Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is the famous question posed by the Roman poet Juvenal. Translated into English: “Who will guard the guardians?” The question is based on the dilemma faced by Plato in The Republic. In Socrates’ perfect society with laborers, slaves, and tradesmen, the guardian class is entrusted with protecting the city. The question is, “who will protect the people against the protectors?” Plato answers that the guardians will guard against themselves. History has shown us that that is easier said than done.

A variation of Juvenal’s question provides the basis of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ groundbreaking work, Watchmen. I remember when the first issue of the twelve part comic book miniseries came out in 1986. I was an avid comic book reader at the time. Admittedly, I was more a Marvel than D.C. fan, although Batman was—and still is—my favorite character. Watchmen was like nothing I’d ever read before (and I still smack myself in the head for not safekeeping my copies). It changed the landscape of comics and is still the most highly acclaimed work in the medium. It was even included in Time’s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.

The movie adaption opens this Friday, March 6. I await the opening with anticipation and dread, as is usually the case when beloved books are made into movies. There’s always the question of whether the movie will be true to the source material. Yet there is also the problem of the story being dated, not so much it being irrelevant but that in being a twenty-three year old trendsetter the audience has become more accustomed to its progeny. I liken it to a teenager seeing Casablanca for the first time and complaining that it is filled with clichés. Of course, when Casablanca came out it was the trendsetter and created the clichés. My son loves The Incredibles, and that great Pixar film owes much to Watchmen. When he gets old enough to see the Watchmen it may seem old to him. But for us who experienced the miniseries when it first hit comic book shops over two decades ago it will remain timeless.

1 comment:

  1. someone told me it was dark violent and depressing. everything i hate to watch in a film. i await your review! it's also loooong--but we'll probably watch it in imax just for visuals.