Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Comparing the Graphic Novel and Film of Watchmen Part 1

Hey guys this is Kat "Comic Uno" and I have a new feature comparing the graphic novel and film of Watchmen. I had to do a ten page paper about Watchmen for a Novel and Film class I took. So, I decided to publish it here on Comic Frontline. Here is the first part of the article. Every week I will release a new part of this feature series. 

Watchmen is one of the most popular and well written graphic novels. Like many popular novels on the market Watchmen received its own film adaptation. The film was released in 2009 and was directed by Zack Snyder. Both the film and novel represent the superhero genre, but unlike much of that genre there is a deeper existentialist layer.
            Why has Watchmen changed the superhero genre forever? Before Watchmen superhero comic books didn’t have any depth or deeper meaning. There were the bad guys and the good guys. The good guy, after some struggle, usually saved the day and there wasn’t much social commentary or character development involved in the process. In Watchmen the hero is equally a villain and every hero has some questionable motives. Watchmen was not just a superhero book, but also a social commentary of our world. (Klock, 150) After Watchmen was published in 1986 many readers wanted more stories with the complexity and depth of Watchmen. At the time it became clear that if the comic book industry wanted to survive it would have to change the depth and theme of its stories and create characters that would be more complex.
            Watchmen was needed for the survival of the comic book industry. If Watchmen wasn’t written the comic book industry probably would have severely declined a long time ago. On the other hand, the film adaptation did not impact the movie industry in the same dramatic way. It didn’t even change the film superhero genre. Watchmen was released in 2009, but the superhero film genre started to become popular with Spider-man in 2002. The big bang of the superhero genre started the year before Watchmen in 2008 with the premiere of Iron Man. These are the movies that were the predecessors to the Avengers, which made over a billion dollars in the box office worldwide.  To the mainstream audience Watchmen was just another superhero movie. Its major impact on the comic book industry was not a factor to the film audience.
            The film contained much of the symbolism and social commentary of the novel, but did not have as much of the depth of the social commentary that the graphic novel had. Some of the limitations of the film did not allow it to deal with the themes as well as the graphic novel did and some things were cut out of the story. The film did not include the story of a man reading a comic within a comic called Tales of Black Freighter. As the man reads his book the social commentary spoke for itself. Everyone was talking about Russia, nukes, and the coming of World War Three.
            The film decided to ignore this story but added social commentary in different ways. Zack Snyder decided to add commentary through the use of media in the film. Throughout the events of Watchmen there would be propaganda or social commentary through news outlets. This was an excellent way to add some depth to the film, but not bore the mainstream audience that is just looking for a superhero movie. To the average viewer the film may have a two dimensional tone, but at closer inspection the movie provides a lot of depth and symbolism.
            In the film there was less direct social and character commentary so much of this accomplished by use of symbolism. This made the film seem to have less of a soul than the novel. A major complaint from people who read the novel is that the movie seemed to be very forgettable. The viewer feels somewhat disconnected while watching the film. Although Snyder is faithful to the text, sometimes word for word, he fails to capture much of its significance. The movie gives voice to the characters, but not the depth that is needed in such a deeply written novel.
            Moore devotes chapters dedicated to help us understand why the characters do the things that they do. It gives us more of an emotional attachment to these characters. For example, in chapter nine Laurie finds out who her father is. She repeats the name over and over again, because she realizes the man she hated for years and the person who raped her mother is her father. In the movie Dr. Manhattan just says, “The Comedian is your father”. (Snyder, 2009) There was very little emotion in one of the most emotion filled scenes of the novel.
            Snyder leaves out many important facts in the origins of Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach. The movie skimmed over the relationship Dr. Manhattan had with his first love, Janey Slater. This showed that Dr. Manhattan had emotions and a strong connection to humanity. This is why he gets so angry in the film during the press conference when he finds out that his first love has cancer because of being exposed to him.
            The interaction between Laurie and Dr. Manhattan on Mars made Dr. Manhattan see humanity in a new light. This is connected to his origin story and produced greater emotion in the graphic novel because of the little things we knew about Dr. Manhattan’s personality that Snyder decided to leave out in the movie.
            When Rorschach is in the interrogation room with his therapist in the film we see glimpses of Rorschach’s past. We learn that his mother is a prostitute and bullies pick on Rorschach because of his mother’s reputation. In the graphic novel the narration allows the reader to see Rorschach life through his eyes. One feels the emotion he felt and can understand why he becomes the man we know as Rorschach.
            The film didn’t touch upon the impact that Rorschach had on the therapist’s life. In the beginning of the graphic novel the therapist is happy to have such a big case, but Rorschach makes the therapist question his life. This makes the therapist drop the case because he started to become distant from his wife. This shows that Rorschach impacts the most positive people in life, and shows them the natural evils in society. Including some of these key points could have made the film less hollow and would have allowed the movie audience to connect better with these characters. (Meaney ,157) 



  1. Great Job Kat! So many people claim that the movie brought the comic book to life page by page, but you're showing how much was left out. Thank you!

  2. Am I just remembering things wrong or did the Director's Cut fix many of these things, like Dr. Manhattan's backstory, or Rorschach's?

    1. I am not sure. For the paper I watched the original which came out in theaters. That is the version that mainstream audience would probably be seeing