If I learned anything from Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, was that that creativity is a remix and that nothing is original. Our most celebrated creators both borrow, steal and transform. Last week, Damon Lindelof sent an open letter to Watchmen fans. Lindelof will be 'remixing' an upcoming HBO series based on the iconic comic book series of the same name. The letter is a pretty great read and articulates a creative vision. One that has fans wary of another adaptation and judging by the many comments on the interwebs if Lindelof and his team are up to the task.
Lost was the best. The Leftovers might even be better. I remain cautiously optimistic about the chances for this series to be great, and I think getting away from the holy text and not just trying to recreate a masterpiece is a smart start.
Moore is not Shakespeare, Watchmen is not Hamlet. It’s hard for some to imagine, but there was time where there was NO Civil War, NO Irredeemable/Incorruptible, no anti-heroes period. No Image or independents (for the most part outside of Cerebus, Elfworld, TMNT). The 1980's were such a different world from what came before it. With Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK, there was this massive rise of Conservatism that the world had quite simply never seen. You had Reagan VASTLY expand the US nuclear arsenal, and what did he call the MX rockets? They were called “Peacemakers”. So you had governments, democracies, arguing “peace through strength”, it was like living in Orwell ... and some would say it still is.
While it’s certainly a different type of dread, we’re living in some pretty volatile and depressing times. People on both ends of the spectrum feel that democracy is essentially dead, having been replaced by algorithmically-targeted misinformation. One of the key inspirations for Lex Luthor’s switch from mad scientist to conniving business man was elected President. He did so on the back of a social media machine that has successfully distorted fact and fiction to the point of people living in different realities despite being more connected than ever. There’s no concern of being vaporized, but there are perils society is facing that feel right at home with the tone of Watchmen.
I definitely get the criticisms of Snyder’s Watchmen movie, but I’ve never heard a solution for how to fix it beyond, “It never should have existed in the first place.” He adapted the story, but none of its meaning. It’s like adapting Moby Dick as simply a story about whaling. Sometimes it feels the same as how people who have seen the Grand Canyon tell you your desktop wallpaper doesn’t do it a justice. I can agree that the photograph didn’t manage to transcend the limitations of its medium, but what were you expecting.
I would like fandom to try to remember that most of these landmark stories had some context about the times they were written.
That’s what’s sad about everyone’s treatment about Snyder. You think HE didn’t read these stories as a kid? That he didn’t tell himself that if he ever made it as a director, that he was going to bring these insanely great stories to the big screen? ESPECIALLY now that the 1980's are repeating themselves (or the issues never left)? Times change, and what was deconstructionist and postmodern in the 80's just becomes a tired trope because people have seen it so much they’re bored with it. Just remember that there is a comic you read now that you, and everyone loves, that someone who ALSO loved it is going to make it into a movie in about 30 years. And they will also get sh!t on and be accused of “not getting it” and ruining the story.
To quote Lex Luthor “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” One of these men is Zach Snyder and (I hope) the other is Damon Lindelof.
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