Alan Moore has written some of the most influential comic books ever created. From his work in pre-established superhero comics, such as Marvelman, Swamp Thing, and Superman, to his creation of original limited series like V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and From Hell, Moore’s works have shaped the comic book industry permanently. Simply put, he’s easily one of the greatest writer the genre has ever seen, or likely will ever see.
Like any successful comic book, the works of Alan Moore have been adapted in one way or another, with many films being based off his characters or adapting entire miniseries. But if there is one notable feature of every film that has adapted Moore’s works, it is that they have all fallen short. In one way or another, these stories only work in comic book form.
Whether Moore’s film adaptations were well-made misfires or dreadful movies altogether, something is missing. Of course, none of these movies were adapted by Moore himself. Rather, they were made by others trying to bring his famous stories to life on the big screen. And Moore himself has been very vocal about the way his stories have been treated. While his views may be extreme, they’re understandable. In fact, he makes it a point to make sure that all adaptation do not feature his name, since he believes that they can never be properly brought to life on film.
So what has gone wrong with these movies? And why are the comic books so much better?
Tracking and interpreting the murder spree of the infamous Jack the Ripper in 1888. As the first film adaptation of Moore’s work, it was a sign of things to come for future adaptations.
The Comic Book: Moore’ From Hell is a brutal and psychedelic journey, following Jack the Ripper as the main character as he commits his gruesome murders in a series that spanned from 1989 to 1996. Moore explores the theory that the Ripper murders were meant to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby and were worked in combination with the Freemason Society. It also includes ideas of the supernatural and time travel through death.
The Film: In the vein of Hollywood film, the adaptation follows Police Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) as he tracks down The Ripper. While the adaptation contains some of the conspiracy theories, it takes the form of a murder mystery rather than an exploration of death.
The Failings: The original comic series and the adaptation are so far apart as to really only have the name and some characters in common. Like most of the Moore adaptations, it lacks the depth of the original content. However, this is easily the most changed of them all, since the point of view is completely altered and thereby changes everything thereafter.
Alan Moore’s Thoughts: “There was no way that I would be able to be fair to it,” he said. “I did not wish to be connected with it, and regarded it as something separate to my work. In retrospect, this was kind of a naïve attitude.”
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
A massive foray into the literary world,The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen follows pre-existing literary characters who team up to save a world where every character in literature is alive and coexisting.
The Comic Book: While League is far from Moore’s deepest comic book, it’s intricate and contains many layers that reward repeated viewings. It’s a fun yet dark adventure that only gets more and more complicated as the series goes on.
The Film: Not only is LXG a terrible adaptation of the series, it’s a terrible film in its own right. Bad special effects, bad acting, bad writing, the works. It also changes the feel of the story as a whole, making it all rather overblown and bombastic instead of detailed and layered. Unnecessary characters are added, the characteristics of many of the leads are changed, and it’s unmemorable overall.
The Failings: While the concept of pre-existing literary characters teaming up on an adventure is exciting in its own right, there is little that is translated from series to adaptation beyond the general makeup of the team. Rather than an unravelling mystery that explores the depths of each character, it’s an overblown adventure that is all about explosions and special effects rather than an interesting narrative.
Alan Moore’s Thoughts: “The League film cost 100 million because Sean Connery wanted 17 million of that – and a bigger explosion than the one he’d had in his last film. It’s in his contract that he has to have a bigger explosion with every film he’s in.”
Supernatural investigator John Constantine battles demons and all sorts of evil creatures while smoking, drinking, and struggles with his own wicked ways. While the film was based on Hellblazer series, the character was created by Moore in the pages of Swamp Thing.
The Comic Book: John Constantine tackles all manner of supernatural events and monsters, while still being an outright sinner who manages to fight for the greater good of humanity. While many superhero characters pop in and out of the series, much of Hellblazer is focused on Constantine’s battles in a real world setting.
The Film: Constantine is drawn into the middle of a war between heaven and hell, with both sides looking to use and destroy him simultaneously. The film itself is a loose adaptation of the “Dangerous Habits” story arc, but the story and the character of Constantine, played by Keanu Reeves, only has a few traits in common, but is Americanized to the point of his name being pronounced differently.
