Should I read Watchmen before seeing the movie?
February 19, 2009 7:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm ashamed to admit I've never read the graphic novel Watchmen. The movie is coming out in a few weeks and I have time to read the book BEFORE I see the movie. Should I read the novel first?

If I read the novel first, I stand the chance of being disappointed by the movie. But Wil Weaton's review was glowing (no spoilers!). But the book, regardless of the book, is ALWAYS better than the movie. Right?
I'd like the community's opinions on whether to read the book before seeing the movie. Thanks.
posted by Acton to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For the love of god, yes!
posted by Drainage! at 7:14 PM on February 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

Thought: much of the power of the novel comes from narrative juxtapositions, most strikingly of events in the main story with events and narration from the comic-book side story "Tales of the Black Freighter." Some of this is going to be cut from the movie (for example, no Black Freighter material). As a result, the movie will be lacking some of the richness of the book. Reading the book in advance may make up for this because the intertextual juxtapositions will occur in your head as you watch.
posted by grobstein at 7:14 PM on February 19, 2009

Read it, if only to experience the possibilities of the medium. It is of course not perfect, but it is historically fascinating: it was written as a tombstone over superhero comics; ironically it helped revive interest in them. Read it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:14 PM on February 19, 2009

You have my ironclad promise that the movie will not be as good as the book. It won't. If the movie not living up to the book will bum you out then do not read the book first. If you're really into comics and the movie adaptations are just a sideshow for you then by all means go ahead and prep yourself up so you can snark properly on the way out of the theater.

None of this is to say that the movie won't be a good time. I'm going to see it and 100% of the Alan Moore nerds on the internet who pontificate about how they're not going to see it are going to see it too. It's a big-ass cultural event and something you should totally take in. But it won't be as good as the book, and you should make your choice based on this completely 100% set-your-watch-to-it irrefutible fact seriously I will fight you over this.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 7:15 PM on February 19, 2009

It's like reading 'The Lord of the Rings' versus watching the movie. They're two different things. I'm sure you'd enjoy the movie by itself. But 'Watchmen' is worth reading regardless of whether you go see the movie or not, absolutely.
posted by GuyZero at 7:16 PM on February 19, 2009

I didn't actually love the graphic novel, but I'm sure it will make seeing the movie a richer experience. I would say read it!
posted by firei at 7:17 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are the kind of person who would sit there throughout the entire movie and lament its shortcomings/differences from the original medium, then wait. If you can accept the limitations that bringing a story to film presents, and can still appreciate the movie for itself, then go ahead. You know yourself.
posted by lizbunny at 7:17 PM on February 19, 2009

Not for nothing, but Wil wouldn't say that unless he meant it. I think even hardcore Watchmen fans will be pleased - but like he said, there will always be people who will find something to nitpick. I look forward to the movie, and I never go to movies.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with reading the book first because it is FREAKIN' AWESOME.

Pardon. My geek is showing.
posted by bedhead at 7:18 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're going to see the movie, I would highly recommend all kinds of not reading the book beforehand.

If you see the movie and then read the book, there's a possibility, however slight, of you eventually reading the book and then saying, "Wow, that book was even better than the movie! And the movie was great!"

The latter of these two phrases will not be repeated should you read the book prior to viewing the film.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:20 PM on February 19, 2009

Sorry, let me clarify my earlier response by boiling it down a bit:

You should read the book first because it will enrich the experience of watching the movie.
posted by grobstein at 7:20 PM on February 19, 2009

I'm of the opinion that while Watchmen is great, it feels a little dated now -- it was very much a product of the 80s. That doesn't mean that it has nothing to say to us now, but I don't think it has much to say to us now as it did when it was first written.

But it is still very much worth reading, and for that matter, owning. It's still an amazing work of literature, even if I don't love it. I think it will make the movie that much more interesting, even if it's just in the "compare and contrast" sort of way.

So yes, read it before the movie. I can't really think of a good reason not to do so.
posted by darksong at 7:22 PM on February 19, 2009

Read the book. Start now, though, if you want to finish it before the film comes out. It takes a while to read, longer than many other graphic novels with the same number of pages. This is because the frames are unusually, densely detailed, and the visual details aren't just for show--they're often crucial to the plotting. So you can't rush through it.
posted by Prospero at 7:29 PM on February 19, 2009

So here's the thing.

There's kind of a "Gotcha!" moment near the ending. I won't reveal details, of course.

