or: How Smart Is Zack Snyder?
A) really dumb?
We’ve approached each character individually regarding the design of their costume. In most cases, we have remained very close to the graphic novel. Although in some cases, we’ve made adjustments. I think Nite Owl and Silk Spectre have probably been changed the most from the original designs. We felt these changes were necessary because we live in a comic-book cinema world where costumes have been fetishized to a huge degree. The costumes, as they’re drawn, might not be accessible to many of today’s audiences. I also felt that audiences might not appreciate the naiveté of the original costumes. So, there has been some effort to give them a slightly more… I would say modern look — and not modern in the sense of 2007, but modern in terms of the superhero aesthetic. It was also important to me that they appealed to my own taste as a moviegoer.
or B) kind of clever?
Lastly and possibly most important, I wanted to be sure that they comment directly on many of today’s modern masked vigilantes — who shall remain nameless…
I think that for me, it’s about adapting that great work into a movie, but it’s also certainly about making a film that does hopefully to the cinematic superhero genre, what the book did to the comic book world. It’s my hope and my intent to shine a light on the current state of superhero movies and what they mean to pop culture, and what they mean to people who enjoy them, and comic book fans.
As in most contemporary superhero movies, the costumes are grotesque fetish objects — more or less suits of sex armor — which combine a ten-year-old boy’s ideas about both sex and industrial design, then turn everything up to 11. Do they make me want to vomit? Yes. Is it the appropriate look for a film adaptation of Watchmen — which is fundamentally be an act of deconstruction and cultural commentary?
This gets at a bigger question: how can anyone possibly make a film of Watchmen when the entirety of geek pop culture has been killing itself trying to be Watchmen for twenty years? Comics, television, and movies have been relentlessly pursuing the decadent, cartoonish (and frankly idiotic) “realism” that [they thought] they found in late-80s comics (Watchmen, Dark Knight, Miracleman) ever since. Some segments of superhero comics are still stuck in the 90s, but quite a lot of them have finally shoved off and found a new aesthetic to play in.
Unfortunately, just as comics are starting to finish digesting 1986 and escape from the era of X-treme,* the rest of the world is playing catch-up. Frank Miller and Zack Snyder have brought the world of pop culture back into Miller’s brain circa 1995, and if you liked it the first time, you’ll LOVE it now that your co-workers can quote Sin City at you!
*[of course, the most interesting recent work in comics was never influenced by 1986 to begin with.]
I think Snyder is a really smart guy who knows what he’s doing. I think a lot of viewers will pick up on the metatextual nature of Watchmen (both film and comic). But I worry that, like Fight Club before it, the Watchmen phenomenon (and it will be a phenomenon) will simultaneously celebrate that which it criticizes, and a lot of dudes are going to come out of the theater totally pumped about what they just saw, brah. A mass-market version of comic fans’ response to Watchmen the comic.
And we’ll be in for a whole ‘nother plague of copycats. Except this outbreak won’t be limited to the world of superhero comics. You thought Pointy Batman was bad? Wait till we get Chain-Smoking Wife-Beating Indiana Jones and Lion-O‘s Stress-Induced Erectile Dysfunction.
EDIT: How appropriate that these should come out the same week as Michael Chabon’s essay about the impossibility of reproducing a hand-drawn costume in the real world.