WATCHMEN: DOES FAITHFULNESS MATTER?
We appreciate adaptations a lot more when they're our first point of contact with a story. While knowledge of the source material can make our entry into an adaptation's world easier, this knowledge interferes without our ability to judge it as a work of art in its own right. "Adaptations should not be judged on fidelity to their source," says Linda Hutcheon, professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, in A Theory of Adaptation.
So, if not total faithfulness, what should they be judged on? The answer is distillation. There is always a danger that the process of adapting something from one medium to another will dilute the original, that something will get lost in translation. While books are private, contemplative experiences, performative mediums have long had a bad reputation for being bigger, brasher and more passive. Nothing should be off-limits to adapters in theory, but in practice, "some kinds of stories and worlds might be more easily adaptable than others," Hutcheon notes.
Zack Snyder's divisive Watchmen adaptation in 2009 is the perfect summation of all of this, proving, as The AV Club's Tom Breihan writes, "you can be faithful to a comic and still miss its whole damn point." Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal deconstruction of the superhero genre was adapted by Snyder with a jarring mix of reverence and confident dismissal of its source. Using the comic as a storyboard, Snyder's impressive panel-to-shot recreations established his version as a superficial remake of Moore and Gibbons' work, only to disestablish this premise by jettisoning anything too literary or divergent from the main plot, which Moore's narrative depends on. In a sense, he was faithful to Gibbons' art, but not Moore's words.
Newcomers can look past this problem, but for us to find value in adaptations and remakes of things we're familiar with, it's important for us to able to understand an adapter's aim -- aside from just financial gain in exploiting a pre-existing fanbase. In the case of Snyder's Watchmen, what we got was neither a straightforward remake or a successful distillation of what made the comic resonate. Nor did Snyder offer his own perspective on the story. Not a pointless adaptation, but certainly an aimless one.