Who Will Watch the Watchmen: Towards a Sequential Hermeneutic Chain Analysis

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The analysis of screenplays can, at best appear to be a quagmire requiring careful navigation, and at worse, a

gaping chasm into which one should avoid falling. Indeed the fluid and often illusory nature of the ‘blueprint’

for the outputs of cinema, television, radio and video games, often prohibits effective study. This can arguably

be attributed to the ambiguous nature of the source material, where the screenplay’s relationship to the final

text can be called into question due to the variables introduced during principle photography. However, when

a screenplay is an adaptation of an existing literary work, the possibilities for effective analysis can be seen to

open up. What changes are made? Why are these changes made? What impact do these changes have on the

narrative presented? This paper intends to propose a method for analysing the changes made in the screen

adaptation process from literary text to cinematic text. The paper will concentrate on the adaptation of cult

material, where arguably, any narrative changes are scrutinised greatly by consumers familiar with the source

material. Watchmen (2008), a graphic novel by Allen Moore and Dave Gibbons, originally published as twelve

comics (1986-7), had a tumultuous time getting form literary text to screen text. There were three attempts at

production prior to the 2009 cinematic production, resulting in three well developed, yet ultimately

unsuccessful screenplays. This paper proposes to analyse these two of these screenplays in relation to the

source material and 2009 movie. The aim of the paper is to explore how changes in the narrative structure and

content in the unproduced screenplays changed the overall tone of the screen story, firstly in relation to the

source and secondly, in relation to the successful adaptation. In this light, the paper intends to suggest, from a

narrative standpoint, why the unsuccessful adaptations were indeed unsuccessful. The paper intends to do this

by using a methodology tentatively named Sequential Hermeneutic Chain Analysis. This analysis draws on, and

develops, a few of the features of Barthes’ (1974) semiotic analysis method outlined in S/Z. Namely the

process of breaking the narrative down in to arbitrary chunks of surface meaning (in this case scenes or

sequences), and exposing the hermeneutic coding at play within those chunks. The paper proposes that we

should conceive the text (source, adaptation or film) as represented by a chain of enigmas that combine to

form the whole of the narrative. The paper would expose the hermeneutic chains existing in the source,

unsuccessful screenplays and final cinematic text; looking at how the changes in the hermeneutic sequences of

the unsuccessful screenplays sit in relation to the source and final cinematic text. Ultimately, proposing why

those narratives failed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Event Cult Adaptations Symposium - Centre for Adaptations, Faculty of Humanities, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom
Duration: 1 Mar 2009 → …


Conference Cult Adaptations Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period1/03/09 → …


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