The Failings: Most importantly, the Constantine of the movie is not British. Not only does Reeves fail to capture the essence of the character, but the changing of his nationality changes one of the most vital and unique aspects of him, thereby stripping away the spirit and originality from the start.
Alan Moore’s Thoughts: Moore’s dissatisfaction with the Constantine movie was the initial reason why he decided to have his name removed from all future adaptations. So no, he didn’t like it.
V for Vendetta
In a dark future, England is ruled by a fascist government that has an iron grip on its citizens. But the man only known as V embraces a one-man war of anarchy in the hopes of changing the country.
The Comic Book: Inspired by the Thatcherism that had taken hold of Britain’s government at the time, Moore wrote a tale that foretold of a future where the current politics eventually led to a fascistic rule. V for Vendetta is a story of two extreme opposite political views – Fascism and Anarchy – fighting against one another for the future of humankind.
The Film: V still battles against the ruling government of a future Britain, but the film changes it from an allegory about the politics of the ‘80s into one on the then-current politics of 2005. Many of the supporting characters are dropped and obvious imagery from 1984 and other visions of the grim future are mixed into the story of V for Vendetta, rather than sticking to the ideas postulated in the original work.
The Failings: Rather than take the political ideologies explored by Moore’s series, the Wachowski’s turned V for Vendetta into a battle between neo-conservativism and modern liberalism, thereby changing the very core of the story. While V himself is still a magnetic and mysterious lead character, the movie itself is diluted for the sake of bigger and bombastic action sequences.
Alan Moore’s Thoughts: “I’ve read the screenplay. It’s rubbish … There wasn’t a mention of anarchy as far as I could see. The fascism had been completely defanged. I mean, I think that any references to racial purity had been excised, whereas actually, fascists are quite big on racial purity.”
For the Man Who Has Everything
When Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin visit Superman at The Fortress of Solitude for his birthday, they walk straight into a trap set by the intergalactic despot Mongul, who has trapped The Man of Steel in a trance with the Black Mercy alien plant.
The Comic Book: While Batman and Wonder Woman struggle against the unstoppable Mongul, Superman lives a fantasy life where Krypton never exploded and he built a family on his home world. In the end, Superman must rip himself away from the family he wanted in order to save his friends and the world as a whole.
The Episode: The Justice League Unlimited episode is a mostly faithful adaptation of the issue, except for removing Robin from the story and tweaking a few minor details of the climax. Most importantly, it keeps Superman’s dream largely intact, but makes it even more ideal than in the original story.
The Successes: Moore’s story is jam-packed with imagination, action, and heart. By keeping these three elements intact and not needing to cram in other unnecessary pieces, the narrative is as emotionally impactful as the comic. The action sequences are realized in fine form, with the Justice League Unlimited style working well for the giant fights against Mongul.
Alan Moore’s Thoughts: Justice League Unlimited created has stated that Moore told him this is the only official adaptation of his work that he likes. In fact, it’s one of the few that he’s allowed to use his name in the credits.
The Comic Book: A deconstruction of superheroes, exploring the political, mental, and philosophical issues that would arise from a real world where masked men and women fight crime. It’s a gritty and mind-blowing piece of art that has been praised by countless people.
The Film: Long considered unfilmable, director Zack Snyder’s adaptation was largely faithful to the comic story, even taking complete panels out of the comic book page. Except for a piece of the film’s resolution, much of Watchmenwas transferred wholesale to the big screen. However, cramming everything into two and a half hours and devoting so much of the movie to flashy slow motion action sequences takes away much of the story’s power.
The Failings: While it may have kept the overall narrative intact, the adaptation of Watchmen is anything but deep. Various issues are touched on by the movie, but are never explored. Add in that gratuitous violence and sex are often spotlighted rather than the deeper ideas at hand, and it’s obvious that Watchmen is the quintessential example of the power of comic books.
Alan Moore’s Thoughts: “They take an idea, bowdlerize it, blow it up, make it infantile and spend $100 million to give people a brief escape from their boring and often demeaning lives at work. It’s obscene and it’s offensive. This is not the culture I signed up for. I’m sure I sound like Bobby Fischer talking about chess. There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can’t.”