As the shy and retiring producer of The Movie Overdose it’s my job to get Sam and Tom together in the same room and record their thoughts and opinions on the world of cinema. More often than not I’m quite content to sit back and bask in the velvet tones of your two magnificent hosts, piping up every so often with a terrible and almost entirely inaudible contribution from the back of the room.
So consider this my slightly more audible response to a section of episode 10 wherein Sam and Tom discussed whether Watchmen was a failure, in particular, the “unfilmable” aspect of the source material. Now I still haven’t seen Watchmen myself, despite paying £25 for a special screening and sitting through the entire film with no visibility and atrociously painful seating arrangements. So utterly awful was my experience with that movie that despite the fact that all the cinema auditorium elements were present: a screen, a chair and myself, I still feel as though I haven’t watched it. Why write an article then? Well my overall impression of the film despite these conditions was positive and as a huge fan of Alan Moore’s work I think I can say it was a success to a degree. For those in the know it’s completely fair to say the book is inherently unfilmable but yet Zack Snyder did it. The structure of the narrative arc, the ensemble cast and heavy message all add up to this sprawling masterpiece which even to try and successfully film just one aspect of the book, the filmmaker runs the risk of massacring the entire book and incurring the wrath of countless die-hard comic fans.
Read on for the rest of this scintillating opinion piece.
So the pressure was on for Snyder, would he make a good job of it? How faithful would he be to the source? The general consensus that it was very faithful, “slavish” seems to be the over-riding term used to describe his adaptation. But it failed to set the box office alight and for those that haven’t read the comic the film feels somewhat of a hulking mess of costumes and crime-fighting with an odd dash of post-modernism.
No doubt the many virtues and faults of the film will be debated for a long while and I started to think about other films that were supposed to be unfilmable, the one that really came to mind being Dune. I’ll apologise to Sam in advance here as I’ll generally try and draw parallels with anything to Dune wherever I can. Dune is a fantastic series and it is to the genre of science fiction what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy. Utterly transcendent and epic beyond measure, attempts have been made countless times to bring Frank Herbert’s eon-spanning work to the screen, so when David Lynch managed to do it in 1984 surely the claims of the book being unfilmable could now be comfortably dismissed, right?
As much as I love the book the film is fairly terrible but it’s being a fan of the book that makes me love it even more. For all the faults and glaring omissions David Lynch almost managed to pull the whole thing off, certain scenes seem lifted entirely from the page and the attention to detail on the set and costume design in places is quite impressive. It’s quite a strange experience when you see hints of what they were trying to do, there’s so much heart in Dune that you cannot fail to marvel at how they almost made the unfilmable actually watchable. There are more examples of supposedly unfilmable books that fall under the science fiction genre than any other, perhaps due to the nature of science fiction relying on more fantastical and visceral narrative devices than say, the Western genre.
Credit where credit’s due, Snyder had stones to make Watchmen in exactly the same way as Lynch making Dune and Peter Jackson making Lord of the Rings. Richard Linklater’s drug-addled rotoscoped fuckery that was A Scanner Darkly was a film of an impossible book by Philip K Dick, a film which was a bit rubbish but you can certainly applaud Linklater’s effort in bringing this book to life. I’m not sure I’d count myself as one of the people who gets offended when a bad adaptation of a beloved text makes it to the screen per se (bar V For Vendetta), I think that to separate source from interpretation is a much-needed ability if you’re going to count yourself as a fan of anything in the first place. So from that I’d certainly be very much against being one of those people either deriding Snyder for making a bad film or being too faithful, give the guy some props on bringing to the screen a book which was said would never work (by the author himself). This takes guts these days and regardless of the result of the film-making process I believe it’s the process of adaptation itself that needs to be applauded.
Let’s add it to the collection of films that someone had a really good go at and when all’s said and done, they probably made a better job of it than you or I could ever dream of.