Watchmen, the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore, may be set for an HBO adaptation from Damon Lindelof. The Lost and The Leftovers co-creator has yet to officially sign on to the project but is a noted fan of the source material and a favorite at HBO and its Warner Bros. parent company. The adaptation is still in the early stages of development and does not yet have anyone attached to it in starring roles. Watchmen received a film adaptation in 2009 by eventual DCEU architect and Justice League director Zack Snyder. It starred Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl, Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre, Billy Crudup as Doctor Manhattan, Matthew Goode as Ozymandias, Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian.
The film garnered mixed reviews from fans and critics alike and earned $185.3 million from its massive $130 million budget. The adaptation’s near-five hour Director’s Cut integrated such missing subplots as Tales of the Black Freighter was received more warmly when released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Warner Bros. had been considering giving the franchise another chance, this time on television, where its large scope could be given the appropriate space and platform to evolve. HBO had shown interest in the property in October of 2016. Snyder himself was set to return as a producer, but backed out of his current projects after the untimely death of his daughter.
THR first reported Lindelof’s talks with HBO. Lindelof has expressed his affection for both Snyder’s adaptation and the original Alan Moore miniseries, which he repeatedly read as a kid. He’s credited Watchmen as being a major influence on his own writing. Before the release of Snyder’s adaptation, he told CBR, “From the flashbacks to the nonlinear storytelling to the deeply flawed heroes, these are all elements that I try to put into everything I write.” Plus, he said to The Observer about Snyder’s film, “It’s the most married-to-the-original-text version of Watchmen that could’ve been made. I want to keep it sort of insular. It’s OK with me if people don’t understand it because they don’t deserve to understand it.”
Watchmen is one of the most complicated comic book texts ever released. Blending aspects of noir, science fiction, politics and social commentary, it featured a startlingly realistic plot and characters that were psychologically deep. Its popularity has not waned since it was originally released in magazine format in 1986. Collected in 1987, it has never gone out of print. Known for being a complicated, decades-spanning story, Watchmen, as with most of Moore’s work, was considered unfilmable by executives and celebrated directors like Terry Gilliam, who was once attached to direct. Lindelof’s involvement doesn’t come as much of a surprise; he has contributed to Action Comics and is a known fan of DC’s heroes. Earlier this year, his HBO series The Leftovers took its final bow to great critical acclaim. The series was complicated, esoteric and focused on existential conflicts and questions—something that would easily lend itself to an adaptation of Watchmen.
While Snyder’s adaptation was very true to the source material, it just didn’t have the space it needed to portray Watchmen in the way it was known in the comics. The series’ narrative structure lends itself more to modern episodic television than it does film and Before Watchmen, DC’s recent expansion of the franchise, provides even more material to draw from. The various miniseries expand on the origins of its main characters — Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, The Comedian, and Ozymandias — as well as the original Minuteman team. While not all of the stories were received positively, they were all financially successful.
Watchmen’s influence on the comic book medium cannot be understated. Along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Moore’s series ushered in an era of more adult-oriented storytelling that has become common in the modern comic landscape. To that end, casual fans of today may not be aware of how important it is. Given that DC has made use of certain Watchmen characters as part of their Rebirth campaign, it’s not a surprise that attention on the franchise has increased. If the right person came along with the right adaptation, it could not only fill the Game of Thrones-sized hole that HBO is worried about filling, but it could introduce a new generation of fans to the series that changed comic books forever.
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