This is to say, I have opinions on matters of film and culture, but they are opinions which stem from the release of the movie Watchmen. I'm so sorry. Please just sit through this.
In the time since the Watchmen comic book debuted, the demand and attempts to translate the work to a movie have been near-constant. Since the picture finally made it past pre-production last year, the amount of speculation has grown near-deafening as to whether the picture would be "good", whether it would be "faithful" to the source material, whether the comic's author, Alan Moore, would finally be "proven wrong" in his assertion that people should really stop trying to make movies of his work.
Mr. Moore always looks like a caricature of the sort of person who would write Lost Girls.
All of these speculations have entirely missed the point. The question isn't "will the movie capture the spirit of the comic?" or "will the picture be of a high quality?" The question nobody - except Mr Moore, it seems - is asking is, why is this necessary in the first place?
Moore apologists1 tend to take the line that, "of course the author has been disheartened by the idea of his stories being turned into movies; without fail, movies based on his work have been terrible". That's not untrue, but I think it's projecting an unwarranted measure of self-interest onto the author as well. In which spirit, let's remove this discussion as far as reasonably possible from Alan Moore and Watchmen2 and all of that carry-on and just ask: why are we compelled to make things into movies?
If a story is so perfectly realised in the form of the novel, or the comic book, or even the song or video game (it could happen), what is it that makes us feel it will be better if only it can be turned into a movie? Why, since reading The Most Influential Comic Book Ever 25-odd years ago, have so many people been asking, "so when can I see the movie?"
The obvious reason is that movies are the dominant art form of our time. The moving image has become the default form in which we ingest information. And perhaps less irritatingly obvious but just as plain to see is that this is because everything else is movies' bitch.
When novels meet with mass success they're hailed for their "cinematic" pace. Videogames, champing at the bit with Oedipal ambition, have become more and more self-consciously filmic at as relentless a clip as their evolution will allow. Musical artists like Unkle and Sigur Rós blur the line between popular songwriting and soundtrack composition. (The line, "a soundtrack to a film that hasn't been made yet", has been used by artists from KISS to Trent Reznor to describe their work, though it provides no guarantee of popularity nor quality). Even the best-attended theater tends to be that of a clear cinematic pedigree or influence.
On the one hand this is somewhat pathetic and insecure, asking of the cinema a legitimisation, an approval of one's passions: "if only this story which I love would be turned into a film so everyone could enjoy it, my enthusiasm would be vindicated!"
But it's also somewhat ugly: belying a rapacious, Procrustean intolerance for variety in modes of thought or expression. There's sometimes the implication that the "best" stories are those that get made into successful movies: that a story that refuses to be bashed into cinematic shape isn't quite c21st cultural canon.
It would seem that the question of, "should this story be translated to one of our films?" would be no different whether the story in question had originated in another medium or in the film of another country. After all, they're both translations which demand a substantial shift in language, obviously, but also in cultural tone and shape. It would seem that those insisting that Ringu or Låt den rätte komma in or Sporloos had no need for an English remake should be similarly put out by the redundance of a Hollywood movie of Blindness or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or, yes, Watchmen.
Much of the most impressive narrative adventuring of recent years - Foucault's Pendulum, From Hell, Twin Peaks - is material which demands the audience rethink how it experiences the art and rewards their lateral thinking accordingly. The cinema can do this, and has, many times. But it's not the norm. Many films are very, very good. And many films are terrible. Just like anything.
But if we wanted to up film's hitrate, one of the best things we could do would be to stop asking it to do everything for us, and celebrate narrative prowess wherever it may occur, be it the novel, the movie or even the spontaneous happenstance of real life. Allow movies to be movies and enjoy things that aren't movies for what they are, without wanting to feed them into the machine that turns out things shaped like movies.
Then maybe everyone would leave poor old Alan Moore alone and he could write some more comics.
1 There I go, using language like this was a matter of vital international import; this debate will do that to you.
2 Before doing so, it's worth mentioning that Watchmen itself is, of course, intensely cinematic in pace and framing techniques. But to interpret this as the narrative's desire to be realised onscreen is to miss the point: the flashy cross-cuts and ponderous dolly-moves of Watchmen's panel layout aren't intended as audition pieces, so much as appropriations of technique, in the same way as Moore would go on to dot his work with musical cues and nods to classic novels.