When adapting a popular graphic novel for the big screen the director and his team face any number of challenges. Perhaps the most difficult of all is keeping the legion of source material fanboys happy, a feat which often boarders on the impossible.
While an entirely faithful adaptation is simply not always possible due to the wildly different media in which movies and graphic novels operate, the best graphic novel adaptations are always careful to embrace their source material and give heed to what made it popular in the first place.
A small disclaimer at this point. It can be a little tricky to define what constitutes a ‘graphic novel’ and some of those listed below were actually comic book series initially that were then compiled into one whole novel. However, without getting bogged down in definitions, let’s just say I’m only including work based on a specific story-arc that rose to prominence in its graphic novel form.
Not all adaptations need to retain every single element of their original creation right down to their very look (though some of the best ones undeniably do). What really makes a great adaptation is whether they capture the themes, mood and tones the source material sort to convey in the first place.
The six movies selected here differ wildly in terms of their content and especially in their visual style, yet all six are incredibly striking and memorable movies in their own right.
After his own attempt to adapt Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel proved fruitless, Terry Gilliam deemed the story unfilmable. For decades it remained in limbo with four different studios and countless directors and screenwriters attached to it at one stage or another, none of whom were able to put a workable project together. Cut to 2007 and director Zack Snyder, who to date had only the Dawn of the Dead remake and the critically divisive 300 adaptation to his name, finally began filming his long-awaited adaptation of Watchmen and many people were unsure as to whether he’d manage pull it off.
After its release in 2009, not everybody was convinced but for me he did a remarkable job. For the most part, he achieved this by sticking faithfully to the source material wherever possible. No concessions were made to tone down the film’s content to achieve a more family-friendly certificate; this was a subversive superhero movie for adults which combined Cold-War paranoia with an intensely bleak narrative. So much of the film is lifted directly from the novel, including both the dialogue and the visual look found in the comics. Snyder created an impressive, if occasionally cartooney, world where you become immersed in the visceral and disconcerting vision of an alternative reality. Obviously given its release being a good few decades after the Cold War has ended, the movie loses a degree of the political intensity found in the novel, but Snyder still does a great job of creating a sense of impending disaster and of a doomed humanity. The one major change which the director has made to the film’s conclusion does actually make more sense in retrospect and certainly doesn’t detract from the film’s message.
The highlight for me is the wonderful montage crafted over the film’s opening credits which does a perfect job of depicting the historical development of the Watchmen and also the alternative Watchmen universe over the twentieth century, all set to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a Changin’. While some critics saw the strict reverence to the source material as a hindrance, bogging it down in Cold War politics which are perhaps no longer relevant, for me this only helped to immerse the viewer in its unwelcoming vision of human history.