I suggest reading the book first, then, for this reason. If you read the book first, that moment will be sort of ruined (at least, you'll know something's coming). Yes. However, you shouldn't watch the movie just for a single Gotcha!, that would be lame...might as well cue up M. Night Shyamalan's Greatest Hits and spend the evening doing that instead. So you should be watching the movie on its own terms, as a postmodern take on comic books and superheroes. The best way to do that will be to have read the comic first, to bring that background with you into the theater.

As grobstein noted, one of the things that made the book so great -- what allowed it to transcend the genre -- was its pastiche character. It has all sorts of crazy awesome playful things going on that are going to be impossible to replicate in cinema. I think that if you have read the book first, and have those things in mind while you're watching the movie, it will be much better than if you were to just watch it cold.

(I could be wrong about this. You might enjoy the movie a lot more without having the older text in mind. But if I'm wrong, I have a feeling it will be because the movie is a poor adaptation of the book, not because you wouldn't get a lot out of reading the book first.)

So yes, you should read the book first.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:31 PM on February 19, 2009

whiny fanboy voice: But what about the Watchmen Motion Comic?
It's an enhanced version (coats blow in the wind, steam rises, arms move when gesturing emphatically) of the graphic novel, page by page, for those who want to read the original but are allergic to paper, are embarrsassed about carrying a copy of the GN but not to watch their iPod on the train, or who simply must experience it in all available formats.
posted by bartleby at 7:36 PM on February 19, 2009

How sophisticated are your tastes?

I read it for the first time last year. It didn't live up to the hype. The art is nothing special, the writing is nothing special. It has definitely had a lot written about it by people who write about comics, but it did not impress me, move me, or leave me with an urge to see the movie adaptation.

posted by hifimofo at 7:40 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

The language of film greatness and comic greatness are fairly different. Also, the novel sets up some fairly complex themes and critique of superherodom that can't possibly be as complete or obvious in a shorter, punchier medium. I'm not putting the movie down, just explaining the difference in volume of meaningful complexity that can fit -- the novel is highly structured and rather long. If the film can live up to the novel, I think it'd be worth knowing what to look for.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:42 PM on February 19, 2009

Strangely, I think you should wait until after the movie. I think that seeing the movie first will give you a whole different appreciation for the story, and will make the graphic novel more readable. Also, I think that this graphic novel is one that has value that will transcend the movie, and will be just as good, if not better, after you see it. I have a feeling that the movie won't be as good after you've read the graphic novel.

I haven't seen the movie, of course, but I have read the graphic novel, so I'm speaking purely in hypotheticals.
posted by jabberjaw at 7:43 PM on February 19, 2009

Honestly, the graphic novel is not very good, especially compared to its hype. My general feeling is that while Alan Moore is certainly a good writer -- probably the best writer in comics -- he was in above his head with it, and as a consequence, a lot of things in it come really close to working, but just don't quite make it.

Another way of putting it: Watchmen clearly had aspirations to be considered equally as serious as a novel or a short story might be, but didn't have the firepower to pull of that literary quality, and in the process, forgot to make parts of it as traditionally enjoyable as a comic can be.

And I'm saying this as a guy who enjoyed Preacher and Transmetropolitan more than Watchmen -- certainly no anti-comics-type.

My advice: see the movie first.
posted by Damn That Television at 8:11 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I guess there's no real answer to this, but in my opinion what makes the Watchmen so great is that so many people my age read it when they were 12 years old and had their mind blown, because at 12 having your mind blown was a weekly, if not, daily occurance. Toss in the fact that we were reading "adult" writing in a juvenile artform. How Rebellious!

Frankly, youre too old to appreciate it or at least too old to go fanboy apeshit over it. I re-read it about three or four years ago and again last year and it doesnt hold up. Moore's schtik is tired, he's been imitated too many times, and how he writes black people is borderline ignorant stereotypes. The "adult" themes are amusingly childish to me, now, as an adult. The love story and ending are high camp to an adult.

I think you'll read this and see a semi-serious but incredibly pretentious 80s comic tale that you may not even really like. Express criticism and the comic book nerds will eat you alive. It might really turn you off. For shits and giggles, see the movie. Then if youre interested, read the comics. At least in the first scenario you've only lost 2 hours or your life and not the 6 or 7 it takes to finish all the books.

