Watching the Watchmen

Moore on Film

Alan Moore is revered by comics fans for his thoughtful, genre-stretching take on caped crusaders—a new comic by Moore is an Event, at best a heady, game-changing masterpiece, at worst a quirkily entertaining piece of fun, always graced by Moore’s eccentric erudition and black humor.

Moore is dedicated to the comics form, and his work is designed to exploit the medium’s strengths to their fullest. This approach has made adapting his work to film a particular challenge, and past attempts have led to discouraging results that exploit the “high concept” aspect of his stories at the expense of the rich layers of allusion, character development, and sly playfulness that mark his best work. Moore himself has been so displeased with film adaptations of his stories that he refuses screen credit and gives his share of the money to his collaborators. Below are some less-than-ideal cinematic translations of Moore’s work.

Watching the Watchmen CONTINUES...

Comic Book Characters on TV

In conjunction with the release of the blockbuster film adaptation of the graphic novel series Watchmen, The Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles will screen a variety of television adaptations of comic book heroes during the month of March including Superman, the Incredible Hulk, Batman, Fantastic Four, Wonder Woman, X-Men, and Justice League. Screenings start at 3:00 pm daily March 1 to 29.

V for Vendetta (2005)

A dystopian howl of despair at Margaret Thatcher’s England, Moore’s fascist nightmare is a haunting meditation on the romance of terrorism that foreshadows Watchmen’s central question: what is the price of blindly trusting those in power to solve your problems? Visually and textually faithful to the comic—a rare feat—V for Vendetta fails to come to life on film, illustrating that conceits that work beautifully on the page (the Guy Fawkes mask, the arch wordplay) can be fatally diminished when literalized on the screen.


From Hell (2001)

Moore’s epic, kaleidoscopic investigation of the Jack the Ripper phenomenon is a dizzyingly complicated, heavily footnoted work of pop scholarship that encompasses, among other things, the history of London architecture, the Freemasons, and royal scandal to limn a rich and disturbing tragedy steeped in period detail. The 2001 film version offered Johnny Depp as a quasi-psychic detective mooning over the improbably well-groomed prostitute Heather Graham in an off-puttingly incoherent orgy of grue and grime.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

An enormously charming lark imagining various heroes of Victorian literature as a government-sponsored black ops team assembled to confront the weird menaces beyond the purview of conventional forces. English majors delighted in Moore’s compulsive literary allusions and in-jokes, and the entire enterprise is suffused with obvious love and fannish enthusiasm for its original sources. The movie is a mess, overstuffed with ill-defined characters and noisy action sequences, including a singularly ridiculous car chase—through Venice. Yes, Venice.


"The Paley Center Watches the Watchmen" pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Photo credits—V for Vendetta: Warner Bros.; From Hell: 20th Century Fox; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 20th Century Fox