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Will you watch the Watchmen?

Posted Wednesday, March 4, 2009, at 11:43 PM

(Photo)
The Watchmen are (from left) Ozymandias, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, The Comedian (kneeling), Nite Owl and Rorschach.
I don't blog much. I get busy. Really busy.

I also don't blog because I don't believe in blogging for the sake of blogging. I feel I should blog only when I feel something is important enough to bring to readers' attention.

Lacking that, I'm going to blog about the Watchmen movie, which comes out Friday (March 6).

In many cases, a book is turned into a movie. "Watchmen" was a series of comic books in the mid-1980s that was reprinted in one volume in the format now known as the graphic novel.

"Watchmen" was definitely not kiddie stuff. This book's Superman was losing touch with humanity and it's version of Batman was a man who saw things only in black and white and didn't have a problem with killing if it would help meet his objectives.

"Watchmen" made comic books okay for adults. In fact, try finding a Richie Rich or Mickey Mouse comic book now. It's virtually impossible.

But the fundamental thing about "Watchmen" was that it asked this question:

What kind of person would actually become a superhero?

And the answer was thought provoking and sort of scary.

The kind of people who would become superheroes would be the kind you wouldn't want to be superheroes.

Alan Moore, the writer, deconstructed the superhero and his motives. Then put them back together again in a context that could be more easily related. Only one of the superheroes in "Watchmen," Dr. Manhattan, actually has super powers. The rest of the heroes run around in masks and costumes but are no mightier than you or I.

Without spoiling the movie, here's a take on the characters and the situation that is expected to be in the film and how it compares to the book.


Time: Both the novel and the movie take place in an alternate version of 1985. Dr. Manhattan tilted the scales toward the United States in the Cold War and the Vietnam War ended in victory because of him. A grateful nation repealed the 22nd Amendment and Richard Nixon is still the president. The movie studio originally wanted to update the movie to the time of the Gulf War, but director Zach Snyder decided to keep the Cold War setting.

Heroes: Heroes began running around in the 1940s but fell out of favor during the 1960s. Congress passed a law outlawing costumed vigilantes and as the novel begins, only three remain active. Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian both operate under government sanction while Rorschach operates outside the law. The fact that there were active superheroes caused superhero comic books to fall out of favor. In the novel, pirate comics are the best-selling ones and one, Tales of the Black Freighter, is used to tell a part of the story in a different way. There wasn't room in the movie to include the Black Freighter story but it is supposed to be included as an extra when Watchmen is released on DVD.

Characters: The characters were originally going to be ones that DC Comics had recently acquired from Charlton Comics. But when executives saw that the story line could make those characters unusable after the series was complete, they requested that Moore create original characters.

Dr. Manhattan is based somewhat on Charlton's Captain Atom. He is, again, the only one with true superpowers, gained in a laboratory accident. He is the most powerful man in the world, although most of his powers deal with teleportation and the manipulation of time and atomic structure. The problem is that he is so far superior to other humans that he is beginning to lose touch with his humanity.

Rorschach is based roughly on The Question but has some elements of Batman without the gadgets. He has issues, but discussing them might serve as a spoiler. He refuses to quit working as a hero when costumed vigilantes are made illegal. Due to trauma while handling one particularly gruesome case, there is no longer a trace of his original identity, Walter Kovacs. He refuses to compromise and sees only good and bad. There is no middle. And he'll use any means necessary to enforce his ideals. He is named for his mask, which is white with a special liquid sealed between two layers that moves around in random patters that are equal on each side as in a Rorschach inkblot test.

The Comedian was based mostly on the Peacemaker but if you wanted to compare him to a war-based hero like Sgt. Rock, it's understandable. He was one of the original 1940's heroes, the only one of those who remains active. He did the "grunt" work in Vietnam while Dr. Manhattan got the glory. He "gets" why heroes do what they do and knows it's not for the reasons they should do it.

Nite Owl is based on Charlton's version of the Blue Beetle. Even his airship is like Blue Beetle's. Dan Drieberg is actually the second Nite Owl, inspired by the adventures of the original, who gave him permission to use the identity when he retired. Drieberg was quite capable when he was active but now he's in his early 40's, out of shape and insecure. Rorschach brings him out of retirement to aid in the case that serves as the movie's plot.

Silk Spectre is the daughter of the original. There really wasn't a Charlton character serving as her template but it would be fair to compare her to a reluctant version of Black Canary. She never wanted to be a superhero but her mother groomed her for the role and she doesn't really fight it. As the novel begins, she's Dr. Manhattan's girlfriend. But that's a set up by the government in an attempt to keep Manhattan focused on humanity rather than drifting away. The first Silk Spectre changed her last name from Juspeczyk to Jupiter because, in the 1940's, it didn't matter how many lives you saved as long as you fit in. The first Silk Spectre also had an uneasy relationship with the Comedian.

Ozymandias, the smartest man in the world, goes public after retirement and becomes a celebrity and a self-made media mogul. His Charlton model was Thunderbolt, who wasn't even really a major character for that company (and, in fact, DC no longer even owns the rights to that version of Thunderbolt, letting them revert back to the character's creator). Ozymandias has developed his mind as much as humanly possible and is probably also one of the more physically gifted of the Watchmen heroes. Only The Comedian, as far as main characters are concerned, would possess greater natural physical strength.


What makes this superhero movie different from most others is that, although the Watchmen have been in print for almost 25 years, a majority of the audience the filmmakers hope to capture have probably never heard of them. With Superman, Spider-Man, the Hulk and even Iron Man, there has been enough told about these heroes in various media that a greatly-detailed origin story isn't necessary to tell their tale.

There's another difference with the Watchmen. Their entire story was told in 1986-87 in 12 issues and there has never been any sort of ongoing series with them. In fact, there's not going to be any source material to create a sequel, even if there is sufficient demand, because there are no other Watchmen stories to base one upon.

I hope you can forgive my geekiness for this one blog and also that this small guide can help you enjoy the movie a bit more if you decide to attend. Realize that the movie has an R rating. There was some nudity in the comic book and there will probably be some in the movie.

It's probably fair to offer up this one spoiler, in case you're thinking of taking the kids anyway: Dr. Manhattan eventually begins to consider clothing unnecessary.

You've been warned.


Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Going to see it at midnight tonight at Liberty Theater!!!!

-- Posted by kennyfelt on Thu, Mar 5, 2009, at 4:53 PM

it was terrible.

-- Posted by kennyfelt on Fri, Mar 6, 2009, at 9:04 AM

It didn't come close to the greatness of the book, but was about as faithful an adaptation as you can get trying to squeeze it into two hours and forty minutes (no small feat). Definitely worth watching, though. Everybody needs to read the book - it's an incredible look at human nature, war, right and wrong, and everything that entails. There's a reason it made Time magazine's list of the top 100 novels of all time - the only graphic novel to do so.

-- Posted by Nick Graham on Mon, Mar 9, 2009, at 12:12 PM


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