Not to detract from Watchmen too much here. Its good, but its a relic. Its dated and its not essential. The hype is not justified. Comics fans should read it, but I dont think its the greatest intro to comics for non-fans. It might be more accessible in movie or, even, video game form for most.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:20 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Listen to a Beatles album for the first time, or see "Across the Universe"?
posted by Benjy at 8:26 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Watch the movie first, then read the book.
posted by Argyle at 8:32 PM on February 19, 2009

I'd read it first if I were you, and if you do end up doing that, I fully recommend you keep The Annotated Watchmen handy, just because it's pretty cool.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:32 PM on February 19, 2009

I read it several months ago for the first time. I was curious and since the movie was coming, I took the plunge. I was already separately excited for the film, but reading it has only enriched that. Adaptations are adaptations.

It's not the greatest thing ever, but it is an excellently layered read. Read it.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:33 PM on February 19, 2009

You can read the comic in an afternoon, but you'll want to go back to it a few times. Things really jump out at you on the second and third reading. It's really incredibly rewarding.

And yes, read the book before the movie... everyone else has...
posted by wfrgms at 8:49 PM on February 19, 2009

If you already like comics, then you should read the book first. If you're not a comics fan and/or you're over 20, don't bother, just see the movie, unless the movie is terrible, then you can skip both.

I was given a copy of Watchmen by someone who wanted to prove to me that comics could be better and darker then manga. Although I enjoyed it, I thought the philosophizing was shallow and obvious. In fact, it reminds me a little of Evangelion in that its fans (and its creator) take it all too seriously.

Oh, or what damn dirty ape said.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:54 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Watchmen is good bathroom reading - it is something you need to reread a few times to catch everything, while being a book that you might not necessarily enjoy reading all the way through.

It is a pretty funny satire of superherodom, and, although more than 20 years old, hints at some of the subtext of superhero comics that is finally coming to light.

Worth buying, but I just traded mine in at the local used bookstore for John le Carre.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:54 PM on February 19, 2009

I'm with the people above who said it's nothing special unless you're young and impressionable. I read it when I was 15 and thought it was so so then. I remember parts of it very vividly but I've had zero interest in ever re-reading it. I couldn't also care less about whether the film does it "justice" or not--I assume the film will be shit just because Zack Snyder's directing.

Were I in your shoes, I'd go see the movie first and then maybe read the comic (no way in hell would I ever call it a "novel" or "book" even with the qualifier "graphic" in front of it; it's no Cerebus or anything). My reasoning is that by definition the comic MUST have more in it. If you watch the film first then you'll only discover neat things in the comic when you read it. If you read the comic first you'll only be wondering why they cut such and such from it or being bothered by things they change while watching, which will make the whole thing even worse.

Lastly, not all adaptations are shit. I've read the books and seen the films for all of these titles and think that often the film is better or, at the very least, as good as their source material: Fight Club, Rosemary's Baby, The Graduate, The Ox Bow Incident, LA Confidential, Adaptation, Eyes Wide Shut, Rum Punch/Jackie Brown, Out of Sight, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Player, Rear Window, Waking the Dead, Mother Night...
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:01 PM on February 19, 2009

I would read it first, but perhaps avoid using the annotated watchmen linked above. It is very good if you like it and read it a second time, but I would say there are too many cross-references for the first read. It is not a textbook.
posted by theyexpectresults at 9:11 PM on February 19, 2009

Read the book first. The movie is an adaptation and cannot possibly live up to the book - but going in with that expectation, you might well appreciate the film anyway.

If you were to watch the film first, you will never have the pleasure of reading the excellent graphic novel unspoiled. And that would be a shame.
posted by crossoverman at 9:29 PM on February 19, 2009

That Wil Wheaton post makes me feel better about the film - way better - but I won't be truly convinced until I've seen the finished product for myself.
posted by crossoverman at 9:38 PM on February 19, 2009

Watchmen was absolutely groundbreaking when it first came out. The themes, the subtext, the juxtaposition of the story with "Tales of the Black Freighter", etc. made it head and shoulders above most of the comics of that time. It also draws heavily from the zeitgeist of the 80:s - the Cold War, nuclear threat, Reagan, new "irreverent" symbols like the smiley face, etc. I think that it will never be as good now as it was then - even to impressionable 12 year-olds who get their minds blown.

