Moviegoers are the Goldilocks of cinema, especially when it comes to book adaptations. We're ridiculously picky and always want it just right. If a filmmaker changes a bunch of plot points, we'll rant and rage and wonder why they even bothered. But on the flipside, if the project is too faithful, we'll complain about that as well. We're almost never truly happy.
With Watchmen in theaters this week, those two sides are coming out in full force. This isn't a surprise, considering the impact Alan Moore's graphic novel had, and how many times we heard that Watchmen was unfilmable. I was inclined to agree until I visited the set. When you can see the scenes brought to life in front of you -- so you can touch and experience them -- it's hard not to think that the impossible is possible. If it looks that good, how can it possibly be bad?
Over a year later, I finally got to see the film for myself. Was it perfect? No. Was it terrible? Not at all. It was fun and thrilling in a deep, multilayered sort of way. But what was most interesting about Watchmen was how much Zack Snyder created a prep piece for the graphic novel. It was like an entertaining and engaging outline that begs that you read the novel and get the richer, deeper story. Usually when a lot is left out, it doesn't beg you to fill in the blanks and love them both, but rather to stick with the book and shun the story. But Watchmen was able to explain a lot with so very little (especially the stunning credit sequence) and cover all the major plot points while leaving an entire world to explore in the graphic novel.
But it doesn't always happen this way. I remember being a picky teen and speed-reading through The Pelican Brief. I loved it, and was entirely brassed off that in the film, Denzel Washington didn't have the pasty white legs described in one sentence of John Grisham's novel -- even though the film followed the book closely. It was silly and me being over-the-top picky. On the other hand, there are projects like Julie Taymor's Titus, which took Shakespeare's source material and visually explained the dynamism of a mostly ignored play -- so much so that my appreciation for it skyrocketed after seeing it through Taymor's eyes.
But what of other adaptations? Where is the line that makes faithful good or bad? What makes the best adaptations thrive? What makes others fail?
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