Watchmen Running Scared?
March 12, 2009

This seems kind of desperate: David Hayter, the screenwriter of Watchmen, is telling fans to go see it again. The film’s box office take is expected to drop this second weekend of its release; the only question is how much. If it doesn’t have “legs”, if it drops too much, then it won’t be seen as a success. He says:

[I]f it drops off the radar after the first weekend, they will never allow a film like this to be made again.

Well, if it doesn’t do the kind of business the studio wants, why should that kind of movie continue to be made? They want success, and with big-budget superhero films, that means repeat viewing and good word of mouth. The reactions to this movie have been extremely mixed.

It’s also coming after Punisher: War Zone and The Spirit, both superhero flops, although expectations were much higher for Watchmen.

Hayter goes on to say the movie must be seen more than once in order to properly grasp it. (That’s an interesting statement on how effective his work was.)

I’m probably going to go see it for the first time this weekend, although I’m not exactly looking forward to it. But I feel I have to, in a way.

29 Responses  
Caroline writes:  

I read Hayter’s post, literally slackjawed. I was on the fence about whether to see it again. Hayter helped me make up my mind. Support the kind of movies I want to see more of? Okay, well, ‘Doubt’ and ‘Coraline’ and ‘The Class’ are playing. That could make a fun weekend!

Seriously. If I was that excited about seeing the movie again, I would see the movie again. Nobody had to tell me to watch ‘Dark Knight’ or ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Serenity’ more than once. And Hayter trying to take credit for the philosophical debates raised by the story — as though you couldn’t get those out of reading the book.

There are no words.

(That said, I’m not sorry I saw it the first time, but more so I can talk about it with other people than for the film itself).

Thom writes:  

“Hayter goes on to say the movie must be seen more than once in order to properly grasp it. (That’s an interesting statement on how effective his work was.)”

I don’t know if that is a fair assessment. I’ve known many critics to say they had to see a movie or read a book more than ones to real “get it it”, but it was rewarding to take that second look, none of them suggests that the work was apparently done badly because they appreciated it more on the second viewing than the first. I’ve seen movies that I thought were great the first time, and upon revisiting found that maybe my initial assessment was way off. I’ve seen movies that I remembered not so fondly that I saw through different eyes on a second viewing.

Now, whether the screenwriter should be the one trying to convince people that they will appreciate it more on a second viewing is a separate issue-but it does not necessarily suggest the work was ineffective because you might need to view it more than once to fully appreciate it.

Jon Jordan writes:  

I liked the movie and me see it again in a theater, definitely on disc. It does kind of sound too desperate to ask people to go back.
And truthfully, while the screenplay was good, with out the book he’d have nothing.

ADD writes:  

“[I]f it drops off the radar after the first weekend, they will never allow a film like this to be made again.”

I think I would be okay with that.

Johanna writes:  

Caroline, that’s one of the forces driving me to see it, the talking about it with others.

On one hand, I appreciate the transparency into the movie business and the communication with fans Hayter demonstrates; but on the other, yeah, slackjawed is a good word.

Thom, you’re right. I probably read too much into that comment. Aiming for multi-layered work is a good thing… although as Jon points out, he already had that in the source material.

Mark S. writes:  

I will certainly see this movie a 2nd time. From the comfort of my couch, with the DVD quietly whirring in my player at home…when I can put it on pause or fast forward through the boring bits.

I’d write a review of the movie myself, but I feel like I can add nothing to what has already been put out there. And I don’t feel compelled to do it just because I can…

philip writes:  

“they will never allow a film like this to be made again.”

I doubt that. Though “they” may never let him write another film like this. If I were feeling glib, and I am, I would wonder if his royalties don’t kick in until after the second weekend.

Johanna writes:  

He does address that in his post – he doesn’t get any additional money, although being associated with a successful movie will help his career in the long run.

caleb writes:  

I’m probably going to go see it for the first time this weekend, although I’m not exactly looking forward to it. But I feel I have to, in a way.

Heh. I felt the same way. Like, an unspoken pressure that it was my duty as a comics reader to see the movie (also, it gives you something besides “no yet” when everyone you know asks you if you saw it and what you thought of it).

I recommend a matinee; even if you hate it, you still get 3 hours of things to look at for the price of, like, two comic books.

Marc-Oliver Frisch writes:  

I wouldn’t mind if that kind of movie was never made again, personally.

Then again, I was that way with 300, too, so I’m sure they’ll find a way.

Peter Krause writes:  

I finally (if you can say that after just waiting out the opening weekend!) went and saw the movie last night, and I agree with most commentaries on the strengths and the weaknesses of the picture.

On the other hand, my twenty-year old son–who adores the original graphic novel–will have nothing to do with the film. That was his stand all through production of “Watchmen”, so it’s not the mixed reviews that are affecting his decision.

I wonder how many more like him that are out there?

Jer writes:  

I wonder how many more like him that are out there?

Plenty in my group of acquaintances.

And really, I saw it once, it’s an okay adaptation of a great book. But I don’t NEED to see it again, no matter what Hayter says. I’ve read the book close to 30 times in the last 20+ years, and I didn’t see very much that Snyder brought to the material that wasn’t already present in the book. Right now I actually feel the need to re-read the book, not see the movie again (damn me for loaning it out without realizing that the movie would make me want to pour over it for another time).

And what does Hayter mean when he says “films like this”? Films based on Alan Moore’s writing? If I can prevent another Alan Moore book from being adapted to film by not seeing this movie again this weekend, I will avoid the theater like the plague. He doesn’t want them, and in general they don’t do a good job with them.

Does he mean “direct adaptations of graphic novels”? Again – good. This panel-to-screen adaptation method should be ranked as a failed experiment and never done again. The movie would have been much stronger if they’d treated the book as inspiration and not as a storyboard.

