Watching the Watchmen

Six days since the last meeting. Seven plays down. Eighteen to go. Fifteen days left, but two are Saturdays and two are Sundays. And I have already read the three plays I helped to push into the finals, so rereading them should go quicker. I totally got this. Totally. It helps knowing that these final 25 have supporters. It helps to go in knowing that some very smart people are positive about them. It makes giving them the benefit of the doubt easier, which I should, of course, be doing in the first place but, let’s be honest, when you are cutting 400 scripts down to 5 you’re reading with a fairly critical eye. This is the fun stage, I dare say, when you have the luxury of looking for the positives.

My nightly ritual has been to read a play then read a chapter of Watchmen in preparation for movie’s premiere on March 6 (which I must remember to factor into my reading schedule!). For those of you who have not read Watchmen, you can never ever give me shit about not having read Pride and Prejudice or, really, your pick of the cannon (English degrees are sadly not what they used to be, if they ever were). One of my students two years ago wrote his semester-long research project about Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, how both were released in ’86, both revolutionized the comic book genre, but only one became a franchise.

Watchmen didn’t,  primarily because Moore didn’t want it to.  “I got into comics because I thought it was a good and useful medium that had not been explored to its fullest potential,” Moore told Geoff Boucher at the L.A. Times. “Moore said that with Watchmen, he told the epic tale of a large number of characters over decades of history with ‘a range of techniques’ that cannot be translated to the movie screen, among them the ‘book within a book’ technique, which took readers through a second, interior story as well as documents and the writings of characters.” This is the same song that Moore has been singing since the late ’80s. But the movie has been made, if not with his blessing then at least with his legal consent. Should we all rebel with him?

I am hopeful without being optimistic. As I reread his beautifully intricate narrative, I am constantly asking, How are they going to do this? Are they going to cut this (they can’t can they?)? How are they going translate a series that deliberately plays with different structures into one cohesive piece? I just finished the amazing “Chapter IV” in which Dr. Manhattan–who experiences all time simultaneously–narrates in a complex interwoven chronology that rocks back and forth like a pendulum; how are they going to do that? Are they only going to do it for that chapter, roughly 1/12 of the film? But, unlike Moore, I hope it succeeds because I think, with its Armageddon clock on the constant countdown, it is relevant in a way he could not have conceived of 20 years ago. Nukes, yes. But now all these other dismal possibilities as well.

Some say the earth will end in fire.
Some say ice.
From what I hear upon the wire,
Of possibilities more dire,
I think both sound quite nice.

We look for plays that are decidedly not film or television. “Inherently theatrical,” is a term tossed around. I think we do this because if a play can easily translate into a movie, then can it truly be exploiting all of the opportunities the theater is offering? For this reason, I hope Watchmen does fail: to validate Moore and myself. But I hope it is a glorious failure that I will enjoy thoroughly.

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