Last week HBO announced that it was moving forward with production on a Watchmen adaptation from Damon Lindelof (co-creator of LOST and The Leftovers). Reactions have been varied, some are cautiously optimistic, while others think this is a terrible idea. As for me, I guess I fall into the cautiously optimistic category. Previously, I’ve been of the opinion that Watchmen needs no adaptations. It was written for the medium of comic books, and that is the way it should stay. However, I think that if Lindelof gets things right (we get Leftovers Lindelof and not Star Trek: Into Darkness Lindelof) this adaptation could be something truly special.
The original Watchmen comic was a limited series published in 1986 by DC Comics, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. Originally, Moore was going to use the characters DC had acquired from Charlton Comics, but he decided to create his own characters to avoid any snarls in continuity that would no doubt arise in using established characters.
From this change arose Watchmen, a 12 issue limited series that would redefine the comic book’s place in literature, and shape the face of the super hero genre through the present day. Watchmen’s narrative is complex, and it deals with heady topics. Its protagonists are conflicted, and more often than not, not the champions of virtue that super heroes tended to be prior to the late 1980’s. Moore sought to create a story that showcased all the things that made a comic book unique from other art forms. In Watchmen, the layouts of the panels, the coloring, even the lettering used for different characters all serve the narrative. It is a distinct, incredible piece of literature.
Which is probably why it’s so hard to adapt.
In 2009, director of 300 and slow-motion fetishist, Zack Snyder directed the big screen adaptation of Watchmen. And…it’s okay. I guess. It’s unbelievably faithful to the comic, even going so far as to lift shots and staging for scenes straight from the comic. But it’s hollow. There’s no meat to this film. I mean sure, most of the philosophical discussions and ethical questions and the deconstruction of the super hero make the jump from page to screen. But it’s all copy and pasted. It’s like a kid wearing his dad’s business suit. Like, “Yeah kid, you’re a human being, and those clothes were made for a human being, and you can wear those clothes, but your shoes are too big and you look ridiculous.”
With that being said, I do think an adaptation of Watchmen can be done very well. I’m kind of excited for this potential series for a few reasons:
First, adapting Watchmen as a series gives the show-runners ample time to give every facet of the story the time it deserves. There’s almost a century of alternate history to cover, and just about all of it serves the greater narrative.
Secondly, HBO has been on a roll with heady dramas that use sci-fi elements. Recently, Westworld and The Leftovers explored complex themes while still being genre shows.
Lastly, I think we’re at a point in pop culture where it’s time we examine the super hero again. This May will be the tenth anniversary of the release of Iron Man. Avengers: Infinity War is coming out. There’s a Justice League movie coming out in November. Super heroes are everywhere. Last year Logan took a big step toward deconstructing the filmic super hero. I really think that the stage has been set for something like Watchmen.
Adapting Watchmen is no easy task and there are about a million different ways to screw it all up. But I really hope they find a way to make it work.