Watchmen (2009 motion comic)

Posted: July 21, 2014 in DC, Watchmen

2009 was supposed to be the year of Watchmen. In the summer of 2008 (right before Comic-Con) the trailer for the long-awaited film adaptation was released to insane levels of excitement from the fan community. Almost immediately, sales of the graphic novel skyrocketed putting it back into the New York Times best sellers list. Not bad for a 22 year old comic book. DC and Warner Bros. geared up the merchandising machine and cranked out new reissues of the book, a toyline, memorabilia, a videogame, a photography book and a motion comic.

Right away, I want you to know that I am going to be spending very little time discussing the plot or characters of this story. It’s essentially identical to the original comic and if you haven’t read that already, you really should. Overall, the purpose of this blog will be to look at the similarities and differences between mediums (page to screen, etc.). When there are no real differences in visuals, characters or plotting, discussing similarities becomes pointless. Thus, a more in-depth discussion of the story will take place during the Watchmen film write-up.

Soft focus in comics feels oddly unnatural, but makes sense.

Motion comics are a relatively new form of comic media. Although early comic-based cartoons used a similar approach. Essentially, it’s the actual art from a comic book that is moved around and manipulated to mimic animation. Early motion comics typically only featured sound cues and music while the panels were simply scanned exactly how they looked on the page. They were then given narration and voice actors to portray the characters. The Watchmen adaptation isn’t the first in the field (that would be Broken Saints) but it’s early enough that it lacks some of the refinement that later motion comics achieved. That said, it does experiment a bit with perspective and some rudimentary movement. Most often, focus is used within a panel so that your attention is fixed on what’s important in the scene. It’s interesting to see something like that in a comic, where it sticks out and seems rather obvious, as opposed to a film where it’s used with such regularity that the average person doesn’t even notice it.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this particular piece of media is the voice cast. The story of Watchmen has dozens of characters, all of which have very different mannerisms, styles of speaking and tones of voice. This adaptation features a cast of exactly one actor. Tom Stechschulte plays every single character in this story as well as the narrator. He plays Dan Dreiberg, he plays Rorschach, he plays Dr. Manhattan and he plays Silk Spectre (both of them). Let that sink in for a second. He does a decent job and he has quite a range on his voice, but at the end of the day you’re listening to a dude talk to himself for 2 and a half hours. At best, it sounds like a kid playing with his G.I. Joe’s when none of his friends are able to come over. At worst, it resembles the insane rantings of a dissociative identity disorder sufferer while locked in a padded cell. There’s just no getting around it. The more you try to forget that it’s just one guy, the more you notice the similar tones or inflections that each voice has, it’s really kind of maddening. In some scenes this can get a bit uncomfortable as well, like when Laurie and Dan are getting intimate. Hearing a guy voice a male and female in a love scene is a special kind of weird.

I said initially that 2009 was supposed to be the year of Watchmen. Those who follow such things know that, in fact, it was not. Despite the seemingly undying hype, the film was released to little fanfare from critics and fans. And the studio’s marketing juggernaut quickly lost steam due to a variety of reasons. The general public didn’t have a whole lot of interest in a depressing epic about superheroes’ private lives and even less interest in refrigerator magnets with Ozymandias’s face on them. Add to that the overabundance of merchandise and quality issues with some items (the video game, The End is Nigh, is borderline unplayable) and it’s a wonder that this movie isn’t regarded the same way as Star Wars: Episode 1 in the public’s consciousness. As such, the motion comic was largely ignored or quickly forgotten by the average consumer. While it’s not exactly amazing, it is a valiant attempt and noticeable step in the right direction for the media. I, myself, rather enjoy motion comics and like watching them progress. If only they could have hired a full cast.

Starring Tom Stechschulte! With Special guest, Tom Stechschulte!

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