The Film Adaptations of Alan Moore’s Graphic Novels

Trying to create a compelling movie based on a popular comic book is an incredibly difficult task. It seems that comic book movies, for the most part, are cursed: a complex and multi-faceted graphic novel is almost never adapted well for the silver screen. One major criticism of the upcoming Watchmen movie is that there is no way the movie will be able to encapsulate the myriad details of the comic.

Alan Moore, writer of the Watchmen comic, is famous for his disdain of all Hollywood films based on his graphic novels. He refuses to see them on principle. In a recent article in the Telegraph, Moore stated how much he hated Hollywood, and what they do to literature: “They take an idea, bowdlerize it, blow it up, make it infantile and spend $100 million to give people a brief escape from their boring and often demeaning lives at work. It’s obscene and it’s offensive…I find film in its modern form to be quite bullying. It spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination. It is as if we are freshly hatched birds looking up with our mouths open waiting for Hollywood to feed us more regurgitated worms. The Watchmen film sounds like more regurgitated worms. I for one am sick of worms.”

In honor of the release of the Watchmen movie on March 6, here’s a primer on the other movies based on the comics of Alan Moore:

Swamp Thing: Wes Craven directed a more horror-centric version of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing in 1982. Although not technically Moore’s creation, most comic book fans agree that Moore’s turn as writer during the revamped 2nd Swamp Thing series was the definitive incarnation of the character. While Moore’s version was a horror comic, it was was also a complex dialog on environmental and spiritual issues, which Craven’s film did not explore in depth.

Constantine: Constantine’s first appearance was in Saga of the Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore. Featuring Keanu Reeves as occult detective John Constantine, this 2005 film was released to mixed reviews. By contrast, the comic book John Constantine: Hellblazer is highly acclaimed, and has featured many great comic writers including Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Brian Azzarello.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Universally panned by critics, this 2003 film starred Sean Connery, and was heavily marketed under the “hip” title LXG. It was a flop, in part because of deviations from the source material. In an attempt to make the film more “youth-friendly”, they introduced Tom Sawyer, a character not seen in the original comic. Additionally, there were two other major characters added to the original League, making for an unbalanced storyline. Sean Connery evidently had a running feud with the director. When the film’s director didn’t show up for the premiere party, a guest asked Connery where he could be. “Check the local asylum,” quipped Connery. Overall, the movie is lots of big dumb fun, and is a huge deviation from the literary elegance found in Moore’s original work.

From Hell: Unlike most movies on this list, From Hell actually garnered many favorable reviews. With great performances from Ian Holm and Johnny Depp, and wonderful cinematography, many fans enjoyed this adaptation. Alan Moore purists argue that despite Depp’s solid performance, the movie lacked the richness of detail found in the graphic novel, and glossed over or omitted many characters and plot points. Overall, the film is considered one of the better Alan Moore-based movies, although it wasn’t exactly a box office smash.

V for Vendetta: This Natalie Portman vehicle opened to mixed reviews in 2005, and has developed something of a cult following. Dealing with heavy themes including terrorism, totalitarianism, and sexuality, the film also masterfully creates tense action scenes. However, once again Moore was dissatisfied with the attempt to bring the graphic novel to the big screen. In order to condense the dense graphic novel into a movie of reasonable length (and update the film for contemporary audiences to make a point about the political climate on 2005, Moore felt that the original story was lost. Instead of being a political story about the conflict between fascism and anarchy, the film had become a commentary on the conflict between liberalism and neo-conservatism, with a decidedly American point of view.


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