I would say to read it first, just because that's how I like to do things. But only you know how you normally react to that. Do you like to have a deeper appreciation of the source material while watching the movie? Do you like having your own versions of the characters in your head, to compare with what the filmmakers did? Did you enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies despite having read the book? Were you well aware of the back story of the super hero movies you have seen, and felt that it added to your enjoyment? If you answer yes to those questions, then definitely read it first. If not, perhaps watching the movie first would be best.
posted by gemmy at 9:44 PM on February 19, 2009

I read The Watchmen about a month and a half ago. I enjoyed it and, more importantly, it got me into graphic novels. I am anxious to see the film, however, I really do not know how well it will translate. I think a lot of people who have never read the comic will be left dissapointed. So, my answer would be for you to read it first, and at least view the movie as a novely; if indeed the movie really ends up being a bumrap.
posted by captainsohler at 9:50 PM on February 19, 2009

I think that if you see the movie before reading the book, you'll be giving yourself the best chance to enjoy each as the individual artwork it is, rather than being forced to interpret the movie in terms of the book and to make disappointed judgments of relative value central to your experience of the movie.

The thing is, OK, the book is surely "better" than the movie. But there may well be real thematic differences between the book and the movie, and those might look to you like simple failures on the movie's part if you have in mind the necessarily much more detailed "goal" of the book. On the other hand, if you see the movie first, your interpretation of the book won't be likewise constrained; the only downside will be that you'll already know most of the book's plot points. However, you won't know them in their full meaning and resonance within the book, assuming that the book is any of different, deeper, or better, so I hardly think the plot will be "spoiled" for you.
posted by Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh at 10:26 PM on February 19, 2009

You can read the comic in an afternoon, but

... that wouldn't do it justice. Read it with The Annotated Watchmen handy, then re-read every few years -- that's how I do, and each time it gets better. Also, one tends to skip over the B&W text pages the first time through, thus missing some information. (And for more fun, you might want to look into the EC Piracy comics, even though the Black Freighter's been omitted from the movie -- an outrage!)

But in your case, if you haven't read it by now, perhaps you should see the film first. You're correct, the book is always better (with a few notable exceptions; there's an AskMe about that somewhere in the archives) but seeing the film first can be an excellent catalyst for reading and appreciating the original. A drawback to that method is the mis-match between your mind's-eye view of the action, and the Hollywood version -- if you read first, the film version can sometimes overwrite and cheapen your mind's-eye view; and if you see first, your mind's eye view will be the Hollywood version.
posted by Rash at 11:06 PM on February 19, 2009

Personally, I'm holding out for the novelization of the movie.

But my two cents, read the comic first. I have pretty high hopes for the movie, I'm trying to stay away from the hype from both the pro and con camps. I tend to go fanboy over comic movies... I HATE spidermans organic webspinners, shit like this ruins it for me.

But I am going to see this one on opening night with my wife, hoping it will be awesome.

But I disagree with what some are saying, that the comic doesn't hold up. I re-read it last year, and I still think its an awesome but difficult read. Reading it again as an adult, I really could appreciate some of the things that have been influenced by it (The Incredibles, etc) that I love.
posted by Jonsnews at 11:34 PM on February 19, 2009

Also, if I may suggest a couple other things to read, not that you are asking for it:

- Some Mark Millar - Kick-Ass, and Wanted. I really like the two different looks here at the way superheroes/villains function. The movie of wanted does absolutely NO justice to the comic book.
- Invincible - I love this because its a total throwback to the golden\silver age, while still tearing into what makes comics so awesome.
- Transmetropolitan
- Preacher - A epic and messed up story from beginning to end.
posted by Jonsnews at 11:48 PM on February 19, 2009

+1 for reading the comic first

I can picture a situation where people who aren't familiar with the book will get to the end of the movie, assuming its faithful to the comic, and go `WTF???'

Therefore the buzz that the ending will be slightly different has me somewhat worried.

I understand that movie versions of novels often require some plot reworking, but history is full of movies that have basically reversed the ending to make them more palatable to wider audiences. The Beach, A Clockwork Orange.. I could go on..

There are two possibilities with Watchmen:

1) It will be a movie made, essentially, for fans of the book. ala Harry Potter

2) It will be whitewashed to gloss over the intellectual arguments of book to appeal to 15 yo boys who like nothing more that explosions and women in tight lycra.

Either way: if you read the book first.. you win!
posted by TheOtherGuy at 12:39 AM on February 20, 2009

Book first.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 4:14 AM on February 20, 2009

Read the thing before watching the film for sure. In fact I'd suggest reading it a couple of times... as it's so multi-layered I don't think it's possible to get everything on the first read through.

I'm planning to re-read it for the umpteenth time this weekend.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:24 AM on February 20, 2009

Read the book first.

The fundamental problem is, whichever you do second, you will lose the benefits of watching the plot unfold and finding out how it ends.


