Zack Snyder pulls off the impossible with ‘Watchmen’

Lisa Miller
Special to the Sierra Sun
courtesy Warner Brothers

A densely packed superhero movie based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Gibbons, “Watchmen” is set in an alternate 1985. President Nixon is serving his third term, and superheroes either work for the government, or are considered vigilantes.

Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a 45-foot-tall entity, glows blue, and tenuously hangs onto his humanity through his love for Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), a disillusioned superhero. Jupiter, also known as Silk Spectre II, is the daughter of the first Silk Spectre, played by Carla Gugino.

As the story counts down to nuclear war between the United States and Russia, masked crime-fighting vigilantes debate whether mankind should be savaged or salvaged. The dark tale relies heavily on stylized violence and special effects, giving us remote characters.

Written in 1985, the dark themes of Watchmen’s alternate universe appear to have grown out of Western paranoia surrounding current events. In 1984 Bernie Goetz was being tried for shooting four men he claimed had attempted to rob him on a Manhattan subway, making vigilantism a hot topic.

Western paranoia was heightened by the presence of the Berlin Wall and our saber rattling with Russia.

Meanwhile President Reagan was working on creating a “Star Wars Defense System.”

Penned by Alan Moore and drawn by David Gibbons, Watchmen began as a DC comic book mini-series that was later compiled into what is known as a graphic novel. Moore, a British writer living in North Hampton, claims he refuses to watch the film adaptations of his graphic novels, which have included “V for Vendetta,” “From Hell,” “Constantine” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”

A self-described anarchist fond of telling journalists that he worships an ancient Roman snake god, Moore believes that Hollywood movies spoon-feed audiences the literary equivalent of regurgitated worms.

Moore has led an unconventional life. He was expelled from school at age 17 for being what he describes as “one of the world’s most inept LSD dealers.” Another insight into his personal life, may explain a peculiar Menage a trois in the “Watchmen.” After Moore married his first wife the couple took a mutual lover. Sadly for Moore, his wife and their lover eventually deserted him — going off together.

Watchmen originated from Moore’s story proposal to DC Comics, featuring superhero characters acquired by DC from Charlton Comics. As Moore’s story would have rendered many of Charlton’s characters unusable for future DC stories, editor Dick Giordano convinced the writer to create new characters.

David Gibbons, the artist and character designer behind “Watchmen,” finagled his way onto the project, falsely telling Moore he had been preapproved by DC Comics to illustrate the series. The pair had worked together before, so the deal was struck. According to Gibbons, the characters were changed very little from his original designs. During an interview posted on YouTube, Gibbons reveals his artistic choices defied the conventional comic book wisdom of using primary colors: red, blue and yellow in favor of secondary colors: orange, green and purple.

Convinced that the subversive, complex “Watchmen” series could never be adapted to the screen, Moore has openly claimed in various interviews that he hoped the film adaptation would remain entangled in a legal battle between competing studios. By all accounts, director Zack Snyder has managed to pull off the impossible, condensing the series into a two-and-a-half hour movie that remains faithful to both the original story and its illustrations.

This is good news for viewers who may be surprised to learn that Time Magazine voted the “Watchmen” graphic novel one of the best 100 novels written since 1923. Naysayers may complain loudly, but no one can deny that comic books have entered a lofty domain.

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