Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Movies is movies, books is books

I've been reading with bemusement numerous online threads about the new Watchmen film released last week.

I haven't yet seen the movie, but I think it's funny how many diehard fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's graphic novel are up in arms about changes that director Zach Snyder introduced into the film version. It's identical to the furor that arose among Tolkienistas when Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy debuted, or among Marvel Comics aficionados over the first Spider-Man and X-Men movies.

From my perspective, these arguments are ridiculous.

Last night, I finished reading Rex Pickett's novel Sideways, upon which Alexander Payne based his Academy Award-winning motion picture. Sideways the film is one of my favorite movies of the last decade. It is, however, markedly different in many key respects from Pickett's novel. Some of the adjustments are minor; others fundamentally alter the nature of both the major characters and the storyline.

And that's okay.

You know why that's okay? Because a novel is a novel, and a film is a film. They are different media, with different requirements and different approaches.

Peter Jackson understood that when he adapted Tolkien's work. As much as he loved the original novels, Jackson realized that certain aspects simply wouldn't work as well on screen as they did on the page. So he changed things. Not out of disrespect or hubris, but because changes needed to be made to effectively translate the overall story into cinema.

Sam Raimi faced similar challenges with Spider-Man, so Peter Parker got organic webshooters instead of mechanical ones. Bryan Singer faced them with X-Men, so Wolverine became a strapping six-footer in black leather instead of a burly five-footer in yellow spandex.

Whatever tinkering Zach Snyder found necessary in bringing Watchmen to the screen, I'm sure that the issues were of like kind.

In case you suppose that my indifference to cinematic alteration is directly connected to my feelings toward the source material — my lack of enthusiasm for Alan Moore's oeuvre, and Watchmen in particular, is well documented — I assure you that it is not.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who loves Spider-Man more than I have over the past four decades, but I was perfectly fine with the built-in spinnerets and the armor-clad Green Goblin. Those changes made sense in a film context. In the same way, although I considered myself an ardent Tolkien admirer in my younger days, none of Jackson's twists and tweaks troubled me in the least. I didn't even miss Tom Bombadil.

I understand the passion that fans of a published work have for their favorite stories and characters. Those fans, in turn, need to understand that telling a story in moving pictures and sound is not the same as telling that story in written words (or in static words and pictures) on a printed page. Different media, different ballgame.

In other words, get over it.

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2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Avitable offered these pearls of wisdom...

I actually prefer the organic webshooters. The mechanical ones made less sense. I liked in the Spider-man titles when they gave that to Peter, but then Brand New Day of Crap happened and I stopped reading Spider-man.

Watchmen the movie is so slavishly faithful to the comic, though, in many ways like Sin City was, that it makes more sense to me that people complain about the departures.

4:12 PM  
Blogger MCF offered these pearls of wisdom...

Organic webshooters made more sense indeed; like a high school kid was going to invent an adhesive with those qualities AND a compact delivery device. Always liked the route Peter David went with the Spider-Man 2099 character, and glad the film adopted the same trait for contemporary Spidey.

I've encounter four basic reactions to Watchmen:

1) The viewer who read the comics and loves the movie because it was so faithful while making logical tweaks to make it work as a film in under three hours without sacrificing the overall theme.

2) The viewer who read the comics and hated the movie because of every change, from slow motion action scenes to modern looking costumes to the absence of things like that damn squid. This viewer's mind was made up before he walked in the theater.

3) The viewer who hated the film because he didn't read the comics, didn't understand the themes, and wondered why it wasn't more like Spider-Man or Iron Man or even Daredevil.

4)The viewer who didn't read the novels but loved the movie for the wrong reasons, cheering for the blood and the action sequences and getting bored with the dialogue and philosophy.

I more or less fell under the first one, but can understand how divisive this movie is going to be among audiences.

6:25 PM  

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