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HERO COMPLEX

Go Hollywood? Never

Alan Moore detests film, yet his comics have been welcome on screen. 'Watchmen'? He won't be watching.

September 19, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

For the record, Alan Moore has not softened his view on Hollywood or its plan to bring his classic graphic novel "Watchmen" -- a dystopian epic that deconstructs the superhero genre -- to the screen this spring.

"I find film in its modern form to be quite bullying," Moore told me during an hourlong phone call from his home in England. "It spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination. It is as if we are freshly hatched birds looking up with our mouths open waiting for Hollywood to feed us more regurgitated worms. The 'Watchmen' film sounds like more regurgitated worms. I, for one, am sick of worms. Can't we get something else? Perhaps some takeout? Even Chinese worms would be a nice change."

Moore is often described as a recluse, but, really, I think it's more precise to say he simply is too busy at his writing desk. "Yes, perhaps I should get out more," he said with a chuckle. The 54-year-old iconoclast is everything his longtime readers would expect -- articulate, witty, obstinate and enigmatic. Far from grouchy, he gets an edge in his voice only when he talks about the effect of Hollywood on the comics medium that he so memorably energized in the 1980s with "Saga of the Swamp Thing," "V for Vendetta" and, of course, "Watchmen," his 1986 masterpiece. The Warner Bros. film version of "Watchmen" is due in March, but it has encountered turbulence with a lawsuit over who has the rights to the property. Moore, who does not control the movie rights, has no intention of seeing the film and has asked that his name be left off of it; he also hints he has put a dark spell over the endeavor.

"Will the film even be coming out? There are these legal problems now, which I find wonderfully ironic," Moore said. "Perhaps it's been cursed from afar, from England. And I can tell you that I will also be spitting venom all over it for months to come."

Moore said all that with more mischievous glee than true malice, but I know it will still probably pain "Watchman" director Zack Snyder when he reads it. Snyder, the director of "300," absolutely adores the work of Moore and has been laboring intensely to bring "Watchmen" to the screen with faithful sophistication. But I don't think there's any way to win Moore over. The writer said he has never watched any of the adaptations of his comics (which have included "V for Vendetta" and "From Hell") and that he believes "Watchmen" is "inherently unfilmable." He also rues the effect of Hollywood's siren call on the contemporary comics.

"There are three or four companies now that exist for the sole purpose of creating not comics but storyboards for films," he said. "It may be true that the only reason the comic book industry now exists is for this purpose, to create characters for movies, board games and other types of merchandise. Comics are just a sort of pumpkin patch growing franchises that might be profitable for the ailing movie industry."

There is one film that Moore is supporting right now. It's the Sept. 30 DVD release titled "The Mindscape of Alan Moore," an artfully executed documentary built entirely around Moore sitting in his somewhat spooky living room and ruminating about art, storytelling, magic and culture. The movie was made by Dez Vylenz, who was still a student at the London International Film School when he sent Moore a letter expressing interest in creating a documentary film on the writer as his senior project.

In the film, Moore makes it clear that he believes magic and storytelling are inherently linked. This documentary is not the compelling success that "Crumb" was, but, like that 1994 film by Terry Zwigoff, it will leave casual viewers with the impression that some of the more peculiar geniuses of our day gravitate to comics.

Moore sometimes wears metallic talons, describes himself as an anarchist and, in the past, has told interviewers that he worships an ancient Roman snake god. But what's really unusual about him is that he seems to be the very last creator in comics who would hang up on Hollywood.

"I got into comics because I thought it was a good and useful medium that had not been explored to it fullest potential," Moore told me. "If you approach comics as a poor relation to film, you are left with a movie that does not move, has no soundtrack and lacks the benefit of having a recognizable movie star in the lead role."

Moore said he is working on new installments in his marvelous comics series "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," which is far more nuanced and daring than the film of the same title. He is also at work on a massive, 750,000-word novel, "a huge mad fantasy called 'Jerusalem,' "and a reference book of magic that delves into Kabbalah, astral projection, seance, tarot, practical applications of magic and deep research into magic history. Talking about that book, the shaman of comics sounded positively giddy, especially for a parchment wizard trapped in a crass digital age. "Magic is a state of mind. It is often portrayed as very black and gothic, and that is because certain practitioners played that up for a sense of power and prestige. That is a disservice. Magic is very colorful. Of this, I am sure."

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This item and others can be found at the Hero Complex blog at latimesblogs.latimes.com/herocomplex.

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