The Zack Snyder adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic Watchmen has been in theaters for a week now, splitting fanboys down the middle as easily as Dr. Manhattan splits the atom. One side accepts that changes had to be made to bring the story to the screen, whereas the other feel that the only adaptation would be perfectly frame-for-frame, with no concessions made. There is the third side, comprised entirely of Alan Moore, who would grumble incomprehensibly about having their literary children raped before casting black magic on Stephen Norrington for LXG. Not that he doesn’t deserve it...
Leading up to the live-action films’ release, DC Comics and parent company Warner Bros. decided to create a series of “motion comic” adaptations of each of the series’ twelve issues for release on various services including iTunes and Amazon. Using the original panels as a base, simple animation was added to each frame using CG and narration was added by voice actor Tom Stechschulte, yielding an effect somewhere in between the old Captain America cartoons and Thai shadow puppets. These adaptations, with the exception of some slightly retooled artwork, are a practically dead-on reproduction of the original work. Ironically, these panel-perfect adaptations build a case both for and against this sort of adaptation of Watchmen.
Alan Moore has often stated that Watchmen was designed to be “unfilmable,” and the Watchmen Motion Comic, for better or worse, proves it. Watchmen was about more than just the comic portion, with each issue/chapter having a backup feature like the psychiatric evaluation of Rorschach or an excerpt from the superhero tell-all Under The Hood. These vignettes fleshed out the story immeasurably, and piecing together Watchmen’s 40-odd years of story without them feels slightly hollow. Secondly, as a story designed from the ground-up to be a graphic novel, the linearity inherent in movies hamstrings the story at several times, where panels originally intended to be glanced at are now fully animated and feel overlong (Rorschach’s discovery of the Comedian’s trick closet), whereas other panels that were meant to be savored and analyzed (the mass carnage of the ending) feel glossed over. Even the crucial Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic confuses the viewer as it cuts back and forth. Storytelling like this almost requires backtracking or reanalyzing particular scenes, which the DVD doesn’t particularly offer in any intuitive fashion.
However, WB certainly deserves an A for effort. Instead of fully casting the voices of the characters, they instead opted for veteran actor Tom Stechschulte to voice the entire piece, soup to nuts. This gives the whole affair the feel of a well-done audiobook, as Stechschulte flips between character voices on the fly, even if his voicing of female characters comes across as a little peculiar. The original Dave Gibbons artwork is still gorgeous, and seeing it come to life on the screen is a surreal yet beautiful experience, especially in scenes were once-static frames are replaced with zooming “crane shots,” giving the two-dimensional art a true feeling of depth and weight.
Ultimately, when compared to Snyder’s adaptation, Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic feels like the “truer” adaptation, basically being the closest you can get to the book itself. However, this is truly a safe adaptation, without any real risk or creativity being employed. For hardcore fans of the original, or those who completely abhor printed pages, the five-and-a-half hours worth of content the DVD offers are well worth the money.