As I continue to watch and review movies, I'm continually amazed at the amount of skill, persistence, and imagination that goes into them well before any scene is put on film. And with Watchmen coming to theaters on March 6, 2009 and the style of the original material as a graphic novel, I knew the process involved with taking it from paper to screen was going to be a journey of inspired imagination and hard work. The book Watchmen: The Art of the Film only reinforces that the artists and creative people involved were at the top of their game.
With any Watchmen-related article, you have to start with the original material. In 1986, the 12-issue series of Watchmen comic books was created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins. DC Comics published the series as individual issues during 1986 and 1987. When it completed its run, the issues were collected into a graphic novel that has inspired many an aspiring writer or comic book artist to new heights over the last 20+ years.
The Watchmen story is set in an alternate world where superheroes exist in a modified 1980s timeframe. The introduction of superheroes changed many things in that timeline, including the outcome of the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard Nixon. Only one of the superheroes of the time had any real super-powers (Doctor Manhattan), and the rest were costumed crime fighters who relied on courage, strength, brains, and the tools they could create to get the job done.
Zack Snyder, who also took the graphic novel 300 to the big screen in spectacular fashion in 2007, tackled Alan Moore's sprawling epic that has been mentioned over and over again as unfilmable. Snyder took it as a challenge, and we will see the results on March 6th.
The book Watchmen: The Art of the Film includes scores of designs, photos, sketches, props, storyboards, and conceptual art from all phases of pre-production and production. This book has it all.
Though there is limited text in places written by Peter Aperlo, the book is mostly a collection of photos of various stages of development of different costumes, props, sets, and so on. As such, you see things change from initial sketches to final product, which gives you a glimpse into the minds of these amazingly creative people working on an impossible task.
What fascinated me as I went through the book was the level of detail. When you look at a modern setpiece, you can often see where corners were cut to keep costs down. So perhaps a wall is simply a painted hunk of plywood, or a window opens into a green screen that will be filled in during post-production CGI work. But the sets of Watchmen seem to be unbelievably detailed, including 1970s and 1980s inspired posters on walls and the dingy brick walls of a society collapsing on its heroes. It's as though the world of the graphic novel truly came to life. They extrapolated the world between the panels into something that I hope will transport us there when we see the final product on the big screen.