1. The film will have been made knowing that many watchers will already know the book, so it's likely to deal with a not-surprising ending better.
2. A movie is a more visceral experience, so you can be sucked into the action and images, thus appreciating it even if you know the ending.
3. The book will probably cost more money and take longer to experience, so you're better off using up the surprises in that format.
4. The film is unlikely to be better than the book. If it sucks, you've then lost the benefits in both formats: the movie because it sucks, the book because you know the ending.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:54 AM on February 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who's read the graphic novel several times over the past fifteen years, the trailers make the movie look like shit.

Dr. Manhattan sounds like a whiny emo. Rorschach looks and sounds like he's overacting. The Comedian sounds like a bad joke (and not in a good way). The trailer emphasizes it as a tale of vengeance. Zack Snyder looks like he's chosen slow motion effects as his signature style and he wants to show you his signature style a lot, whether it helps the story or not. And WTF is up with the him talking about creating the movie during the trailer (as seen on tv)?! SHUT UP and let the story speak for itself. He sounds like he's too much of a geek, too close to the source material:
Snyder's first cut of the film was three hours long. In keeping the film tight, Snyder dubbed himself "the gatekeeper" of the comic's easter eggs, "while [the studio] conspire to say, 'No. Length, length, length. Playability.' [...] I've lost perspective on that now, because to me, the honest truth is I geek out on little stuff now as much as anybody. Like, people will go, 'We've got to cut. You don't need that shot of Hollis Mason's garage sign.' And I'm like, 'What are you talking about? Of course you do. Are you crazy? How will people enjoy the movie without shit like that in it?' So it's hard for me."
Still gonna go see it though, because I have low expectations, could be wrong about it being shit and most importantly I realize the graphic novel and the movie are two separate things.

At this point, with the movie so close to opening, I'd recommend not reading the graphic novel until after you've the movie. This way the novel will help flesh things out as opposed to setting the standard of what to expect.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:42 AM on February 20, 2009

I was never a comics fan per se, but as a boy I read them and collected them and, in part, learned to draw by copying them. In the 1970s I worked as a background artist and occasional writer for former MAD artist Wally Wood, so I think I can safely say that I have a fairly broad view of the field.

I grew bored with comics after working for Wood, so even though there were opportunities for me in the field I chose to move on. Comics had become, in my view, a lot of big guys hitting other big guys. Underground comics were a lot more interesting to me because they were more "real," with sex and drugs and violence and wild existential humor and, occasionally, fascinating human interactions (I cite Guy Colwell's work here, among others).

Fast forward ten years or so. A buddy of mine, who could indeed be described as a fanboi, gets all in my face about Watchmen. I have to go get a copy of #1, he insists, which has just come out. I say, I don't care about comics, I say. He says, go buy the damn thing and we'll talk.

So I go into a comics store (and those hadn't existed ten years previously), and bought a copy of Watchmen #1. The bloody image on the cover intrigued me. I started reading.

Holy Jesus. It was like the sky opened up. I loved it. It was everything I had always hope "real" comics could be. I was in that damn store month after month, eagerly awaiting the next installment. It was in some ways like being a kid again.

Now, I am still not a fan or even a collector, and I still don't read comics very much, but I will still go back and re-read WATCHMEN from time to time. It's that good, IMHO, and even though it may not be perfect, it is a perfectly fascinating milestone in the evolution of comics. It stands as my favorite comic book series, ever.

Me, I'd say read it first. Understand that the ending in the movie will not be the same as the ending in graphic novel, and that is probably a good thing, because it was pretty obvious that Moore wasn't himself totally sold on what he was doing. It doesn't matter. There are so many references gthere, and so many nifty turns in the art, that the experience will be well worth your while. Tge film will not be able to replicate that, because WATCHMEN is, at its core, a reading experience.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:18 AM on February 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Such a subjective question :)

Based on your personal past experience, do you get more out of a movie if you have read the book it is based on beforehand? If yes, then read Watchmen this weekend, If no, then don't.

For me personally, I tend to get more out of a movie if I have read the book first. I have a little narrator in my head that fills in missing story material and a little director that that comments on the difficulty of translating some material into film. Between them, they tend to help me see past the differences and focus on whether or not the movie is true to the heart of the story that the author was trying to tell.

Of course, I also apparently have little people in my head that talk to me, so take what I say with a grain of salt....
posted by Lord Widebottom at 7:17 AM on February 20, 2009

Try this: get in your time machine, go back to the 80's, read the comic THEN. Don't get back in your time machine. Spend 20-odd years waiting for the movie to come out (you can make a killing on investments, too). Suddenly you'll understand who that old guy who gave you a high-five just as you were climbing into your time machine was. Then you can see the movie.

