One of the few comics to have an impact on the entire industry and far beyond, Watchmen holds a unique place in the cultural landscape – it’s blood-stained smiley face first glimpsed in the 1980s limited comic series from DC. It was the comic that co-creator Alan Moore said either could or should never be filmed, but despite that got a major feature film version directed by Zack Snyder in 2009. Moore refused to have his name in the credits, though illustrator Dave Gibbons was noted.
It was met with mixed reactions – it was very (over?)-reverential to the source material, but to a large extent Moore was right – the original used many aspects of the 2D, printed page format to magnificent effect but which lost some of their sleight-of-hand and originality when moved to the screen. Equally, its story was a multi-layered epic that really couldn’t be squeezed into even a three hour motion-picture.
For those few unfamiliar with the concept, Watchmen was released in the 1980s and depicted an alternate history where costumed adventurers had roamed the streets and skies for several decades but had largely been outlawed – most deciding to quietly retire and leaving only a few unreliable vigilantes to patrol the night for their own reasons. However this is a world where the Watergate conspiracy was never uncovered, where Nixon is still President and where the nuclear ‘Doomsday Clock’ ticks ever closer to midnight. As it’s discovered that many of the ex-heroes are disappearing or being killed, the survivors realise that someone is targetting them – someone with an endgame that is gambling with the whole planet’s future…
Terry Gilliam, once rumoured to be interested in an adaptation, told me that he could only imagine it as a large, sprawling mini-series and – twenty years later – it appears he might be right – though Gilliam won’t be involved. Instead, the proposed production comes under the guidance of Damon Lindelof. Lindelof – perhaps most famous for his work on LOST and Prometheus, just finished on the HBO show The Leftovers and will team with the platform again for Watchmen.
A pilot for the series has been confirmed with an order for more scripts. There’s no clear timeline for the production to reach the screen at the moment, though Lindelof did post a picture indicating that pre-production was underway.
There’s been renewed interest in the Watchmen concept in recent years – though, again, not without controversy. DC created a number of tie-ins in 2016, comics that revisited the earlier days of the key characters and there’s a current storyline in DC titles which seems to suggest a collision of the two very separate ‘universes’ that DC created.