OK, so if you’ve been hanging out in geeky circles and in chat-rooms the past several weeks, you’ve obviously been hearing about the same awesome thing over and over again, with rave reviews and ululations of delight emitting from people’s oral cavities and keyboards.
That thing, of course, is Joss Whedon’s mini-series Dr. Horrible, which hopefully you caught while it was free between July 13th and July 20th.
Seen it? Good. There’s also that other awesome thing you’ve been hearing about over and over again, etc., which is the Watchmen Trailer and the topic of today’s blog.
“Watched” it yet? Great!
Before I get into the content of the trailer itself, a word on the discourse of its reception. “Discourse!?” you yell, arming yourself against the approaching Foucauldian logic of Ivory Tower cultural studies. Fear not! Discourse is merely the socially accepted boundary of what can be said about any given word and/or topic. The word itself is actually derived from the chariot racetrack in Roman arenas which served also as the boundary between spectator and spectacle, demarcating what is to be within the bounds of the games and what is out-of-bounds. It is perfectly OK within the socio-linguistic discourse of “movies,” for example, to say “I like all movies” or “those movies all suck bad” or “I haven’t seen movies in my life” or “You only find that in the movies,” whereas it’s outside the discourse to say “I would like to wear a size 32 movies for pants this summer.”
So, the sensible discourse of the Watchmen trailer among geek circles seems to revolve around two particular positions. These are the following:
* “Having read the graphic novel, seeing the Watchmen trailer has delivered untold anticipatory bliss unto me, because the shots in the trailer resemble iconic panels and pages from the original graphic novel. Say, I kind of want to re-read it!”
* “Having not read the the graphic novel, seeing the Watchmen trailer has caused some of my friends who have read the graphic novel to collapse into paroxysms of joy, and thus made me curious about it. Say, I kind of want to read it!”
A variation on these two positions is one of slight trepidation:
* “Regardless of whether or not I’ve read the graphic novel, I sure hope they don’t ruin it with cheesy CG and green screen effects.”
And of course, the control position, meaning you’re not THAT type of geek:
* “I say unto this trailer and film whatever.”
So there you have it: people are curiously either looking at the trailer and connecting it with fondly recalled images from Alan Moore’s graphic novel masterpiece, or are looking at their friends looking at the trailer and wanting to discern about what all the fuss is. Both are given the assignment of attaining – to use Pierre Bourdieu’s term – more “cultural capital” over non-geeks and the apathetic geeks by grabbing the nearest copy of Watchmen and poring it over. This is partly due to the fact that, because of its brilliant and yet internally-resolved conflict narrative, there are not a lot of cultural references to this graphic novel in the mainstream. Unlike works like Sandman or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Ghost World, which have had enough public exposure for an average geek-inclined schmuck to intimate what it entails, Watchmen the graphic novel has literally remained a graphic novel connoisseur’s graphic novel. How many people would know what you’re referencing if you allude to “the death of the Comedian” or “Dr. Manhattan’s Martian glass castle” in conversation. No, the rush on the graphic novel and the ecstatic reaction to the trailer are a result of a repressed comic book insiders’ work for adults finally coming out of its shell into cinema form… and presented in a manner respectful to the original. The discourse of the trailer has been shaped by the film’s marketing group rightfully wanting to distinguish the insiders from those “wannabe” insiders.
The trailer has had a remarkable effect of both creating a highly anticipated film and generating considerable interest in its original source material to the benefit of both Warner Bros. and DC Comics… *ahem* AOL Time Warner, which owns them under one nifty umbrella. The company has accumulated a rather sizable nest egg of $700 million profit from Batman: The Dark Knight alone this year, and is actually moving the largely finished Watchmen and Harry Potter: The Half-Blooded Prince films to slots in next year’s line-up due to the fact that the writer’s strike has left them a little thin for material next year. What this also means is the primary Batman demographic – white males aged 18-35, most likely working in computers or engineering and at least tacit followers of comic books – will need to be picked up by the Watchmen film, especially because this demographic cannot anticipate product from the rival Marvel Studios in 2009 (the 2nd Iron Man movie, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers aren’t scheduled until Spring 2010). And with such a well-constructed trailer, Watchmen will put butts in theater seats, just as 300, Sin City, and V for Vendetta did before it. Ever wonder why the Batman movie was so dark this summer? Look no further than the market research surrounding the previous films.
It is also no accident that Smashing Pumpkins’ “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” is the iconic song for the trailer. Given the overwhelming Geek Buffet fandom for Smashing Pumpkins, I think Warner Bros. hit the proper mixture of angst for the future and introverted geekdom that the generation who grew up with the Smashing Pumpkins experienced.
I will make SPOILER-filled comments if anyone is interested in discussing the comparison of shots in the trailer to those in the graphic novel, as I definitely have thoughts on that.
-posted by guyintheblackhat