It all started innocently enough.
We were sitting in a restaurant, having lunch. Whereas most people see lunch as that meal what happens between breakfast and dinner, for me, lunch is a moment to debate or pontificate on whatever is on my mind at the time.
In short, to not shut up for one more our of the 24 that I never keep quiet during anyways. My life=endless cacophony.
Never mind that, though. This day I was discussing the merits of 2008's two big superhero movies, Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Moreover, I was trying to explain why they worked as well as they did and trying to justify (even though I objectively admit The Dark Knight was the superior movie) why I still liked Iron Man more.
My initial argument compared the two movies to, of all things, Bond movies--Iron Man was like Goldfinger--cool and confident in what it's doing and so perfectly in tune with the genre and style it's going for that it all looks effortless. It's the same song you've heard before, but there's not a bad note in it.
The Dark Knight, by contrast, was the Casino Royale of comic movies--blowing up the formula while at the same time revitalising it by looking at it in new directions. There are heroes, villians, gadgets, stunts, and on the face of things, we've all seen that before, but the scope is expanded a bit more. There's more going on, and more to think about (something which I've only got on repeated viewings) and generally it feels like an expansion of what's come before.
And then I brought up Watchmen. Ken Lowery makes and excellent point here that The Dark Knight has pretty much made Watchmen as a film redundant, and really, I think he's bang-on. Dark Knight expanded the possibilities of the superhero movie in much the same way as Watchmen the comic book expanded the possibilities of the superhero comic (for better or worse--I'll try to explain better my lament that superhero books evidently stopped evolving in 1986 at a later date) and really, it's now been done for the superhero-on-film, which should be distinct from the superhero comic.
Because, really, Watchmen-the-book's strength for me--now that all the adolescent "ooh! How'd he get away with all that stuff?! That's edgy and kewl!" has fallen away--is more as an exercise in the grammar of the superhero comic. What can you do? What are the possibilities of working in this genre? That, to me, is what someone who has a fondness of superhero comics should have taken away--here's a textbook on what you can do, and it can exist as a living example (as opposed to a textbook) of the possibilities of the genre and the medium. Kind of like how Citizen Kane is often cited by film students as the template for the possibilities of film.
Unfortunately, everyone working in comics seems to have nicked all the "kewl" surface elements, and we've been spinning our wheels for 22 years ever since. Again--saving that for my thoughts on 1986 being the best and worst of times.
I don't think that movies can work in the same kind of narrative density as comics are capable of (maybe Berlin Alexanderplatz)--too much information gets lost in the constant forward progression of film, wherein in comics you're free to pause and review what you read previously (you can do that with movies with liberal application of "fast forward" and "rewind," but it always bounces you out of your engagement with the film--for better or worse, movies are meant to be watched straight through) Comics operate by different rules--narrative density (even simultaneous multiple narratives) are possible without being overwhelming, for one thing.
Much was made, previous to it actually being mooted, that Watchmen was "unfilmable," and honestly, it is. What makes Watchmen special is how it uses the full potential of it's parent medium to its maximum potential. Read it again, sometimes. Pay special attention to the 5 complete stories (or so) that run through it, and how you can follow them like individual threads that part of a larger tapestry at the same time.
Now think about how much of that could make it into the movie. What works on the page quite often looks ridiculous when blown up on a movie screen. The Dark Knight was able to expand the possibilities of the grammar f the superhero movie well enough. Possibly because it was conceived to work in its native medium, as Watchmen worked so well it its own.
I can't really see why we need a Watchmen movie. That ground's been broke, and broke without having to compromise an existing text to do it. And the advantages of taking Watchmen-the-book to the big screen don't justify the inevitable compromises and omissions, and the inevitable false notes that will be struck.
Never mind, that from all I've heard, the people making Watchmen, like the fans-who-became-pros who read the comic back in the day, seem to have glommed on to entirely the "kewl" qualities . . .well, it's all a bit disappointing, really. Doesn't give one high hopes for the final product.
Oh well. We got two good ones in 2008.