Monday, February 09, 2009

Watchmen Analysis

I must confess. I’m now hooked on the Watchmen.

God, I’m so predictable. I can always (and so easily) get sucked into the vortex of seemingly unsolvable Gordian Knot-type stories, and – oh, look – in Chapter III, page 3, first panel, there’s a guy from the Gordian Knot Lock Company. How visually apropos.

During my mysterious blog interruption last month (and while traveling quite a bit), I read the graphic novel in two sittings. And yes, I read every word of the book inserts and files at the end of each chapter. It’s a habit of mine to try to digest and analyze a work as a whole first and then make decisions on what should be cut or changed.

Structurally speaking, the whole thing reminded me of the Lost TV show in that you have a group of people in the middle of a mystery in a strange world with many visual motifs while every episode reveals a different character’s backstory. I can’t help but wonder how much the Watchmen style of storytelling influenced the Lost writers.

An interesting conversation I suspect screenwriters will be having in a month or so will be about how successful Zack Snyder & company was in adapting WM and what you would’ve done differently. Personally, my early impression is that when it comes to adapting Watchmen, the novel lends itself more to a mini-series than a film. And you could probably condense the book to 5 or 6 hour-and-a-half HBO episodes.

For a film, I think you’d have to limit the backstories, keep the first generation superheroes in the far background, and pay close attention to themes and visual motifs. I would’ve cut the Black Freighter, sped up the love affair plotline, and yes, I would’ve changed the ending. What the hell am I supposed to think about that damn squid?

So I’m in the midst of studying analysis of the novel and thought I’d share a few interesting links.

I’m listening to the
Watchmen podcasts by the Legion of Dudes. These guys provide for free a roundtable conversation on the novel and they go through each issue panel-by-panel discussing all the details and symbols and all things Watchmen. They’re about an hour and a half each. So settle in. I’m up to Chapter IV.

This website has a
gaggle of links to great analysis of the book, the most notable is probably The Annotated Watchmen generally considered the “holy grail” of Watchmen notes.

The Boredom Festival has a complete panel-by-panel
reconstruction of The Black Freighter comic book.

An Analysis of Watchmen: Symmetry and the Tragic Flaw
Erika Szabo gives us an essay on the use of symmetry in certain panel layouts (like above) within several chapters of the graphic novel. It was interesting. She wrote:

Initially, one may not even think of wondering why Adrian Veidt the hero Ozymandias, formed the central panel – pages 14-15. However, after multiple reads through Watchmen, different interpretations of his appearance can be made. Perhaps even the end of the graphic novel will come to mind. Why is this? My theory is that because Adrian Veidt was the one man who could unify the world – even if only temporarily – his ‘unification’ of the central panel was appropriate for a man capable of such. This is merely a speculation, but the theory does have merit.

I believe that if Chapter V can invoke such high speculations, so should the entire graphic novel. I will not go into complete detail over any other Chapter because, honestly, I don’t think I have enough room to. Instead I will focus on adjacent ideas, symbolism and the like. One such idea that I would like to talk about is the involvement of symmetry and how it effects Watchmen as a whole.

Also, here’s a paper I plan to digest called
Reading Space in Watchmen. He writes:

In this paper I argue that the grammar of Watchmen is a spatial grammar, a place of constituent elements transformed into practised space. Watchmen provokes a modernist strategy of estrangement in its representation and problematisation of the postmodern by employing the rational grid of the orderly mode of modernity, and disabling its instinct towards compartmentalisation and containment.

Some of the early scripts are available here.

And here's
The New Frontiersman viral site.



Callum said...

Thanks for the links.

I am really really looking forward to this movie.

Since discovering the graphic novel 6 months ago I have read it three times and find new things in it every time I read it!

Roll on 6th March!!


JJ said...

I wholly agree that if Watchmen was going to be adapted at all, it should have been done as a miniseries, or multiple films a la Lord Of The Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, the Back To The Future sequels, or Soderbergh's Che. And that it should be respected as a classic and a masterpiece and made by, oh, Terry Gilliam or Paul Greengrass or Oliver Stone or Darren Aranofsky and NOT FRIGGIN' THE GUY FROM THE DAWN OF THE DEAD REMAKE! WHO ONLY GOT IT BECAUSE HE MADE 300 WHICH SUCKED!

Okay, anyway--I admit, I don't like Zach Snyder, but it still could be a hell of a lot worse....I seriously think two long films would be the way to go. End the first one with Dan saying, "We gotta rescue Rorschach". The more I think about it, the more I think the Che model would work best.

As for "the squid", it's supposed to evoke 1950s sci fi movies like The Crawling Eye and It Came From Outer Space, and older fantasy fiction H.P. Lovecraft stories; along with the actual textual referance to the Outer Limits episode "The Architects Of Fear", it's all indicative that Veidt actually has no really original ideas. He borrowed his whole image and philosophy from Alexander The Great, and got most of his grand scheme from, well, watching T.V. He may have great resources, but little real imagination, and can't really envision what might result from his actions in the future. Unlike some other characters: "Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends."

All in all, I kinda think "The Incredibles" was in many ways a far better Watchmen adaptation then a straight-up movie version of the comic book.

Kwinnky said...

As a long time fan of both Watchmen and Alan Moore, I'm both excited and nervous. From what I've seen, Moore might actually allow his name in the credits this time.

daveednyc said...

