I don’t have much to add to various reactions to the Watchmen film. To put it simply, I enjoyed it far more than I expected to, especially after I found 300 impossible to enjoy as simple dumb fun because it’s dumbness went beyond being simple.
The one thing I have noticed in reading a lot of Watchmen-knowledgeable reviews and commentaries, though, is the presence in those reviews of significant others who had not read the graphic novel back then or now. These accompanying viewers are reported in many cases, to the considerable surprise of their escorts, to have liked the film. I’ll add to that: my wife, with minimal comic book knowledge and no prior reading of the graphic novel, was actually way more enthusiastic than I was (and I thought it was a pretty decent film).
This reaction makes me mindful of the way that geeks married to or dating or related to non-geeks tend to deal with their cultural obsessions in the presence of those others. Gently? Carefully? The decision to expose a normal to a geek experience is often done tremulously and uncertainly.
The strangest reaction of all, however, is not, “I don’t get it”. It’s, “That was GREAT”, where the positive reaction doesn’t involve an embrace of the total cultural penumbra around the work or experience but just the work itself. (Bob Rehak has a great description of all the talk and viewing and buzz that precedes the arrival of a pop cultural work, calling it the “cometary halo”.)
The reason that’s the most uncomfortable experience at all is that it raises sharp questions about geekery itself. Is this film or show or book great in and of itself? Do you need any metatextual knowledge to like it? Is the metatextual knowledge actually screwing with my ability to enjoy the experience myself? Immediately after the film, I’m fielding questions about Silk Spectre I and Hollis Mason and Mothman and the missing Squid and so on. This is gleeful on one hand, and on the other, how discomforting to know that you don’t need to know any of it to have a great time seeing the film.
Of course, this goes for all cultural criticism in some measure, not just geek popular culture. What’s missed if you read and love a 19th Century novel or a Shakespeare play and that’s the alpha and omega of your experience? Maybe nothing at all: maybe that’s the sign of the greatest hope that a cultural critic could ever have, that someone can come to that culture without having their hands held and yet have questions afterwards that you can step in to answer. But it worries a bit that you’re the one reserved, holding back, fretting about the problem of transmedial adaptation or about whether the change in the ending matters or whether the film’s literalism is a good thing or a bad thing.
On the other hand: geek and non-geek agreement that Malin Akerman did a pretty crappy acting job as Silk Spectre II, while Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson were damn great as Rorschach and Nite Owl II, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian was also impressive.