The film event of the entire New York Comic Con weekend happened late Saturday morning with the screening of the opening 18 minutes of the long-awaited, upcoming adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen.
Introduced by the graphic novel’s artist Dave Gibbons,the segment of film presented encapsulate the first two scenes of the film, with the opening credits sandwiched between. With the project taking 20 years to be actualized into a film and with just four weeks until its release, Gibbons likened the preview as getting to open one present on Christmas Eve.
For those familiar familiar with the Watchmen graphic novel, these first two scenes are the same as the book- the murder of the Comedian, which sets everything in motion, and the investigation of the Comedian’s apartment by Rorschach. For those who wish to remain spoiler free, I’ve kept the longer synopsis of these two scenes and the credit sequence tucked away after the break. I can tell you that although Snyder’s visuals are indeed ripped right from the pages of the comic, he has managed to make them work entirely as cinema. Iconic images from the opening of the novel are mirrored here, but director Zack Snyder has captured these images in such a way as they work in the overall context of the scene.
Gibbons explained in his introduction, “When you’re drawing a comic you kind of see a movie in your head and you freeze the moment and draw it. To watch this, its like the kind of movie I saw in my head, but crystallized and real. Moving into the pictures I drew, then out and then back in again.”
One need not have read the original series to be able to follow the film’s plot line. Snyder does a remarkable job in setting up the alternate version of the 1980s which is the world of Watchmen in the opening scene and then the title credits.
The movie opens with a yellow screen. Slowly we pull back to discover that the yellow is the classic smiley pin and it is affixed to a fuzzy bathrobe being worn by the Comedian, Edward Blake. He is sitting in his apartment, channel surfing on his television. He stops on news/debate program The McLaughlin Group, where the discussion centers on how safe the superpowered Dr. Manhattan has made the United States. (Gary Houston absolutely nails commentator John McLaughlin’s style!) Another news program reports on the rising political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, the Comedian’s evening of being a couch potato is interrupted by a masked intruder. “I suppose it was just a matter of time,” the Comedian says resignedly. And then the two fight. It is a brutal, bone-crunching fight. Fists break furniture and punch holes in walls. Kitchen knives are thrown with near deadly accuracy. All of this is done to the counterpoint of Nat King Cole’s classic “Unforgettable” playing on a commercial on the TV in the background. Finally, his assailant gets the better of him and a battered and bloodied Comedian says “It’s a joke. It’s all a joke,” as a drop of blood drips down onto the smiley pin. He is then hurtled through the plate-glass window of his apartment to his death floors below on the sidewalk.
The credits take us through the turbulent history of the 20th century, made even more turbulent by the appearance of costumed heroes. We see the formation of a group of such vigilantes in the 1930s, the Minutemen. We see the famous photograph of the kiss in Times Square at the end of World War Two surprisingly reimagined. When one of the heroes, Silk Spectre, quits to raise a family, her retirement dinner is fittingly imaged as DaVinci’s The Last Supper, as the next several glimpses of this history show the tragic ends many of her fellow heroes would meet over the coming years. We see that there just may be something to those JFK assassination conspiracy theories after all. Pop culture is impacted by the presence of costumed heroes, as evidenced by a shot of Andy Warhol unveiling a new piece of art. Politics take a darker tone as witnessed by the election to a third term for President Nixon and the even greater tragedy at Kent State. A new generation of heroes rise, only to forced back down. Five decades of political and social change played out for the viewer with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” plays on the soundtrack.
Once the credits end, we are back at the Comedians apartment. Two police detectives are investigating the crime scene and seem impressed that there is a picture of Blake shaking hands with the President. After the leave, the masked vigilante Rorschach arrives in front of the Comedian’s apartment building, and using a gun firing a grappling hook, enters through the still broken window. As he searches the apartment, we hear Rorschach in a raspy voice over, “The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up against their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout ‘Save us!’… and I’ll look down and whisper, ‘No’.” Finally, he finds what he is looking for, the hidden panel which swings back to reveal Blake’s Comedian costume and gear. Fade to black.
A second, short scene followed, which Gibbons promised was a bit of a “world premier.” It was instantly recognizable to those who have read the graphic novel. Rorschach has been arrested and sent to prison. He is in line in the prison mess, being taunted by a much larger inmate. As the inmate prepares to lunge at Rorschach with a homemade knife, Rorschach springs in to action, slamming the con with his metal food tray, then pouring boiling hot cooking oil from a near-by fryolater over the con’s head. As the con writhes on the floor, screaming in pain and prison guards jump all over Rorschach, he yells out his warning to the other inmates- “You don’t seem to understand! I’m not locked in here with you! You are locked in here with me!”
Did an auditorium of comic book fans like the preview? You better believe it. Nearly every moment received applause as well as long loud burst at the end. The pull back out of the smiley button. The fight between the Comedian and his killer. The smashing through the glass window. Nearly every new shot in the title credits/history montage. The appearance of Rorschach on the Comedian’s balcony.
It appears that the only thing that some fans seemed upset about where the rumors of how Snyder may have changed the ending of the book slightly for the film. It was the first topic broached during the post-screening question and answer session.
“Well, what can I tell you about that,” replied Gibbons wryly. “The outcome is exactly the same as the graphic novel, but the McGuffin, the gimmick, is a little different. I think you know what I mean- Squid or no squid. I think I’d rather not say too much about it, but I certainly wasn’t at all upset or disappointed or offended and hopefully you won’t be either.”
Gibbons concedes that such a change is just part of the nature of adapting one medium to another.
“I’m a fan myself of lots of things and if you’re a really true fan, you don’t want it to be adulterated or changed. You want it to be absolutely pure and perfect. I think the reality of it is that you have to make change. You have to take things away, add other things on, amalgamate things to make it work in a different medium. In a sense, in the comic book, the squid is a huge special effect that Adrian Veidt pulls. It’s like a practical joke, a trick. But if you’ve got a movie which is essentially full of special effects, the squid is just another special effect, if you see what I mean. It wouldn’t have worked as well in the movie. That’s my personal feeling about it. So, sorry for all you cephalopod lovers out there.”