Movies

'Watchmen' And The Myth Of The Movie As The Ultimate Form Of Storytelling

The cast of Watchmen

hide captionWatchmen: Does there always have to be a movie?

Warner Brothers Pictures

There's a movie opening today called Watchmen. Perhaps you've heard of it. It's gotten a bit of press lately, most of which has involved some variation of the headline "Who watches Watchmen?," because headline writers are just that clever.

Most of the coverage has also fixated on the long, roadblock-studded path from the original 1986-1987 run of the comic book to the silver screen. To hear the media tell it, those of us who love Watchmen have been waiting for this day eagerly for over 20 years.

The thing is, I don't think we have.

The comic as its own fully realized form, after the jump...

Don't get me wrong: I'm sick with anticipation over this movie, despite my fears that disappointment is the only possible outcome awaiting me. But that anticipation only began to grow once there was a movie to anticipate. Up until then, I would blissfully read the comics again every two years or so, confident in the knowledge that they were telling me a story as well as a story could be told.

See, there's an assumption — a big one — that doesn't hold up under scrutiny. And it's this: Watchmen won't be a fully-realized piece of entertainment, of literature, of pop-culture, or of art, until it happens on a movie screen. Film, the argument seems to go, is the natural apex of storytelling.

Do I need to mention that that's nonsense? Or that it reveals an astonishing lack of respect for Watchmen itself? We're supposed to act as though Watchmen is finally achieving its full potential, when the beauty of Watchmen, and the reason I love it so much, is that it's fully realized already. In fact, that's the precise problem that it's faced on the road to the multiplex. Anybody who's been waiting anxiously for someone to make it into a movie has sort of missed the point.

You've probably heard a lot recently about how Watchmen (and The Dark Knight Returns at around the same time) marked the maturation of comics. What's gone generally unmentioned, and what was more quietly groundbreaking, is that those pieces also marked the perfection of the comic book form. The story that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons told is fundamentally shaped by the limitations and possibilities of the medium that spawned it. It is so deeply a comic book down to its very bones that there's a part of me that can't imagine that the story could work in any other format.

And yet, as with any other well-loved book, musical, television show or what-have-you — your Sweeney Todds, your Twilights, your Sexes And The City — all the chatter is how it's finally being turned into a film and what compromises had to be made to make it happen. Here's a thought: if the filmmakers had to make compromises, maybe movies aren't necessarily the be-all and end-all that we pretend. If the question for two decades has been "Will anybody get to watch the Watchmen?," I'd like to humbly suggest that the answer is yes and always has been. Watchmen has been in print almost continuously since its debut. Happy reading.

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