The Good: Great pictures, Decent writing, Good character explorations
The Bad: Short for the price
The Basics: Insightful and well-assembled for those who have seen the film Watchmen, Watchmen: The Film Companion is a decent read with great pictures.
When Watchmen hit theaters last year and became a rightful hit, there was a lot of merchandising that went with it. The graphic novel Watchmen (click here for my review!) was complex and wonderful, but arguably marred by some form issues that made it flow poorly in spots. On the big screen - it's a shame there are so few IMAX prints of it! - the film version of Watchmen (reviewed here!) is a legitimate hit and will arguably keep film scholars talking for the next decade. With all that attention comes a lot of film-related swag.
As I have been eagerly awaiting the film Watchmen and had been lucky enough to see it early, I have been hesitant to write too much about a lot of the merchandise for fear that I might slip up and write something that revealed too much about the movie. Now that the film is out, I feel less constrained and I thought to begin my reviews of Watchmen merchandise with the book Watchmen: The Film Companion.
Watchmen: The Film Companion is a book that is 176 pages in its oversized softcover form. The identical book is available in hardcover and there is no substantive difference inside in the content. At $19.95, the book is clearly trying to capitalize on the hysteria and dazzle surrounding the film and likely it will be on discount racks everywhere any day now.
Watchmen: The Film Companion is a collection of hundreds of glossy, full-color shots from the Watchmen film with a few comic book panels thrown in. Peter Aperlo, who wrote the book, was granted unparalleled access to the set to document actors, props, costumes and sets in order to create a written accompaniment to the film that does more than simply retell the story of Watchmen. It is worth noting, though that at the very least, the film companion is intended to be read only by those who have at the very least read the graphic novel. Because of that, Aperlo feels free to include pictures of characters in positions some might find surprising. The easiest example of this is that pictures are included of the Comedian's assassin in that character's section. Those who want to go into Watchmen clean and not have any major spoilers ruined for the murder mystery or conspiracy aspects will not want to read or even leaf through Watchmen: The Film Companion before seeing the movie.
Similarly, those who are fans of the graphic novel and want to avoid reading about what changes were made between the book and the film will want to avoid this book before seeing the movie. The reason for this is simple; if one is smart enough to understand Watchmen, one is smart enough to notice what is omitted in this very thorough film companion.
That said, the Companion is truly impressive for the ground it covers in chronicling the transition of Watchmen from comic book to screen. After a series of beautiful full-page images of the six main characters from the film (Rorschach, Nite Owl, Ozymandais, the Comedian, Silk Spectre II, and Dr. Manhattan) the book details the preproduction process for the Watchmen film. Including storyboards, pictures of early props and discussing the casting process, Aperlo chronicles well the work and care director Zach Snyder put into making the movie. He has detailed pictures of the costumes for the major characters as well as set pieces for New York City and the NORAD bunker. He also offers great details on how New York City was recreated without filming in the City!
Aperlo then spends some time with introducing the timeline and world Watchmen takes place in, which is useful more to those who are watching the movie than those who read the book. This section is decent in that it takes the time to explore the history of the Minutemen and basically spells out what the film covers in the opening credit sequence explicitly for those who want to just stick with the movie and not read the graphic novel. As a result, it also makes explicit the Keane Act, which is mentioned and danced around with little detail in the film.
Chapter three is a full series of dossiers on each of the main characters in Watchmen (the film). In addition to having several pages of pictures and character descriptions as well as interviews with the actors portraying them (this might be the best part of the book for readers and viewers!), this section highlights the psychology of each character. This is a grail for film buffs and Watchmen fans alike as they get information like Jeffrey Dean Morgan discussing portraying the Comedian: "I don't want to be friendly with anybody in the course of these scenes . . . the Comedian's not very friendly to anybody" (62). Rorchach's section includes rare pictures of him unmasked as well. In addition to the principle six characters, Silk Spectre I, Nite Owl I, Moloch, Nixon and Big Figure get a few pages each. As well, some of the characters who appear only in the opening credits, like Hooded Justice, Dollar Bill, Silhouette, Captain Metropolis, Mothman and the villains they fought are given a page each with beautiful big pictures.
The next chapter is all about the production process for the film and it is one of the only sections that includes pictures that are not already flying wildly around the internet. These have behind-the-scenes shots of stunt training and fight sequences that go by exceptionally fast in the movie. As well, this section includes graphic novel artist David Gibbons' trip to the set and pictures of where he signed prop pieces! The post-production chapter illustrates how all of the bluescreen shots were integrated to make a real look to everything. If nothing else impresses readers and viewers, it ought to be reading the detail of effects necessary to make Rorschach's mask move with constantly-changing ink blots. After discussing some of the other post-production elements like the music and score, there is a chapter devoted solely to the special effects surrounding Dr. Manhattan and that section is absolutely fascinating.
For those unfamiliar with Watchmen, the graphic novel and movie are both graphic and Watchmen: The Film Companion maintains that tradition. As a result, there is some male nudity in this book, but considering the film is a hard "R," this is unsurprising to most.
In the end, Watchmen: The Film Companion does exactly what it promises, offering an inside look at the film and the creation of it for those who might not want to read the graphic novel, but want a little something more than just watching the movie.
For other Watchmen merchandise, please check out my reviews of:
Watchmen Portraits by Clay Enos
Dr. Manhattan limited edition action figure
Kubricks Watchmen Set B
For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.