Or this: Forget Watchmen. Watch Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Then read the manga.
posted by rikschell at 7:39 AM on February 20, 2009

the only downside will be that you'll already know most of the book's plot points.

That's a pretty huge downside (with any adaptation, really).
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:49 AM on February 20, 2009

Read the book. The book is one of the great works of the modern era, movie or not.
posted by Citrus at 10:49 AM on February 20, 2009

God, look, the people complaining that it's totally '80s or that it requires being a fanboy or that the philosophizing is shallow or that the art is bad (what) just don't get it.

The reason to read it in comic book (or graphic novel) form is that it's a tour de force for the formalism of sequential art. There's actually fairly little in there that was the absolute first of its kind, but things like the repeated composition of the frames, the elaboration of the theme of revenge, the way that Manhattan's narrative is recalled again and again in different settings.

Watchmen is a masterpiece of sequential art formalism, and deserves to be read in its native medium for that reason. The comparison off the top of my head is Moby Dickā€”Most of the best parts of Moby Dick for me weren't the bits and bobs of chasing a whale, but the way Melville pulled in multiple formal elements from Elizabethan drama, natural histories and Biblical verse. Or, to give another example, Paul Auster's City of Glass, which was adapted into a pretty fantastic graphic novel. But that graphic novel is a fundamentally different work, and can't hope to work in the same recursive way that Auster's detective story does (and thus ends up a lot more expressionistic in tone).

Read the book first. Keep an eye out for things like how he handles panel transitions, how the pages look as a whole, and how he chooses which moments to show. It's an amazing companion to Miller's DKR, and really shows off a totally different vision for what comics can be and do.
posted by klangklangston at 11:42 AM on February 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

I would read it first, but then I can mentally separate an adaptation so I don't have to deal with disappointment. I can happily enjoy the heck out of "Peter Jackson's" LotR even though I know where the seams are, so to speak.

It will not be a groundbreaking film. It will probably be entertaining. But like LotR, it will be an adaptation of something that in its own native format was groundbreaking.

Adaptation is fine. Every day somewhere on Earth there's someone adapting Shakespeare. If it can happen to Shakespeare, why can't it happen to Tolkien or Moore/Gibbons?

It's impossible to recreate what it was like to read this in the 1980s, both in content and form. The content being dated will probably come across a bit in the film. There were ways in which this touched on the zeitgeist that not having lived through it you might not have a chance of seeing, but these probably won't impact the entertainment value much.

It will be impossible to present the film as revolutionary, though, in terms of what it did to the comics industry, the graphic novel form, and superhero comics in particular. You won't be able to sense how new and emergent it felt to have this level of authorial intent shining through a genre that by then was as tired, hackneyed and played out as possible. It was brilliant and fresh in the way that it took this "juvenilia" and turned it into something worthy of being termed challenging literature.

We've now lived through 20 years of movies based on comic books and video games, many of it taken seriously (e.g. The Dark Knight). An independent, alternative comics sub-industry grew, thrived, and largely died in that time. None of that might have been possible without Watchmen (and DKR). Or it may have been going to happen anyway and Watchmen was just ahead of its time. No matter; when it came out there was almost nothing like it.
posted by dhartung at 12:54 PM on February 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Klang says it very well. Watchmen is a landmark achievement in what comics is capable of doing, and there's not a shred of a chance in hell that the movie will be anything of the sort. This isn't to say it will be a bad film, but the whole point of Watchmen was to do things with storytelling which are impossible in any other medium. (that being said, hold off on the annotated stuff until your second reading. However, if you're inspired to move to to Moore's From Hell, which I think is superior, do read the endnotes simultaneously.)

Why take the chance that a mediocre film will discourage you from exploring what is, objectively, one of the most highly praised and studied works of art in its field?
posted by Bookhouse at 9:32 PM on February 20, 2009

MOVIE FIRST. The movie is OK, the book is great. Always end with a bang.
You'll like the movie, then love the book. That's better than loving the book then feeling ripped off by the movie.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:24 PM on April 2, 2009

Do you actually enjoy comic books/graphic novels? Including ones about super-heroes who make dramatic speeches and save the world? Then read the book first.

If you've tried the format and it just doesn't do anything for you, or if you're ok with it but draw the line at costumed superhumans, then just go see the film.
posted by K.P. at 5:00 AM on April 3, 2009

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