Alan Moore gives rare interview: ‘Watchmen’ creator talks new project ‘The Show’, how superhero movies have “blighted culture” and why he wants nothing to do with comics
It’s hard to take Moore’s account of super hero movies seriously when the last he saw was 31 years ago. This means he never saw any adaptation of his own works. “Dirty” as it is, there’s a non-zero chance of a super hero movie being good or even sublime...
Ehh, I don't think he would even care to be cited based on his opinions on superhero movies, all of which he has summarily dismissed and never wants to think about again. If this is the only thing people listened to him about, he'd probably never speak to anyone ever again. He doesn't care about superhero movies at all, it seems he's got more salient feelings about superhero comics instead.
He's probably one of the extremely few people who doesn't need to watch them in order to be able to give still-relevant perspective on why he thinks superhero stories have ruined the comic medium. So much of what we understand superhero stories to be today come from his influence and what he always sought for were things underneath the surfaces of the stories. Most of his comic work weren't superhero stories but those were the ones that won all the plaudits, a fact which he always resented because he felt that people were taking wrong messages from them just because they were superhero stories.
And seeing how many writers after him derived influence from his stories, it's hard to say he was wrong. Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Todd McFarlane and many other huge names in the last 20 years of comics definitely derived inspiration straight out of Moore's works and went in directions he did not approve of at all.
He's a cantankerous, cynical, grumpy curmudgeon who seemingly hates everything but if you read his stories, there's a layer to them that often goes unreported and underappreciated in favour of the spectacle of superhero or serial killer or vigilante or whatever else is the framing device of the story. Much like how Stephen King famously disdains Kubrik's adaptation of The Shining, there's plenty of reason for Moore to dislike the adaptations of his works.
I say this as someone who enjoys most of the superhero movies that have been released but, at the same time, I understand fully what people like Moore and Martin Scorsese are saying about them. They deliver a certain sort of appeal that's too easy to mistake but they settle in the public conscious so deeply that they ruin the original works. I frequently see all kinds of takes on Batman and Superman that are just flat out completely unlike or besides the point of the characters but are instead based on the movie versions and what they say about the world, the people, and the characters. To this date, I haven't seen one live action version of Batman that deserves the "World's Greatest Detective" moniker—hell, it's hard to find that even in the comics these days thanks to how the writers influenced by Moore went the wrong way. Grant Morrison's read of the Killing Joke, Moore's famous award winning work that he disavowed very quickly, should have precluded him from working on any Batman material, frankly, but here we are.
I think Moore knew his comics weren't going to work from the film scripts alone. And let's be honest, he's not wrong. From Hell was awful, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was beyond dire; Watchmen was complete trash; V For Vendetta is the best adaptation of Moore's work and that's not exactly great.
Let's face it, there aren't really very many good comic to film adaptations. The entire MCU is trash apart from one or two films; DC are doing worse if anything. The indies do a little better with films like Scott Pilgrim (Oni Press comic + Edgar Wright directing was always going to be pretty good) but overall film hasn't been kind to comics. TV has done rather better with things like The End of the Fucking World, The Umbrella Academy and suchlike..
I tend to see Moore a little like Stallman, although he's much less of a dickhead than Stallman and considerably more articulate. Moore is cantankerous, annoying, outspoken, has principles of iron and is invariably right about everything.
I can't wait to see his film and I really hope it gets picked up for TV too, because personally I think TV is a far better medium than cinema (I prefer long-form stories, which TV is best at).
Can you help me understand what makes a good movie adaptation of a comic? All I see is a scorn for what exists. What would you like to see? What would make these movies watchable to you?
I'll take one.
Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse is not an uncritical love letter to Ultimate Spider-man, the comic Spider-verse, or anything and everything Spider-Man. It's ace in the hole is knows that you know how a Spider-man movie is supposed to work, and it lives in the shadow of it's premise. Miles Morales thinks he has to live up to the ideal of Peter Parker's Spider-man, but there are several spider-people introduced, and each and every one has there own standards to what is Spider-man and how to best live up to that. The movie is not a one to one adaptation like Watchmen, or a remix and reframe like Guardians of the Galaxy, or a transposition of theme like Thor: Ragnarok to Planet Hulk. It's it's own story that uses the nature of comparison to the source material as part of it's narrative, and hits all the harder for it.
Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse would have been my example too. It's pretty much my favourite comic-to-film adaptation. It is a beautifully made film with a plot that makes sense; it uses the medium to tell it's story as much as the script and the cinematography and I adore films which do that; the characters feel realistic, engaging and 3-dimensional - ironic in a 2D format; best of all nobody stands around talking about the plot for hours on end, which is a huge problem in many superhero films; even the soundtrack is a banger. It's superb. It's a "kids" movie, yet is far smarter, more complex and most of all respects the intelligence of it's audience much more than most box office blockbusters.
Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor:Ragnarok are two of my other favourite comic films, interesting those are the ones you choose to mention.
Idk, I really liked it and most people I know did too.
McDonalds sell truckloads of burgers but they've never won a single Michelin star.. Just because lots of people like something doesn't make it good, it just makes it successful.
And, to be clear, there's nothing wrong with eating trashburgers or sitting down to enjoy the ride in an MCU film. But if you're after something more nutritious - which the source comics are more likely to deliver - then you might be disappointed.
I don’t really understand your analogy because it seems to suggest that the Watchmen movie was some kind of cookie cutter, mass produced, hypercommercialized, exploitative thing, like a McDonald’s hamburger. But the movie was not like that at all. I’d accept comparing MCU movies to McDonald’s hamburgers, but not Watchmen.
I don’t think it’s like an amazing movie or something. It can be a bit gratuitous, at times campy, very self-indulgent, and it definitely is way too long. But calling it “trash” and comparing it to a McDonald’s hamburger seems pretty snobby. Can you explain why you feel this way about the movie?
Also, personally, I read plenty of comics when I was young, but it feels like historically the actual comics themselves have been typically about as low bro and exploitative as the typical modern superhero movie.
Edit: I also think there is a bit of irony in comparing what is essentially a nearly 3 hour long slow burn noir film to fast food.
I didn't read it like that, I believe @mat was just using that as an example for why mass market appeal does not always indicate a quality product.
Okay well I was not trying to ever suggest otherwise. All I want to know is why this person thinks the movie is trash, and if all the movie has in common with McDonald’s hamburgers is that they both have “mass market appeal” then the analogy does not really tell me a whole lot about why they feel the way they do.
Point taken, and not to devolve this into an argument over semantics or to imply that either you or @mat are obligated to explain why you like/dislike the film, but the statement "Idk I really liked it and most people I know did too" is not substantive and does not communicate what you feel about the film either.
For the record, I do not necessarily agree with @mat either (on his/her general view of comicbook adaptations and view on Stallman & Moore). I never read the original source material for Watchmen nor do I really have a desire to. I thought the film was mediocre, but enjoyable. It certainly was more self-aware than your average superhero film and had its thoughtful moments (which are likely thanks to the source), but those were often undercut by and relied heavily on the breakneck spectacle & over-the-top visual flair that Zack Snyder has become known for.
As @keb has rightly interpreted, I wasn't making a direct comparison between burgers and Watchmen. I was pointing out that just because lots of people you know liked it, that doesn't make it good. Being outstanding in terms of relative quality within one's field is not a requirement for something to be popular.
Watchmen is only a moderately bad film in and of itself but it suffers particularly badly when compared to it's source material. Harry Potter films aren't outstanding works of cinematic genius either, but because the books aren't particularly special that's fine. The films are good enough, the books are good enough - both get the job done. But Watchmen is one of the seminal works of comic literature, it deserved better than a Zack Synder hack and slash job. The project was doomed from the moment they got Synder on board, I have no idea why people keep giving him millions of dollars to make films.
I have a longer comment elsewhere on this thread with some more detail about why I think the film is fundamentally flawed and tbh you can find plenty of critical reviews saying the same thing in far more detail. But critics don't tend to review the MCU movies in the same way because everyone knows they are "fast food", Watchmen should have been a Michelin starred degustation.
While I disagree with your opinion on the Watchmen movie, I do agree very strongly with the Zack Snyder comments. Out of curiosity, have you seen this three part essay by Maggie Mae Fish on Zack Snyder and his many problems as a director? I have admittedly only watched the preview and part 1, and it was only upon reading your comment I never went back and finished the series. But it looks like the final part is about the watchmen movie! What a coincidence! I'll watch it on my lunch break and see if it changes my mind at all. It has been a few years since I watched the movie so maybe some commentary with video clips from the movie will show me how rose-tinted my memory of it is.
