An infrequently updated dumping ground for one culture junkie's thoughts on film and whatever else

Friday, January 30, 2009

A reckless, unreliable prognostication

So far, most of the chit-chat about the upcoming Watchmen adaptation has centered on two things: (1) the legal horse-race between Fox and Warner Bros over ownership rights, and (2) the question of whether or not the movie will, like, totally suck.

I'm not really interested in that question, since I'm neither fanboyish enough to get defensive of the comic nor gullible enough to be taken in by the movie's faux-prestige hype (the best part is when the trailer tells us that Zack Snyder is a "visionary"—what a fucking joke). But there is an idea that's been rolling around in my mind-grapes, that I haven't really heard proposed anywhere, and so I'm gonna lay a bold prediction on you. It probably won't come true, but on the slim chance that it does, you heard it here first:

I think that Watchmen could be a disastrous commercial flop.

Okay, maybe not "disastrous." I shouldn't push my luck here. But I think there's a real possibility that the movie could seriously underperform at the box office. And if it does, that could be a major game-changer in this whole superhero new wave that won't go away. A couple of points to support this claim:

Superhero fatigue is bound to set in sooner or later. There's no way the American public is going to eat this stuff up continuously for all eternity; it's only a matter of which movie will push them over the edge. I submit that that movie could well be Watchmen. 2008 was an almost absurdly loaded year for superhero fare, and after the record-breaking success of The Dark Knight the only way to go is down. The "fatigue" phenomenon isn't new; it happened with Vietnam War movies in the '80s, when America was so burned out on Vietnam that it almost totally ignored Brian De Palma's Casualties of War, despite the fact that the film starred one of the biggest box-office draws of the decade in Michael J Fox.

The vast majority of movie-going Americans are not inherently interested in superheroes or revisionism thereof. Watchmen is banking on the notion that people are "ready" for Alan Moore's deconstruction because of the success of all these Marvel and DC films. But you know what? People don't go to those movies to see "superheroes." They go because they want to see big summer action flicks with famous movie stars in them doing cool stuff and playing recognizable, culturally iconic characters. And let's get real: Watchmen ain't got either the stars or the iconic characters. I mean, the biggest name in the cast is Billy Crudup, and while Mr. Crudup is a very good actor, he doesn't exactly put asses in the seats. The only movie so far with non-established superheroes to do well was Hancock—and that was Will Smith, the biggest movie star in the world, on his annually-pwned 4th-of-July weekend. Something tells me we're not going to be seeing any McDonald's tie-in deals with little Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl happy meal toys. The mainstream appeal of superheroes, insofar as there is any, is about brand recognition. There's really nothing to hook in non-fanboy viewers here, except for a massive ad campaign, but that didn't work for Speed Racer and I don't think it'll work here.

I'm probably wrong. But what if I'm right?

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