Does he mean “dark and gritty superhero movies with adult themes”? Ha! They may go on a downswing for a short time, but when the next Batman movie hits the screen the studios will start nosing around again.

Really, the only way I can take Hayter’s comment is “If you want to see superhero movies fall into the death spiral of creativity that comic books did after Watchmen was published back in the 80’s, go out and drive up the receipts for this movie so Hollywood will churn out mindless copies of it instead of doing something original.” Frankly, I’d prefer to see more superhero movies like “Iron Man” than a grim and gritty clone of Watchmen.

Alan Coil writes:  

Although I haven’t talked to enough people about the movie to say for sure, I think I am seeing (hearing) a trend where the younger the viewer the more they like the movie.

Are we all becoming old fogies?

Or is it that we have lived with the book for 20 years, thus making us more set in out perceptions of the book?

I liked the movie–FOR WHAT IT WAS–, but the book is so much better that the movie pales in comparison.

Johanna writes:  

Caleb, it’s the near 3 hours that scare me! I want an intermission.

Peter, that seems rather idealistic. I haven’t heard that perspective before.

Jer, yes! More Iron Man! But seriously, I went to see Sin City just out of curiosity, and now I never have to see it again. 300 I skipped, because it was more Miller. The Spirit tanked… I think those are all of the excessively faithful adaptations I’m aware of.

Mark S. writes:  

But from everything I’ve read, the Spirit wasn’t even close to Eisner’s work. Just another Miller riff on the same old tired world view of his…

Lyle writes:  

Alan, without having seen the movie, I’d say that older comic readers remember what it was like to read Watchmen when there was nothing like it being done with the superhero genre. So while younger readers can understand how Watchmen changed superhero comics, it didn’t change how they read superhero comics.

charles yo writes:  

multi layered as the original material was, history is rife with two things: movies that people didn’t get “get” until repeated viewings and adaptions of books that had all the subtext stripped out. Blade Runner is an example of the former. The hate for that movie in 1982 was astonishing, as it was flawed genius in even its original incarnation. Name a million other books for the latter example. Movies have a tendancy to settle on the easily digestible visual often at the expense of the backstory that we would normally get from the first person narration from a book, so seeing a movie and getting more out of it the second time isn’t out of line at all.

indeed, it does say something about his work if you can get more out of it the second tiem around. i’ve already reviewed the movie on my blog: http://inkdestroyedmybrush.blogspot.com/2009/03/watchmen-movie-review.html
and would stand by my observations for a first viewing. I also, like i think many others, will be interested in seeing a directors cut on dvd of it as well, given the ability to put more detail in without the commercial restrictions of running time.

James Schee writes:  

I saw the movie over the weekend, it was interesting but not something I’d care to see again until DVD. Though a lot of that is not wanting to sit over 3 hours (counting commercials and previews) in a theater again.

I honestly wonder a little why they would make a movie like this. I guess I just don’t know if there is that large a general audience for an adult themed super hero movie.

Percival writes:  

I saw Blade Runner in its initial release. Audiences didn’t hate it. They talked about it and thought it was neat. They didn’t understand it fully, and still don’t, and they still thought it was neat. But they didn’t hate it. The Watchmen comic was not entirely liked when it came out, but it was admired by many who didn’t like it. A movie like Watchmen is more like movies like the eighties adaptation of Flash Gordon, the sixties adaptation of Candy, the sixties adaptation of Casino Royale and the 2000 adaptation of Battlefield Earth. I think it, and the comic, in their horribly twisted ways, will generate a following for some time to come. I think it would have been nice if they could have heavily marketed the comic starting a year or more before the release of the movie.

philip writes:  

Previous glib comment withdrawn. Thanks for setting me straight.

Johanna writes:  

It’s a reasonable assumption… I would have made it myself if he hadn’t addressed it explicitly.

coffee writes:  

the movie rendition of Watchmen is a visual and psychological cornucopia — definitely worth watching

James Schee writes:  

Looks like it dropped, expectations are for 17 million this weekend.


Johanna writes:  

It’s the size of the drop that’s significant: 78% is not good, although that’s only Friday-to-Friday. It’s “one of the steepest… among superhero movies.” It also “failed to entice an international audience”, which means it’s not nearly successful enough to qualify for the kind of blockbuster status the studio wanted.

David Oakes writes:  

Actually, that is a very good question. Anyone have any idea what the sales of the TPB outside of America? Sure, it is a story with universal themes – might, right, love, family – but it dresses them up in such American symbolism. Not just Superheroes, but the Cold War, Urban Decay, VietNam, Nixon, not to mention the whole 80s era – can anyone outside of America really “get” it?

Mark S. writes:  

Last I heard, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were British. They wrote it…so I don’t think the idea of having to be an American to *get it* makes any sense, given who wrote it and all.

Lyle writes:  

The weekend estimates say that the second weekend is down 67%, which is comparable to X3, Alien vs. Predator and The Village… not good but not bad either considering that the audience for scifi films tend to all show up on opening weekend.

Of course, the real measure of success is one outsiders will never be able to judge — what kind of money did Warner expect out of it (which is how they determine how much to spend on production and marketing). With a reported $150 million production budget (probably based on the $210 million 300 took in domestically), however, I think this will go down as a disappointment at the least… and that might not mean more movies “like Watchmen” but that any movie perceived as having a similar appeal would have to be made with a smaller budget.

Johanna writes:  

And don’t forget that they have to share with Fox, too.

Comic Business LinkBlogging » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[…] translate into real customer money, as well as a sign that (combined with Watchmen’s performance, poorer than expected) R-rated superhero movies are not a good idea. It will be very interesting to […]


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