LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
If youre a fan of movies about comic book superheroes, youve probably been looking forward to this weekend. Watchmen is finally making it to the big screen. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan wonders if its been worth the wait.
KENNETH TURAN: Watchmen was a landmark as a graphic novel, but as a film it's only pedestrian.
It's not a question of fidelity. The film has been quite faithful to the graphic, novel story about a nefarious plot to eliminate costumed superheroes from an alternate-reality America they've protected and defended.
(Soundbite of movie, Watchmen)
Mr. JEFFERY DEAN MORGAN (Actor): (as The Comedian): Congress is pushing through some new bill thats going to outlaw masks. Our days are numbered. Until then, its like you always say: Were societys only protection.
Mr. PATRICK WILSON (Actor): (As Night Owl): From what?
Mr. MORGAN: (as The Comedian): Are you kidding me? From themselves.
TURAN: Some of these superheroes have retired, while others, like the psychotic Rorschach, continue working clandestinely. And then there's the only being in this world with true superpowers, courtesy of your standard scientific experiment gone horribly wrong. He's a government employee now, and they've named him Dr. Manhattan.
(Soundbite of movie, Watchmen)
Mr. BILLY CRUPDUP (Actor): (as Dr. Manhattan) They explain the name has been chosen for the ominous associations it will raise in Americas enemies. They are shaping me into something gaudy, something lethal.
(Soundbite of crash)
TURAN: After I saw this movie, I went back to the graphic novel. I was struck again that what made Watchmen a sensation was not its plot, but a structural denseness and complexity the way it used multiple elements to comment on the core story in an almost Talmudic way. That essence is close to impossible to re-create on the screen, even with a two hour and 41 minute running time.
It may seem like a no-brainer to turn a graphic novel into a film. Hey, they're both visual media, right? But this turns out not to be the case. A narrative with the texture and complexity of Watchmen demands to be on the page, demands to be read again and again before all its secrets are revealed, and film simply doesn't have the time for that.
What went wrong with Watchmen is not really anyone's fault. It never should have been turned into a film in the first place.
But when the studios think they can make hundreds of millions of dollars out of fanboys, that is not going to happen. Maybe in an alternate reality, but not in ours.
WERTHEIMER: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times, and we review more movies, including a Russian remake of 12 Angry Men called 12, at npr.org.
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