Fan Film, Fan Films

Who Watches The Watchmen Fan Films?

watchmen coverWatchmen is a relic of the 1980s, but unlike your secret stash of Gloria Estefan tapes, it’s stood the test of time. A collaboration between writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins, the limited comic book series about decommissioned superheroes was quickly collected into graphic novel format where it has since become a classic. Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof once called it “the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced,” and sometimes I think he might be right. No less an authority on great storytelling than Jude Law—an actor who knows a thing or two about great works thanks to films like Gattaca, eXistenZ, Sky Captain, Alfie, The Holiday…I could go on, but I won’t—once remarked “Watchmen changed my life.” Clearly Moore has a lot to answer for there, but the point (and there really is one) is that if you’re looking for a graphic novel to give to someone who thinks that comics are not “real” literature, Watchmen (and more recently Craig Thompson’s Blankets) is pretty much your first stop.

Today, Watchmen reads like an impossibly dark revision of The Incredibles, or a season of Heroes set 30 years from now. Both the TV show and the comic deal with “what if there were superheroes in reality,” but whereas the series follows people discovering their abilities, Watchmen looks at folks who’ve been working the superpower beat for a few decades: They’re scarred holdovers from another time and place, more likely to destroy the world than save it (kinda like those Gloria Estefan tapes).

Naturally, it’d make for a great movie, and plenty of people have tried. Terry Gilliam (Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys), David Hayter (screenwriter for the first two X-Men movies), Darren Aronfosky (π, The Fountain) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93) have all been lined up to direct at some point or another, and Zach Snyder (300) is currently in the theoretical driver’s seat.

alan mooreMoore, on the other hand, hates movies being made from his comics (The upside: From Hell; The downside: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and told Entertainment Weekly in 2005, “David Hayter’s screenplay was as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen. That said, I shan’t be going to see it. My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel. A comic book. It’s been made in a certain way. And designed to be read a certain way: in an armchair, nice and cozy next to a fire, with a steaming cup of coffee. Personally I think that would make for a lovely Saturday night.”

(I can sympathize, because I feel that my blog is designed to be read a certain way: aloud by an angry gym teacher to his class on dodgeball day—somehow, getting pegged in the head with a big, red, rubber ball 30 to 40 times makes the jokes a lot funnier. Or not.)

Well, after 20 years of development hell, the movie is reportedly on track to be filmed this year and released in 2008, using Snyder’s own rewrite of Hayter’s screenplay. But this is an open 24/7, instant gratification, “I want it now” world we live in today, where anything is a mouse-click away, and after 20 years, another 14 months is far too long to wait for a movie. More importantly, this is a site about fan films, so as far as we’re concerned, the wait is over—at least if you just want to see a few bits and pieces. Let’s take a look at three Watchmen flicks.

Perhaps the most striking thing about any of them is that while most non-parody fan films tend to be sequels, prequels or “sidebars” to the works they pay homage to, Watchmen fan flicks (so far) come direct from the comic. However, since the story is so long (When Gilliam was set to direct, he wanted to make it an 8- to 12-hour miniseries), you don’t get a shoe-boxed version of the entire epic story—you get a few tasty crumbs instead.

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Watchmen, Page 5 is exactly what it says it is: a 2-minute recreation of page 5, albeit with narration grabbed word-for-word from page 24. Produced by Bryant Hodson as a project for a high school filmmaking class, the short is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. For comparison’s sake, there’s the “Page 5″ in question on the left, and the movie; go take a look and I’ll see you in two minutes.
watchmen page 5

Not bad, eh? Pretty much WYSIWYG filmmaking; I’d doubt if even Moore could quibble with that one. The only real complaint that Hodson has gotten from viewers is that they want more, so he’s now started in on another Watchmen short; it’ll be interesting to see where he picks up the story. For those who are curious, here’s a short, informative interview with Hodson on the piece, and you can find his website at

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Not much is known about , other than what can be discerned from the credits on the short, now appearing on YouTube. While it does sport some nicely done moments, most noticeably The Comedian plummeting to the sidewalk and the appearance of Dr. Manhattan’s lil’ home away from home (shown below), the trailer is rather disjointed.

watchmen trailerFirst, the editing. Cutting is all about the order (and sometimes disorder) of images, but it also has a lot to do with timing. The gaps between clips at the start of the trailer create a touch of tension and unease, so they make their point…but then they club it like a baby seal. The gaps go on so long, you start to wonder if YouTube’s streaming stalled. As for the images themselves, aside from the high-points mentioned before, there’s not a lot that seems to have specifically been created for the trailer, other than a few bits and bobs like the kid reading The Black Freighter. As a result, the use of a general wash of images in lieu of anything narrative to grab hold of makes the pseudo-trailer rather ineffective. The point of a trailer, after all, is to make you want to see a movie, and most often, that’s done with a few key scenes or images. You don’t get that here, so even though it’s a fake trailer, it doesn’t succeed at selling you on the non-existent movie either.

Musically, the short has the same problem—a few good ideas, but so-so execution. The use of eastern instrumentation for the Dr. Manhattan clips is intriguing and would make for an interesting contrast if it was up against something other than the blurry techno adorning the rest of the short. Electronica is the soundtrack of our age (watched a car ad recently?), but a Watchmen movie deserves something epic and sweeping rather than a few blips.

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watchmensceneIf seeing the comic come to life in 2-minute doses just whets your appetite, you may want to dig into the short , which clocks in at 10 minutes. From the start, the filmmakers want to convey one thing: Class. As the opening credits role, Dan Dreiberg (formerly Night Owl) walks the city streets alone at night while the music of Miles Davis plays softly, tastefully setting the mood. Dreiberg looks mournful, lost in his memories as he walks…and walks…and walks. If he walks any further, he’s gonna wind up in the next state. Almost two and a half minutes go by, and yet nothing happens; hey, what do you think this is—Superman Returns?

Once they get to the actual movie, it’s not bad. The scene takes place only a few pages after Watchmen, Page 5, as Dreiberg walks into his kitchen to find that his old compatriot, Rorschach, has broken in, helped himself to some baked beans straight from the can, and wants to talk. For the most part, Adam Perry nails the innocuous, trifling Dreiberg, only wavering a bit towards the end. The scene, not the most dynamic in Watchmen, is presented accurately, if somewhat antiseptically. There’s no reason why even this, a simple conversation between two people, can’t get a little visual excitement; even a hackneyed trick like a Dutch angle would be welcome after a few minutes.

The one LOL moment of the flick, however, comes early into the conversation, when Rorschach tosses the famed, iconic smiley button to Dreiberg. Rather than spring for a bonafide Watchmen smiley button, available at comic shops everywhere—or even just a regular smiley button—the filmmakers have Rory toss a smile-face tag from a pair of JoeBoxer shorts. Necessity is the mother of invention, and fan films are always examples of just that, but the absurdity is just too damn funny.

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If the “real” Watchmen movie finally appears, and further, if it happens to be good, then the number of fan films based on the comic will surely rise, but for now, here’s three occasionally flawed—but very watchable—visions of a masterpiece. Who watches the Watchmen? Maybe you should.

Watchmen, Page 5

Watchmen: The Trailer


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