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Director Zack Snyder has confirmed that the director’s cut of Watchmen will be released in July.  The release will be limited to New York and Los Angeles, with hopes of attracting the die-hard fans of the original graphic novel on which the film is based.  The internet has been abuzz with fanboy speculation about the 190-minute cut since February, when Snyder stated that it would likely be released on DVD, and hinted at the possibility of a limited theatrical release this summer.

The director’s cut promises to give fans a taste of what many felt was missing from the original theatrical version of the film.  Some of the added scenes will delve into the back story of the original Night Owl, Hollis Brown, a character that many fans of the graphic novel feel is far more essential to the plot than the theatrical cut makes time for.

The adapting of Watchmen for the big screen was a tortured project from the start.  When the film rights to the 1986-87 graphic serial-novels were sold to Twentieth-Century Fox in 1986, it was widely considered to be un-filmable.  Writer Alan Moore has consistently stated that his story was intended to demonstrate the unique potential of comic books as a medium, and that a faithful film adaptation would never be possible.  By 2007, when Snyder was chosen to direct the film, the project had already passed through the hands of several studios and made its way to Warner Brothers, the distributor of many successful comic book films, including Batman Begins and the Dark Knight.  The theatrical cut of Watchmen was released on March 6.   

By most accounts, the movie Watchmen has been a disappointment.  This is despite taking the number one spot with over $40 million in box office receipts in its opening weekend, garnering relatively good reviews (an aggregate of 65% positive overall according to Rotten Tomatoes), and raking in over $100 million thus far (the film is currently still in the top ten at the box office).  The supposed “failure” of Watchmen has reportedly even led Warner Brothers to write-off the idea of ever making another R-rated comic book flick.

Much of this is based on the fact that many theater-goers were not already familiar with the plot and characters of the graphic novel and therefore, were left disappointed by Watchmen.  That’s not hard to understand, given the complex back-story and constant moral ambiguity (“wait…is the ‘bad guy’ supposed to be a Bad Guy, or is he, like, a Good Guy who’s doing something bad…or, wait…is that bad?”).  The graphic novel has the luxury of taking its sweet time to elaborate on the finer points of the plot and character development.  To anyone who didn’t go into the theater with some idea of what they were about to see, the intricacies were easily lost amongst the visual spectacle and heart thumping soundtrack. 



.However, a big part of what makes it the default candidate for “Greatest Graphic Novel of All Time” is that Watchmen never reduces its story or characters to a simple Good vs. Evil template.  This is just the sort of thinking that can’t be crammed into a movie, even one that tips the temporal scales at nearly 3 hours long.  The audience needs to be presented with weighty themes in a way that allows for some consideration of what they mean, rather than in such a matter that expects them to catch on to every subtlety before the next bloody squabble erupts on-screen.  Comic book films traditionally do not need to incorporate or contemplate this kind of depth and typically, adult audiences are savvy enough to pick up on these themes if it is presented with the right finesse.  That Snyder is so adamant about releasing his extended cut suggests that he understands this.   

It is unfortunate that the film adaptation of Watchmen has been widely considered a mistake. This is a symptom of our post-Titanic world, in which any big-budget movie that cannot boast a slew of award nominations and break the $100 million-mark by its second weekend is written-off.  Things are very black-and-white: there are mega-winners and then there are losers.  The Dark Knight is the obvious (and best) example of a super hero movie that got it right, and it gets the credit it deserves and then some.  Watchmen may not be as good, and most certainly has not been as successful, as the Dark Knight, but the majority of comparisons between the two are unfair.  The Dark Knight was the undisputed comic book movie champion before Watchmen even stepped into the ring. 


Maybe we can just blame it on bad timing, but Watchmen has not had the chance to be considered on its own terms.  Then again, that’s how popular culture works.  No entertainment exists in a vacuum; it’s all relative.  However, at least that means that the director’s cut of Watchmen is bound to be considered in relation to the original theatrical version.  Hopefully it will come through on the promise of providing the back-story and character development that the theatrical cut lacks.  Then again, it may ultimately prove that Alan Moore was right all along, and that no film version of Watchmen could ever truly capture the soul of his graphic novel.  Regardless, we can still applaud Snyder’s worthy effort.  It might be as close as anyone could ever get.

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