Who Watches The Watchmen? I Know I Will...
I'm a huge comic book geek. As such, it was impossible for me to not be giddy when I heard that Zack Snyder (the director of "300") was tackling what is considered as one of the most complex graphic novels ever written: Watchmen.
Written by comic book legend Alan Moore and illustrated with great detail by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins, this 300+ page epic is loaded with social commentary, well-developed characters, and a plot that would make your head spin.
In other words, it's the real deal-a classic that (in my opinion) should be studied in schools as a fine example of not only storytelling, and proof that "comic books" aren't just for little Billy anymore. In fact, I wouldn't let a kid read this thing-it's quite serious, violent, and just plain difficult at times.
In a nutshell, the plot revolves around what would happen to the world if a real, honest-to-God superhero actually existed. How history would change according to the new rules that such a being would entail. And how individuals would seek to improve themselves and society by becoming masked heroes.
Tackling it as a film takes some cajones. And assuring a built-in fan base that you're doing your best to adapt such a complex work into a different medium takes quite the ad campaign. Top that challenge off with maintaining the tone of the graphic novel-which is a pretty hard "R" rating, and you're already dealing with the issue of negating half of your "superhero" audience: kids. As I mentioned above, this is a story for adults.
So how do you raise consumer awareness of such a strange hybrid of film, comforting the existing fan base while also striving to garner a new audience? You experiment with some seriously unique advertising, that's how.
First we'll start with the stuff that geeks like me are familiar with. As a HUGE fan of this story, I'm obviously quite familiar in the iconic imagery drawn by Dave Gibbons. To prove my geek-love, here's a picture of me and my second copy of The Watchmen graphic novel (the first was loaned to somebody, who then moved-I'll track them down eventually... Mark my words. Revenge will be mine. Or at least I'll get a free beer... I'm not a violent person, so a beer would be nice...).
Okay, now that you've seen me in my geeky glory, let's take a look at the stuff that set my fears of a bad adaptation to rest. The first thing that I saw was this poster:
Note how the color scheme and layout match the original graphic novel in tone. That was a good sign.
Then I saw the trailer and pretty much freaked out:
I had the same reaction as the guy at the end of the ad. Mind-blowing and... I hesitate to say this... but aside from a few costume changes, the stuff in the commercial looks like it was plucked out of the graphic novel. Another good sign, as some directors like to "re-imagine" the universe that they are playing around in. This can lead to alienating your existing fan base-and that's a big "no-no."
Then we get to the viral part of the campaign, ads that are for products manufactured in the universe of the movie itself. This same technique was utilized to some extend for one of the other great superhero films-you know... that little Batman movie that came out last year.
Watchmen director Zack Snyder invited fans to create their own commercials for products that appear throughout the movie; these commercials would then be used as background images in the film itself. I found this an interesting and innovative technique to get some low-cost imagery to support the movie and involve the built-in fan base.
The Veidt Enterprises Advertising Contest generated some very appropriate commercials; quite authentic-right down to the use of cheesy 1980s music.
Then there's The Keene Act documentary. For those of you who have not yet read the graphic novel, The Keene Act essentially outlaws the activities of "superheroes," rendering them powerless to fight crime. This fake documentary looks great:
This was followed by clips from the film leaked slowly out to now salivating fans (like me). Tell me this doesn't get your blood flowing from the amount of ass-kickery being dealt out to the bad guys. Yeah, that's right. I said ass-kickery:
OUCH! This clip made me very happy, of course. Even if I'm non-violent, kicking evil in the butt is always a good thing.
But, in my opinion, the Minute Men online arcade game is one of the more unique advertising gimmicks that I've seen in a while. The Minute Men were the precursors to the Watchmen, sort of the Golden Age crime fighters.
The game is essentially a throwback to the scrolling fighters of the 1980s, such as Double Dragon (I think that's what it was called--I'm a rickety old man, so my memory isn't what it used to be... Well, okay... I'm not that old, but I am rickety). The graphics are appropriately pixilated and the music is as cheesy as it gets. It made me feel like a kid again.
And in this day and age, that's not easy.
You can purchase the graphic novel at Amazon. The film premieres on March 6. And I, for one, will be there.