Comics on Film: Will the New 'Watchmen' Adaptation Succeed?

Comics on Film: Will the New 'Watchmen' Adaptation Succeed?

Oct 02, 2017

Undisputably one of comics' most celebrated works is Watchmen, a 12-issue limited series by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons that originally ran from 1986-87 and was published by DC Comics. While a success in its original single-issue print run, it wasn't until the issues were collected together into a graphic novel that the series seriously took off, quickly becoming a favorite among comics enthusiasts and even academics who study the medium.

While languishing in development hell for over 20 years, director Zack Snyder made his second major foray into the world of cinematic comics-based adaptations when he was the director who finally made the idea of a Watchmen film into a reality. While certainly not a box office juggernaut, the film has steadily developed a cult following over the last eight years, with some observers even going so far as to call it Snyder's finest film.

Still, there are fans who believe that Snyder and the rest of the film's creative team didn't exactly have the best foresight when attempting to condense the massively dense and thematically rich original story into a single film to be watched in a single sitting. In fact, the definitive, "Ultimate Cut" of Watchmen has a runtime of 3 hours and 35 minutes, and still has to leave some elements of the book out of the final product. Then, this past summer it was announced that none other than Damon Lindelof (LostPrometheusThe Leftovers) would be serving as showrunner for an HBO adaptation of the celebrated series.

So...is there greater potential to do the book justice in a new, long-form miniseries format?

 

The 2009 Film

To try and answer this, let's look again briefly at Zack Snyder's film. Depending on who you talk to about it, you'll likely hear from a segment of fans and critics that think Snyder was perhaps too beholden to the original material. In fact, on the set of the film, Snyder was known to forego the use of traditional concept art, opting instead to use the original book's pages as drawn by series artist Dave Gibbons. Gibbons himself also served as a consultant on the film, helping to shape the overall look of the movie to be as close in line with the book as was cinematically possible.

While some certainly saw that as a negative, today it'd be relatively easy to find an equal nmber of people who felt that Snyder's faithfulness to the source material worked more in the film's favor than against it. While other near-verbatim adaptations like Robert Rodriguez's original Sin City and Snyder's own adaptation of Frank Miller's 300 come to mind as movies that pushed the boundaries between the silver screen and the comic book panel more than ever before, Watchmen also stands as one of the most objectively faithful comics-based movies ever made. While Snyder didn't stick to the raw particulars of the original artist's aesthetic as he did on 300 or as Rodriguez did in Sin City, he did craft a movie that attempted to deliver the story as closely as possible to the way the events played out in the original work.

Snyder feels generally more at home in a world inhabited by these twisted deconstructions of the superheroic characters compared with his work on mainstream DC Comics superheroes, partially because it seems the characters that make up the story of Watchmen are already far more in-line with his grittier, personal tastes as opposed to trying to make Superman fit into the same kind of box. Because of that, the 2009 Watchmen film is definitely a layered, complex experience clearly made with love of the original work in mind...but that doesn't mean there's not room for improvement.

 

Moving to HBO

The news of Damon Lindelof's involvement in a new Watchmen adaptation only extends back to early this past summer, when it was announced that a Watchmen adaptation would be next on the creator's plate since he had recently finished up production on his previous series The Leftovers. It's particularly interesting coming from Lindelof, since his attitudes toward Snyder's 2009 adaptation of what is, apparently, his favorite work in comics have always been seen as resoundingly positive. Just ahead of the movie's release in an interview with CBR, Lindelof described Snyder's effort by saying,"It's the most married-to-the-original-text version of Watchmen that could've been made."

While his feelings on the film may be the same, it now seems as though he feels he can do a little better than Snyder by changing things up to a mini-series format.

It's hard to disagree, at least on paper. Lindelof's previous work doesn't exactly indicate that he would be as "married" to a verbatim adaptation as Snyder was, but there's far more potential to pack everything from the book into a movie, particularly if they decide to run 12 episodes. By that tactic, a single episode could translate into one of the book's original 27-page issues, with a lot of potential opportunities to adapt the original issues' back-matter in the form of a prime supporting character's autobiography, or the famous "comic-within-a-comic" Tales of the Black Freighter.

Lindelof recently teased on social media that work has begun on this endeavor, so this isn't supposition, nor is it a rumor. He will be spearheading a brand new adaptation of Watchmen. While it can be easy to see this from a cynic's perspective by thinking along the lines of, "here comes another reboot," this could also be a brand new opportunity to be even more faithful to, and engaging with, comics' arguably most celebrated work. Couple this with a new Watchmen/DC Universe comic book crossover coming this November and it looks like everybody will be watching the Watchmen before too long.

What do you think? Is Watchmen ripe for a new take? Will the 2009 movie be enough for you? Or, are you just going to stick with the graphic novel on your shelf? Sound off below, and we'll see you next week!


Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango and others. He also hosts the podcasts Discovery DebriefGeekPulse Radio and Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at Movies.com, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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