Edit: Yeah so the video discusses a lot of snyders films and I feel like it would be hard to distill the section about watchmen since it references explanations and points made while discussing other movies. Watchmen discussion mainly starts at 17:45 but for anyone reading this comment I would suggest watching the whole video leading up to that point.
Those videos were really interesting, thanks for the heads up. Always nice to have a new, decent film critics to watch.
fwiw I agree with a great deal of what she says. I'm going to go and watch some more of her stuff on other topics, I think.
I disagree completely. I consider that movie superb.
Besides, he was not talking just about his IPs.
Also untrue. I’m in complete disagreement. There are so many good adaptations it’s hard to keep count.
In the case of Watchmen, the main issue is that it doesn't do the source material any justice, and that's why it's bad (it's also boring which is amazing considering the book). Synder fundamentally either misunderstands the book or has his script so heavily re-written by the studio that the point of the book is missed but either way the end result is the same. One of the things Watchmen is about is the pointlessness and wastefulness of violence, where Synder's movie is straight fight-porn.
He reduces what should be complex, ambiguous, deeply human characters down to crudely painted stereotypical goodies and baddies. On top of that it's just. so. dull. It's predictable and simplistic, all dressed up in a veneer of intelligence and depth (that the book fully lives up to), but underneath there's just nothing. It's like a Chris Nolan film in that regard, it comes at you making out like it's all clever and has a lot to say then the only question it leaves you asking is "why did I just waste 2 hours of my life watching this?"
The MCU is incredibly successful, but the majority of films Marvel have made are just a series of CGI fights (and damn, cgi fighting is so boring to watch) tied together with paper thin plots. I mean, Marvel aren't exactly known for their deep and complex stories but even so, their films tend to reduce even that to almost nothing. The problem is they are so heavily focus-grouped, they're just predictable. All challenge is removed, all attempt at telling a deeper story or asking more fundamental questions than "will the bad guy lose?" (which most films don't even ask at all because we know they will) is taken out to satisfy the bottom line.
Film is a great medium which has been utterly ruined by the huge amounts of money involved and the big money is all in comic/superhero films at the moment. So they continue to dumb them down and turn them into simple Good vs Bad CGI "experiences". Comics, and films, deserve better. But nobody ever made a billion dollars by appealing to anything but the lowest common denominator, so we get plots that make no sense but are full of bombast and stirring-sounding but ultimately empty speeches, characters who are even flatter than the pages they were taken from and bigger explosions every release.
I would say 90% of the modern crop of comic to movie adaptations are bad. Bad because they miss the point of the book or the characters in it (Watchmen); bad because they're just boring (most MCU); bad because they're just so weakly written (Suicide Squad, anyone!); bad because they're technically badly made (Wonder Woman is a dreadfully constructed piece of cinema) or some mixture of the above.
But, there are good films. The first Iron Man was brilliant. Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse is absolutely superb on many levels Thor: Ragnarok was great - because Taika Waititi is a brilliant director and he made a film that was about superhero films as much as it was about whatever nonsense story they were doing on the surface. Also he put a Dark Souls joke in and I'll forever love him for that.
TV does the job better because the format of TV allows it to tell more complex stories, and have more fulfilling characters, more easily. Damon Lindelof, as much as I hate the guy, did an OK job at Watchmen on TV. Grant Morrison's Happy! worked rather nicely. I just finished watching season 2 of Garth Ennis's The Boys and that was great. I Am Not OK With This and The End of the Fucking World both do amazing jobs of taking their respective comics to screen.
So a large part of the problem lies with how movies are made. Studios won't allow characters like Rorschach to exist in the way he does in the book because it doesn't play well in focus groups and the studios are not making the film to do justice to the book, they're making the film to make money. TV is cheaper to make so has more latitude, plus the new studios like Netflix and Amazon are happier to take risks.
I understand why you feel the way you do now, thanks for explaining. I can definitely relate to the feeling of disappointment when your favorite literary works are brought to new and exciting forms of media but get executed in a manner that comes nowhere close to your expectations. I hadn’t actually read the graphic novel myself, so I had not considered that perspective. I do understand it is held in quite high regard as far as print media goes, and I can appreciate how frustrating it must be to see a relatively mediocre adaptation (as far as film goes) of what many seem to consider to be one of the greatest graphic novels of all time.