“It’s OK with me if people don’t understand it because they don’t deserve to understand it.”
Well that’s a worrying phrase.
Damon Lindelof, who has had a prolific if somewhat mixed career as a writer and director in Hollywood, has been announced as the showrunner for a new television adaptation of DC’s Watchmen, which will air on HBO.
Nobody’s bothered to approach Watchmen co-creator Alan Moore for comments, because by this point we all know that he hates it when any of his work is adapted for other media. We’re also all avoiding him because he’s a genuine wizard, and there’s a chance he might turn us all into toads if he’s in a bad mood.
This time, though, Moore might really be onto something by assuming that his comic isn’t going to make the leap onto televisions without losing something. Zack Snyder’s movie adaptation of the source material is a weird ride, sure, but it does stick very, very closely to its source material in terms of visuals, even if the movie’s sentiments are somewhat skewed.
It’s this version of the story that Damon Lindelof is describing in the quote above – apparently, if you don’t like Watchmen the movie, it’s because you don’t deserve to understand it. Go away, think about your life, read some Ayn Rand, and maybe you’ll appreciate this film for its genius.
So, yeah. That’s the guy that’s now making the Watchmen television series, suggesting that if you thought the Zack Snyder movie was weird, you are wrong and uneducated.
This next attempt at adapting Watchmen should go well, huh?
This isn’t to say that a Watchmen TV show shouldn’t be deep, insightful, and cynical. These heroes exist as almost a parody of DC’s Justice League in order to give a strong deconstruction of the superhero genre as a whole, and that’s great.
But if we’ve already got a version of Watchmen that Damon Lindelof is happy with, why is he making another one? Speaking about the first movie, he also stated:
“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.”
Insular and strict is great for a single movie, but trying to stretch this out into a series isn’t going to work if no new ideas are introduced. A good show should, like, say, Game of Thrones or more recently American Gods, build on its source material, while bringing something new and fresh to the commentary.
Otherwise, anything Damon Lindelof will do with the show will be treated, as Snyder’s movie often is, as a poor man’s version of the Watchmen graphic novel.
There’s also, of course, another problem with turning Watchmen into a television series. The original story, upon which the movie is based, is a tight narrative that has a clear endpoint. There’s not much room for elaboration, and Moore seems almost to have designed the entire thing so that there’s no room for a sequel, which is why when DC wanted to make more Watchmen comics, they were forced to do a series of dull prequels instead.
At least, until they gave up and incorporated the Watchmen into the same universe as the regular DC heroes, which is meta to say the least.
Structuring the original Watchmen story around a television series that will go on indefinitely is going to be a difficult enough task, and it’s going to be even harder if Damon Lindelof is planning on sticking as close as possible to the established short Watchmen canon without veering off on tangents as the comics have been forced to do in order to expand this world.
Something’s got to give here, and it’ll probably be the rigid fixation on the story. Lindelof is going to have to branch out, draw from other inspirations, and make a version of Watchmen that feels a little watered down in order to make the entire thing work as a regular series.
If you’re okay with that, great! None of this is necessarily a huge negative, it’s simply the necessities of making a television series in the modern era. All that’s really concerning here are some comments that the showrunner made while working on a movie that’s getting close to a decade old now.
There is, though, the slight issue that the message of Alan Moore’s superhero deconstruction will get lost in translation. After all, Moore pokes fun at the superhero serial formula even in the way the story of Watchmen is told, so turning it into a longrunning show means losing the meat of the comic’s message right from the start.
If you’re willing to accept that sometimes high concepts have to be neutered in order to work on the small screen, that’s fine. Just don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t “deserve” the story if you don’t like it when it’s been hacked and chopped about in this format.