Who’ll Watch the Watchmen?

Unless you’re not an a comic book nerd in the 18-35 demographic, you may not be aware that Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ legendary icon of comics, Watchmen, is coming out in a film version this weekend. Don’t know much about Watchmen? Click here.

There are plenty of reviews out there, and they seem to be taking two very different looks at this movie. It seems that people who are coming into the film having already read and loved the Watchmen comic book love the movie. And people who don’t love (or haven’t read) the comic book are having a tough time with the movie.

This is hardly a new thing. I, as a Transformers fan, loved the Transformers movie and will likely love the sequel even though I generally loathe Michael Bay as a director. I can watch the Transformers movie and see all kinds of reasons to hate it (awkward characters, lack of plot supplanted by lots of running, unfunny “comic relief”) but, in spite of myself, I love it every time I see a car turn into a robot or vice versa. On the other hand, I saw the first Lord of the Rings movie without having the faintest idea about the books. And I really enjoyed that film. Afterwards, I read the whole of the series and ended up moving from really liking to loving the LOTR films. Rossy, who never had any connection to Middle Earth, ended up liking the films a lot after getting over her initial hostility.

(The initial hostility was caused when I decided to cut my winter break with her short by one day so that I could go back up to school and watch all three Lord of the Rings extended edition films in one sitting. Girlfriend [and future wife] annoyances aside, don’t sit down to twelve hours of consecutive Lord of the Rings. Spread it out over at least a week.)

What this brings to my mind is the idea of objectivity in cinema. If Watchmen is a completely different movie depending on how much of the source you’ve read, how can reviews even pretend to be objective? Should every Watchmen review feature a disclaimer by the writer mentioning whether or not they’ve read the book? (Not that it’s hard to tell–almost every reviewer who has read the book points it out more than once.)

Cinema is a completely subjective artform, as is most art. People who try to make best of lists can never come to some kind of absolute standard of excellence–any list will be based on favorites which will tie in with the demographic polled.

I know, I know, all of this is really nothing new. Art criticism has been around for hundreds of years, and the idea of the audience has been around for about as long, too. But it is interesting to see this common concept under the hard light of Watchmen reviews (half raves, half pans) all based on whether the reviewer has read the book.