Watchmen: An Oral History

I remember a magazine photo shoot. The floor was covered with wallpaper that looked like a brick wall. There was also a rope. The photographer said, ''Hold the rope and we'll turn the piece sideways and make it look like you're climbing up the wall — just like they did on the Batman TV show!'' We were not going to do that.

Celebrity was nothing I enjoyed, and it prompted me to become the mumbling recluse I am. When I started writing comics, ''comics writer'' was the most obscure job in the world! If I wanted to be a celebrity, I would have become a moody English screen actor.

JUDE LAW (moody English screen actor)
I was and am a huge comics fan. Watchmen changed my life. I collected every issue.

There were certain areas of the comic-book world where Watchmen did cast a black, bleak shadow.... I originally intended Rorschach to be a warning about the possible outcome of vigilante thinking. But an awful lot of comics readers felt his remorseless, frightening, psychotic toughness was his most appealing characteristic — not quite what I was going for.

Watchmen and Dark Knight basically defined the industry for the next decade. Suddenly, everything was grim and gritty.

What Watchmen demonstrated was a possible way to do comics. The message was to broaden — not to narrow them down.

IV. ''Arnie!''

Watchmen has had no shortage of Hollywood admirers. In the late '80s, producer Joel Silver (The Matrix) tried to make a film adaptation with director Terry Gilliam. Robin Williams and Richard Gere were rumored to be interested. But the project imploded primarily over budget, and the end of the Cold War deprived Watchmen of its political relevance. But in 2001, the comic found new life thanks to a zeitgeist-mining script by David Hayter (X-Men). Paramount was set to roll earlier this year with The Bourne Supremacy's Paul Greengrass at the helm — until a regime change at the studio sent it into turnaround. Still, says producer Larry Gordon, ''We have every reason to believe we will eventually make the movie.'' By the way, Moore doesn't mind: He's adamantly opposed to Watchmen's adaptation for artistic, business, and personal reasons — a position that hardened after Fox's limp 2003 version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — and plans to give any film royalties to Gibbons.

I remember meeting with Joel Silver, who wanted to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Manhattan: ''He's gonna be Arnie!'' We said, ''Well, he's got the physique, but the German accent...'' He said, ''Doesn't matter!'' It didn't come to anything with Joel.

SAM HAMM (first Watchmen screenwriter)
I was coming off writing Batman when I was asked to take a whack at it. I thought it too unwieldy to compress into two hours. The comic really is a spectacular piece of architecture. Trying to replicate it [was] just impossible.

What I pitched to Larry was actually a miniseries for HBO. But it would have cost $100 million. When I mapped it out as a two-hour movie, I looked at how Peter Jackson broke down The Lord of the Rings. My first draft was 178 pages, which was encouraging; it told me a screenplay was actually possible. One thing that has tripped up Hollywood is the Cold War setting, when there was a sense of impending doom. With 9/11, unfortunately, we got it right back again. So we did update it.


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