Where did that "Operation Wrath of God" patch come from?

Mystery Man said...

Callum - I'm seeing a lot of things I didn't see on my first read. And it's tough because it's so dense and you don't always stop to notice the details, which are pretty exciting. In fact, I'm loving the visual ironies right now and plan to blog about it soon.

JJ - Thanks so much for the thoughts about the squid! Someone was telling me a theory that the squid was fake to cover up something else that happened in the city and that somewhere you can see movie people mulling about. With respect to Zack Snyder, you should worry more about the screenwriters.

Kwinnky - Really? I hadn't heard that. I serously doubt anything will make Moore happy. He is so DONE with HW.

Dave - I'm not sure where it fits in the story. I suspect that's from the Vietnam operation with Dr. Manhattan. But I got the image from the New Frontiersman viral website. There's a link to all the photos on flickr.


JJ said...

Re: Zack Snyder and the screenwriters...yeah, I know, it's really not fair to pick on them, they truly do seem to be doing the best they can. Snyder does seem to be remaining far truer to the book then even Terry Gilliam was going too (and speaking of screenplays, the Sam Hamm / Terry Gilliam draft was just not that good...). And like I said, it could've been so much worse---Brett Ratner's Watchmen, or something.

Still...What would you prefer? Phil Joanou's Last Temptation Of Christ, or Marty Scorcese and Paul Schrader's? Imagine a 2-part Watchmen directed by Aranofsky, or Oliver Stone, and not done on the cheap in Toronto, and given the same kind of respect that the latest Oprah booklist bestseller gets as a matter of course. I just think this masterpiece should be handled by artists of equal stature...

And the patch is AWESOME, although I doubt the Comedian would've been given the same kind've status as Dr. Manhattan in that operation.

Carl Mounfield said...

As far as Lost and Watchmen go this site has had a go at drawing a number of parallels and possible influences/homages.

Maybe I'd lose the squid, that reason for it being there, as mentioned in a previous post, might be important to character development but it's buried far too deep into the subtext for 90% of the audience. It's just not an obvious enough reason for such an obvious and unmissable giant squid. I'm all for subtlety but I don't think a subtle reason can justify something that the last act is built around.

Carl Mounfield said...

And about 300 sucking. I don't think anyone expected Citizen Kane to be the result of that book.

Carl Mounfield said...

Very sorry for the triple post, I forgot to link the Lost/Watchmen site.

JJ said...

Subtle squid: I'm not sure a giant dead fake alien monster is all that subtle.

It's supposed to be a fake alien invasion, and the monster is just a bit more do-able, I guess, then a flying saucer or something. Plus it IS similar to "Architects Of Fear" and again, the point is that Veidt lacks imagination, which ties into the idea of great power in the hands of people who may not be most qualified to use it....I.E. the Watchmen who are unwatched.

I suspect it's kind've aimless to start talking about anything in Watchmen being "too subtle", Watchmen is one of the most multilayered and allusive works of fiction of the 80s...

Mystery Man said...

JJ - On comment #1 - Yeah, the boys who wrote The Island and Transformers did a rewrite, which makes me cringe. Interesting, though, I glanced through Dayter's early draft. 15 pages in, the man had not even made a dent in the FIRST novel. Gigantic cuts would have to be made. On comment #2 - That makes perfect sense. Fantastic comments, which I truly appreciate. I love it!

Carl - Great points. I could be wrong, but on my first read, it felt like squid was never set up. It just came out of nowhere, and I was scratching my head about that. HOLY SHIT, that link blew my mind. The Dharma logo made the hairs stand up on my arm. I am SO telling the gang this at tomorrow's "Lost" dinner party (I go to one every week.) I hadn't had the chance to put that much thought into it. I was just thinking structurally, ya know? Thanks so much!


Mystery Man said...

BTW - I will defnitely be blogging more about "Watchmen" so stay close.


Tim Clague said...

I appear to be agreeing with yourself and those above - the miniseries was always the way I say it going even when I first it read it about 13 years ago. The irony being that back then mini series weren't really around and now they are!

Mystery Man said...

Tim - Thanks for all the great comments on the last few articles.


Carl Mounfield said...

"Subtle squid: I'm not sure a giant dead fake alien monster is all that subtle."

The point for it being there is subtle, not the squid itself, which I did describe as unmissable and gigantic. The reason for it being there isn't that obvious. I know that when I read it I didn't think "Oh, a giant squid! That MUST be because Ozy has no creativity" From what I gather the new ending seems to keep most of the moral dilemmas intact.

Is the squid set up in the book? There are moments of foreshadowing. Lots of references to the artists on the island, Bubastis himself is a cross breed of creatures, there's a picture of the creature on a sketch long before the thing appears and there are many adverts for The Day The Earth Stood Still. Even with that ending I do tell people that it's one of the most shocking/head-scratching endings ever.

Mystery Man said...

Carl - Those are great comments and I appreciate your pointing out some of the ways it was setup. I have yet to come to any conclusions about it. I'm almost through all of the podcasts by now.


Archie said...

As for analyses, there is also the Effron thesis. The first couple chapters are pretty much a hash of superhero history, but he has some interesting observations in the second half of the third and the fourth chapter. Kind of hard to read on a blog, but here's the link:

Mystery Man said...

Archie - Awesome! Thank you!


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