For years, most Hollywood producers had accepted that Watchmen, the fan-favorite (albeit controversial) superhero story from Alan Moore, was unfilmable – that is until Warner Bros. and Man of Steel director Zack Snyder brought the graphic novel to the big screen. Unfortunately, while the filmmaker managed to turn Moore’s tale of political corruption, masked vigilanties, and a naked blue superhuman into a blockbuster film, fans and moviegoers remain mixed on whether Snyder proved that a three hour adaptation could successfully capture the spirit (and depth) of the core Watchmen narrative (read our original Watchmen review).
Critics and comic readers are still split on whether the film succeeded or failed in its lofty ambitions – while casual viewers simply did not turn out to support the 2009 movie in theaters, scoring only $107 million (domestic) on a reported $130 million budget. Of course, even viewers that enjoyed the movie and consider Snyder’s effort an enjoyable experience have to face the fact that, in order to make it “filmable,” major changes had to be made. Now, producer Joel Silver, who was at one point developing a Watchmen adaptation, is once again criticizing the final Warner Bros film – revealing how director Terry Gilliam intended to alter the story in their version.
Speaking with Coming Soon, Silver had tough words for Snyder’s adaptation – calling the Warner Bros. film a “slave” to the source material and implying his iteration would have made for a significantly better movie:
“It was a MUCH much better movie [...] I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material. I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success.”
WARNING: The rest of this article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for both Watchmen (2009) and the original Watchmen graphic novel.
Begin SPOILERS for Watchmen.
Silver is right that changes to V for Vendetta helped to ensure that the film adaptation, directed by James McTeigue, was satisfying to fans and casual viewers alike but Snyder’s Watchmen wasn’t a complete copy and paste job. The final act of Watchmen was often the primary hurdle for any writer attempting to develop a faithful screenplay of the graphic novel – which features Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias) faking an extraterrestrial attack (for the purpose of uniting warring Earth nations against a common threat) by teleporting a giant genetically engineered squid creature into the heart of New York City.
Writers David Hayter and Alex Tse both made significant alterations to that challenging final act – replacing the infamous squid with weaponized energy reactors that make it appear as though Dr. Manhattan turned on humanity and destroyed major cities around the globe (establishing him as the target of humanity’s now united efforts). While many fans derided the change as a cop-out, others felt as though Tse’s version was actually tidier but just as impactful as Moore’s original concept.
Yet, Silver maintains that Gilliam had an even better solution – one that would have been a significant departure from the source material:
What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of "Brazil"]. What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Dr. Manhattan wasn’t in the movie at all. Silver seems to imply that where Ozymandias would teleport a squid (or energy reactor) into New York City – killing millions of innocent people – he would, instead, persuade Dr. Manhattan to go back in time to prevent his former self, Jon Osterman, from ever being trapped inside the nuclear test chamber. Considering that Dr. Manhattan is the only actual superhuman in the film, responsible for years of influencing global politics, his absence would then drastically alter the film’s 1980s present.
It’s an interesting idea, and one that could have easily worked; though, fans might have rolled their eyes at the part about the Watchmen heroes becoming displaced “characters in a comic book.”
Silver elaborated further on the fates of Rorschach, Nite Owl, and Silk Spectre – and how the rest of the world would perceive them (following Dr. Manhattan’s reality-bending change):
“So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time [...] But I did like the  movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!”
The Dr. Manhattan aspect might provide a satisfying resolution but it’s hard to imagine how Gilliam would have actually made that plan for Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre work on the big screen. Would everyday moviegoers and comic fans have considered such an on-the-nose connection to superhero lore satisfying – especially considering the world is left entirely unaware of its alternate history (and the heroes who fought for it)?
Let us know which version of Watchmen you prefer. As for the future (read: past) of the series, we’ll keep you updated on whether or not the Before Watchmen prequel comic ever makes it to the big or small screen.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for updates on the Watchmen series as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.
Source: Coming Soon