Adapting Alan Moore


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Alan Moore is an interesting character for those who are not too familiar with the world of comics. He is not only an occultist who performs ceremonial magic, but also an anarchist who worships an ancient snake god. His physical appearance can be described as Hagrid like, with his long hair and even longer beard. Basically he’s the type you can’t lose in the crowd. Even though he is an extremely unique Englishman, it is his comic stories that he is most well known for. 

Moore had his hand in shaping the DC comic universe, with stories such as Batman: The Killing Joke and Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? But it is his original works that he is best known for: Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Both include Moore’s view on government and society as a whole. 

Watchmen takes place in an alternate time where the world is on the brink of nuclear war and costumed vigilantes are outlawed. After the death of a vigilante named the Comedian, a mystery must be solved on why and who killed the Comedian. V for Vendetta is set in the future where the government controls and monitors every aspect of a person’s life.  One masked man named V tries to topple them with the help of a young protegee named Evey. Both comics became best sellers and have entered into mainstream pop culture just by their cover art alone. Watchmen with the bloodstained yellow smiley face and V for Vendetta with the white Guy Fawkes mask. 

With both of these stories becoming popular among fans, naturally the next step was movie adaptations. How do you turn two complicated comic book stories into movies fit for the big screen? 

The first of these two comics to be adapted was V for Vendetta in 2005, directed by James McTeigue. While this movie does follow most of the original plot of the comic, it also takes many liberties with its adaptation. Small plot points are shifted around, some characters are missing entirely. The most dramatic change though is through the characterization of both Evey and V, the two main characters.

In the comic, Evey is a 16 year old prostitute who is trying to find her way within this large and scary world. She is young, naive, and often looks to others for support, not just emotional, but financially too. This child-like nature is often displayed through her interactions with V. Movie-verse Evey, is a different story. She was aged up and transformed into a more independent woman where she is living on her own and has a stable job. She is a prostitute no more.  Now she works for a government run news station.

V also went through some changes of his own. In the comic, V’s actions and personality are more erratic and brutal because it is stated he suffers from schizophrenia.  He takes out those he deems as his enemy and also innocent people who happen to fall into the crossfire. Much of his actions and motives are questionable. Is he really trying to defend the freedoms of the people, or is he causing anarchy just for the sake of anarchy? While this is left for the reader to guess within the comic, the movie makes his motives clear. V within the movie-verse is much more human than his comic counterpart. It is extremely clear that his goals and actions are to save the people of London from their totalitarian government. They also transform him into the romantic hero archetype, with his love interest being Evey. 

But why this change? The movie is adapted for a mainstream audience, the villains and heroes are clearly outlined along with their motives. The story was simplified and shortened to fit within an average movie runtime. Alan Moore had nothing to do with these changes; in fact, he disowned this movie entirely. Moore often states that the main idea behind the story was lost and transformed into something a little more mainstream and current. It went from a story about anarchy in the UK, to a story about freedom of speech. Due to his disappointment, Moore wished to be disassociated with the film, only the artist of the comic series, David Lloyd, was credited. 

This was not the first Moore story to be adapted, before there had been From Hell in 2001 and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003 and Moore disliked them too. These wouldn’t be the last of his stories to be adapted and this wouldn’t be the last disappointment he would face. 

In 2009, Watchmen was released to theaters. Unlike V for Vendetta, which had changed plot points and characters, this movie had done the complete opposite. It follows the comic plot exactly, taking many of its lines straight from the character’s word bubbles. Since the movie is basically a panel by panel recreation, this brings the movie’s run time two and half hours long, but that is just the Theatrical cut. Two other versions of this movie exist, the Director’s cut, which brings the movie to three hours long by including some additional scenes, and the Ultimate cut, brings the movie to a whopping four hours long with the inclusion of “Tales from the Black Freighter”, the in-universe comic within the original storyline. 

At first glance, even within the Theatrical cut, there is a lot of take in within this movie-verse. There are many nods to the original comic that only the readers would catch, making  it feel more like a love note to those fans rather than a mainstream superhero movie. When compared to the comic, the casting was perfect with most of the characters looking exactly as they did in the print form. Two notable examples would be Jeffery Dean Morgan as the Comedian, and Jackie Earle Haley as the character Rorschach. Morgan shares the same guff exterior and chaotic energy as his comic counterpart. Haley’s short height and intimidating attitude feels as though the character had stepped right out of the pages.

At the same time though, this movie also tries to cater to the average audience. One major aspect are the fight scenes, they are more elaborate and Hollywood friendly. While the comic did have its share of vigilante fights, not much focus was put into them. The comic desired more to flesh out the characters, environment, and the mystery rather than spend time in a slow-motion fight scene with plenty of blood and back flips. Certain vigilante costumes were also edited to either make a character a little less ridiculous or a little more badass. Nite Owl’s costume went from spandex and tights to something a little more Batman reminiscent: sculpted chest armor. 

This movie has a strange problem, while it runs the exact same way the comic does, it also doesn’t seem to translate very well. This is not director Jack Snyder’s fault, but rather, the comic itself is a large story with many pieces to it. The original comic ran for 12 issues, somewhat large for a limited series. This gave Snyder much to work with, and eliminating any small detail would leave the audience confused and lost. Within the comic, there are many small details and hints about where the storyline is heading that can be missed if just glanced over, the same goes for the movie. But unlike a book or comic where you can just turn back a page, the movie medium makes that a little more difficult. Even though Snyder couldn’t have made a more faithful adaptation, of course Alan Moore was still disappointed with the outcome. 

Moore felt that, because the story was written to be a comic it should stay as a comic. He felt that in order to fully enjoy the storyline, the reader should be able to go back and re-read certain parts to connect plot points with one another. The movie medium makes that a little more difficult because the audience can’t just turn back a couple of pages to make those connections. Just as it was for V for Vendetta, Moore wished to go uncredited for this film and had the share of his money go to original Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. 

There is no doubt that Alan Moore will ever be satisfied with how his works are translated into film, no matter how close a director may stay. But that doesn’t mean the audience feels the same way. All of the movies based off of Moore’s work have received great reviews from critics and audience members alike. These movies attract a new generation of fans wishing to explore Moore’s other works by going directly back to their original sources: the comics themselves. It seems as time goes on, Moore’s works become more and more realistic, with common themes of controlling governments and the threat of war appearing in our own world. While Moore’s comics do have a dark overtone, his endings usually have some sort of optimistic message, no matter how small it may be. Optimism is something we really need at this moment: looking forward to the unknown future and what it brings no matter how hard the present day may be.

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