Embalming the Watchmen


With its array of carefully crafted oddballs and interconnected plot lines, Alan Moore's celebrated 1986–87 graphic novel Watchmen reads like a superhero story filtered through Dickens. And just as Dickens' best work probed the social problems of his day, Watchmen was aimed at flaws in the era's comic books: unchallenging narratives, flat characters, simplistic morality.

Zack Snyder's movie adaptation, which hit theaters in March and is now available in an extended director's cut edition on DVD (the real home these days for any cinematic auteur's vision), is packed with meticulous reproductions of the book's many iconic scenes. Visually, it may be the most faithful movie version of a comic book ever made. But even in its newly expanded form, which reinserts a number of the comic's key scenes, Snyder's fanboy fidelity comes across as pointlessly worshipful literalism with nothing fresh to say. Robbed of its original context, Watchmen is not so much a movie as a cinematic waxwork.