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I just heard that the final cast has been confirmed for the upcoming film Watchmen, and my inner geek is doing back flips. For those not in the know, Watchmen was originally a 12 issue comic book series (ahem…excuse me, graphic novel) originally published from 1985 – 1986. Written by the legendary Alan Moore with art by Dave Gibbons, the idea of the series was simple: What if super heroes, as portrayed in comic books, actually existed? Supposing that they had appeared in the late 30s and early 40s (roughly the same time as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman made their debuts), what effect would they have had on America and the world? What type of people would actually dress up in these outrageous costumes and go out into the streets to fight crime? The answers were frightening:
· Many of the heroes suffered from some fairly serious neuroses and personality disorders; one of them turned out to be a full-bore misogynist and sociopath, while another was an amoral government puppet.
· The one hero with actual super-human powers gradually began to lose his humanity.
· Thanks to having our own Superman, America would have won in Vietnam, thus ensuring Nixon’s popularity and allowing him to overturn the 22nd Amendment and remain president well into the 1980s.
· America’s enemies abroad would be in a constant state of alert as a result of the American Superman, making nuclear war an even greater threat than it was at the height of the Cold War.
· Anti-superhero riots would be a regular event.
And these are just a few of the nightmarish results. The plot of the series centers on the efforts of Rorschach (the aforementioned sociopath) to find the murderer(s) of the Comedian (the aforementioned amoral government puppet). Eventually, Rorschach’s search draws in most of the other surviving heroes (all of whom have retired in the wake of a congressional act demanding that they cease their activities) and reveals a Byzantine plot that could kill millions of people.
This is a complex, sweeping story that rewrites most of the history of 20th century America. Moore carefully weaves in scores of excerpts from books, newspaper and journal articles, and a memoir written by one of the retired heroes in the alternative history of the series. Scathing social and political commentary, ruminations on religion, philosophy, and the meaning of life, and subplots detailing the experiences of ordinary people in the world of the series all help to elevate the series above its medium (or maybe reveal the potential of the medium) and turn it into a work of serious literature (for those of you laughing in the back at this point, consider that Watchmen has received, among other honors and recognitions, a place on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Novels of All Time).
The series’ tagline, “Who watches the watchmen?” sums up the most critical issue of the story: How much authority over the destiny of the world should fallible human beings be allowed to wield? A question whose relevancy never diminishes.
The movie appears to be in good hands. The director, Zack Snyder, has established himself with two solid action films, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake and this year’s 300. And the casting choices demonstrate the intention to fill the screen with talent rather than movie stars. I know that some changes will take place in the transition from page to film, but that is an inevitable result of hopping mediums. Time will tell…
On a slightly related note, this makes me curious: Name one book (of any kind) that you would like to see adapted for another medium (film, television, or stage)? The floor is open folks…