Who botches the Watchmen?

February 22, 2009

In the run-up to the release of the Watchmen movie, there have been displays of naked terror at how grossly the movie’s creators will mangle author Alan Moore’s original vision. My first inclination is to snigger at the extremity of these anxieties.

I’ll confess that I don’t view Watchmen with any particular reverence. Comics and I had decided to see other people at the time of its original publication, so I wasn’t at what one could call ground zero. In fact, I didn’t read it until I had started reading comics again and saw its influence being misapplied by creator after creator.

So instead of viewing it as a shot across the bow, it was that comic that spawned a bunch of terrible imitators who thought Watchmen was really cool but generally missed the point and thought its tonal elements were much more portable than they actually were.

Aside from that, just about every movie adaptation of a comic book stands a really good chance of being kind of terrible. (I’ve also largely stopped going to them, because every time there’s a commercial for Iron Man or The Dark Knight or something, my partner gives me a look that plainly says, “This is your fault.” I’ve been feigning deafness when he looks at the new Entertainment Weekly and asks me to explain Watchmen. Fortunately, he’s quickly distracted by the magazine’s sick obsession with Lost.) And really, I’m sure I’ll be to see Dr. Manhattan’s package all over the web within hours of the movie’s premiere, so why subject myself to the unpleasantness of movie attendance (i.e. “Hell is other people”)?

But I’ve been through the pain of botched movie adaptations of properties I love in their original form. Here are some of the worst offenders:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: When the director of the film says repeatedly and publicly that his guiding principle was to make the shortest Harry Potter film to date, disappointment is inevitable. Still, this seemed more like a show-choir presentation of a musical than any kind of movie – clipped, truncated, and comprehensible only if you’ve read the book, but if you’ve read the book, you’d be really annoyed.

A Chorus Line: Lots and lots of stage musicals have suffered indignities aplenty when translated for the cinema. (Exceptions: The Music Man, My Fair Lady, Chicago.) And while Sir Richard Attenborough made many fine films during his distinguished career, choosing to film a musical about dancers that never actually shows much dancing was probably not a very good idea.

A Little Night Music: I can see the logic of casting Elizabeth Taylor as an adultery-prone actress of a certain age, but not this particular adultery-prone actress of a certain age. And while the role hardly begs for a classically trained set of pipes (Glynis Johns didn’t have them), breathy timidity doesn’t do the songs any favors. (Trivia bonus: Like Hairspray, this is a movie musical based on a stage musical based on a non-musical movie, Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night.)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: When Clint Eastwood takes a fancy to a book I like, I should just stay away. (I can give him a pass on Mystic River, since I realized after seeing the movie that I wouldn’t have liked the book at all if I’d ever tried to read any of the dialogue aloud, because OUCH.) My clearest memory of Midnight, the movie, is John Cusack mugging desperately in an attempt to convince the audience that something quirky and fascinating was happening. He was entirely alone in that opinion.

The Witches of Eastwick and Steel Magnolias: The Witches of Eastwick is a good novel, and Steel Magnolias is a terrible play, but I’m fond of them both, and neither deserved the star-driven hack jobs they received. (I saw a drag production of Magnolias in a bar once, and it was probably the best staging the play will ever know.)