Monday, June 1, 2009

The Unfilmable Movie

For those not familiar with the comic, “Watchmen” is a genre-defying piece of art. It is unlike anything else in its medium. It was the only graphic novel to appear on Times’ list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to present.

Created by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, “Watchmen” is a complex, multi-layered mystery adventure set in an alternate 1985 America. Costumed superheroes are part of the fabric everyday society, and the Doomsday Clock – which keeps track of the United States’ tension with the Soviet Union – is inching closer to midnight. Freelance vigilantes have been outlawed and most costumed super-heroes are in retirement or working for the government.

The story revolves around the personal development and struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government-sponsored super-hero pulls them out of retirement. As the clues begin to unravel, they find themselves immersed in a wide-ranging conspiracy that has links to the group’s past and has catastrophic consequences for the future.

The heroes are unlike any you’ve ever seen before. This crime fighting legion of heroes are a ragtag group in which only one of the characters has actual “powers” and they all have deep personal issues. The novel is one of the most realistic portrayals of heroes ever created within comics.

The main characters of “Watchmen” are: The Comedian/Edward Blake, a government-sanctioned superhero, whose murder opens the story and sets the plot in motion; Dr. Manhattan/Dr. Jon Osterman is a scientist who became super powered being when he was caught in an Intrinsic Field reactor in 1959 and is now contracted by the U.S. government; Nite Owl/Dan Drieberg is a retired, out of shape, saddened and lonely hero who utilizes owl-themed gadgets (has a bit in common with Batman); Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt is considered the smartest man on the planet and is retired as a superhero so he can focus on running his own business enterprise; Rorschach/Walter Kovacs is a vigilante who wears a white mask that contains constantly shifting ink blots, and continues to fight crime in spite of his outlaw status; and Silk Spectre/Laurie Juspeczyk is the daughter of the original Silk Spectre, with whom she has a strained relationship.

For many years the most prominent critics and people in the entertainment industry felt that “Watchmen” was unfilmable. It’s important societal metaphors, pop culture references and extremely stylish and intelligent writing just seemed too difficult to translate to the silver screen. With just under two months until the films release, those skeptics have now been quieted. But the road to the film version of “Watchmen” has not been an easy one. The film lingered in development hell for many years before Warner Bros. decided to seriously pursue the project, handing the reigns to director Zack Snyder (“Dawn of the Dead”, “300”).

The film version of “Watchmen” has been in development since 1986, when producer Lawrence Gordon acquired the rights to it. The project was in the hands of many different directors over the years including, Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass. Impressed with Zack Snyder’s work on another graphic novel adaptation (“300”) in June 2006 the studio announced that he would direct the adaptation of the novel.

Since Snyder was brought on, all the news that came from the production was positive. The cast (including Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffery Dean Morgan to name a few) was pretty much perfect, while the footage that was previewed over the year looked fantastic, creating some very good buzz for the film.

But in February 2008, the film hit its biggest hurdle, and for a bit of time, it seemed that there might be a chance that “Watchmen” would never hit the big screen. Twentieth Century Fox brought a lawsuit against Warner Bros. that alleged copyright infringement on the Watchmen property. To make a long story short, Fox felt it retained the rights to make the film (or at least distribute it) due to part of a deal made with producer Lawrence Gordon that allowed them the first option on participation in creating a film version.

As the two studios agreed to enter a non-binding mediation in November, Snyder had already completed filming, saying that no one had tried to prevent him from finishing the movie and each and every fan held their breath as a decision came close.

From a fan’s standpoint, Fox was the villain. With a completed film that was looking amazing, there was now a chance that the film would never see the light of day. With the days nearing closer and closer to Watchmen’s March 6 release date, Fox and Warner Bros. finally reached a settlement on January 15, 2009. With the legal scare behind it, the film is ready to be released and in the coming weeks more footage and other parts of the studio’s viral marketing campaign will surface.

What the critics wonder now is, will Snyder’s film merely be a fanboy’s wet dream, or will it be a dark, gritty cinematic masterpiece that will help shape the comic book movie genre from this time on?

1 comment:

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