source to a new environment. So if the spirit and tone of "Watchmen" haven't changed, only some of the mechanisms which deliver the message of the story, hasn't the movie done its part?

To the orthodox "Watchmen" fans, as Snyder calls them, who won’t stand for anything but a complete and slavishly faithful adaptation of the GN, there's nothing you can say to change their minds. They're zeroed in on Bitter.

But to those who simply have misgivings about translating such a transcendant, complicated story, give it a shot. After years of looking at the magnificent images in the GN, and wondering what it would be like to see Rorschach, Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan come alive on-screen, don’t you owe it to yourself to go in with an open mind and see the finished product?

Michael Avila is the producer of Lyons & Bailes REEL TALK.

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