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Sunday, April 25, 2004

The unwatchable "Watchmen"

It was announced Thursday on Ain't It Cool News that the long long LONG delayed (going back at least to 1988) film production of Alan Moore's "Watchmen" has found a director: Darren Aronfosky. You might remember Aronofsky as the writer/director of 1997's offbeat black-and-white mathematical thriller "Pi". He's done a few things since then but "Pi" beyond all doubt proved his mettle. The one thing he screwed up badly on was the work he did on the "Batman: Year One" script (Alfred the butler as a black man who says "Slammin'!" a lot: what the ...?!)

That said, Darren Aronofsky is a very gifted director. He could probably handle any production task given him with the direst sense of responsibility. He's a true cinematic artist. He's going to destroy his career when he fails miserably by attempting to bring "Watchmen" to the big screen.

This is what Terry Gilliam has said might be the one story that is absolutely unfilmmable. The only way I can think of it getting made and being anywhere faithful to the book is to make it a 24-hour long, 12-part miniseries: one part per chapter from the book for 12 consecutive nights. With a billion-dollar budget and the Wachowski Brothers at the helm. It would have to go on HBO... in fact HBO would be the perfect medium for it. Even considering working with anything less than that would be utter folly.

It's impossible to describe to the uninitiated what "Watchmen" is without having read the book. Which is why the Wachowskis would be perfect to make it if they had the time and resources: this was the matrix thirteen years before there was "The Matrix". It's a murder mystery. It's a superhero story. It's a contemplation on the nature of God and man. It's the perfect tale of middle-age triumphs and regrets. It's a warning against conservative extremism. It's a warning against liberal extremism.

Did I mention that this was the comic book that forever redefined the artform?

"Watchmen" begins in 1985, in a world much likes ours... except that Nixon is still president, the United States won the Vietnam War and the Soviet Union never invaded Afghanistan (not yet anyway). The Cold War for all intents and purposes ended a quarter-century earlier... all because of one man. Any more than that would be too much spoilage. This was a world where some individuals really did choose to become costumed crimefighters... and now someone is killing off the "masks". That is all you need to know going in, before this becomes among the most complex and absorbing plots in modern English literature.

That's where it should stay: as literature. In a book, where it can be most appreciated and considered from. A movie won't have the depth of the graphic novel. It can't present the rich text of the excerpts from Mason's book or the professor's analysis of what Doctor Manhattan's existence now means to the world. It couldn't let us watch the growing friendship between the newsstand vendor and the young comic reader (and on that note just the pirate story would take the budget of an entire motion picture to depict). Of maybe 3-hours running time Kovac's past would require at least 45 minutes to show and the part where he "stops pretending" - you know what I mean if you've read the book - would be the most graphic sequence ever put on film.

Don't get me wrong: I'd LOVE to see some of the things in the book - like the prison break - brought to life onscreen... and whoever plays the Comedian is going to wind up winning an Oscar for Best Actor if there's any justice in this world. But if it doesn't happen, it will be no great loss. Besides, what Rorschach's voice sounds like should remain in your own head, instead of forever hearing Steve Buscemi (now rumored to be cast as the psychotic crimefighter) behind the swirling mask.