“Watchmen” is a graphic novel published in 1986 written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. “Watchmen critiques and reflects upon the conception of “Superhero,” using an alternative U.S. History. The storyline follows the lives and the deaths of a group of superheros as they face the changing realities of the (alternative) post-Vietnam War U.S. There is tension with the Soviet Union, President Nixon never left the office, and the superheros are known as vigilantes and are outlawed by the government. The graphic novel itself is non-linear, the plot moves between the different characters and goes back and forth through time. “Watchmen” has been universally acclaimed as both a graphic novel and as a piece of poignant literature. It has both beautiful artwork accompanied by a storyline that transcends many expectations for non-graphic novel oriented readers.
In 2009, “Watchmen” was adapted into a film, directed by Zach Snyder. Snyder has carved out his own niche in Hollywood, adapting other graphic novels to the big screen such as “300.” His style transferred over to “Watchmen;” Snyder used many of the same shots as panels from the novel. However, Snyder had to rearrange some plot points to make the storyline accessible to an audience unfamiliar with the source material. Additionally, Snyder increased some of the violence or gore from the novel, putting his own spin into “Watchmen.”
As far as how well Snyder adapted the famous graphic novel, there is much debate. Alan Moore is famous for denouncing any attempts to bring graphic novels into Hollywood; he feels that there is never enough justice to the source material. Snyder stayed almost perfectly within the realms of the source material, using panels and dialogue directly from “Watchmen.” However, this may have actually been his downfall, proving Moore’s point. “Watchmen” as a graphic novel may have purely been too grandiose for a film. Some viewers may have found the adaptation confusing or too long. As a story, every aspect of a graphic novel is intentionally created a specific way. It is impossible to recreate the panels that Moore and Gibbons originally designed. While Snyder was very true to the source material, “Watchmen” proves too complicated and textually-oriented for a film.
In an interview, Alan Moore directly discusses the concept of a cinematic interpretation of “Watchmen.” He states that “If you concentrate on the similarities between comics and cinema, what you’re left with is films that don’t move. What we wanted to establish with ‘Watchmen…’ was territory that was unique to comics00 the thigns tha comics can do which no other medium can.” This shows that one goal of Moore’s was to make something that was specific to the graphic novel canon and not able to be recreated with film.
Zach Snyder had commented that the increased exposure in super hero movies will allow the average viewer to understand the commentary of “Watchmen.” “We all know about superheroes now… You’re getting to that saturation level where superhero movies, it’s hard for them to figure out what more to do.”
After receiving mixed criticisms, Snyder feels that maybe audiences weren’t ready for “Watchmen,” even the critics. “The thing I find fascinating about the whole way ‘Watchmen’ was received is that 10% or less of the critics seemed to have actually read the graphic novel… because it really is not a movie, in a traditional sense. And if you try to analyze it in those terms—and not in terms of the relationship to pop culture—then you kind of miss the point.” Snyder hoped that it would be marketed as a normal “superhero movie” but push the audience into confronting standard conceptions of superheroes.
One scene in particular that changed from the graphic novel to the film is when Dan and Laurie beat up the muggers in the alley. In the film they are triumphant but in the novel they are remorseful and consider the impact of their actions. Here, Snyder may have attempted to give his own “signature” style into the film; he is known for gore in other films. He didn’t necessarily sell out, but may have missed the overall significance of that scene to the novel. That part was meant to push the characters to consider a fundamental question, “can we live ‘normal’ lives outside of being a superhero? How should we react to our potential?” I believe Snyder felt this scene was interchangeable and wanted to put his own stylistic attitude into a film where many shots are exact replicas of the graphic novel.