Watching the Detectives

Writer Alan Moore ("From Hell''), who created ''Watchmen'' with artist Dave Gibbons, doubts that any movie version could bear much resemblance to his work. '''Watchmen' was designed as a showcase of things that comics are capable of but aren't so easy to achieve in any other medium,'' Moore tells Tiny details in ''Watchmen'' -- graffiti on a wall, a partially obscured building sign, a pocketful of sugar cubes -- often turn out to be of great importance, but Moore thinks such minutiae would get lost as moving images.

''With a comic, you can take as much time as you want in absorbing that background detail, noticing little things that we might have planted there,'' Moore says. ''You can also flip back a few pages relatively easily to see where a certain image connects with a line of dialogue from a few pages ago. But in a film, by the nature of the medium, you're being dragged through it at 24 frames per second.''

Hayter begs to disagree. ''Like a detailed novel, there are definitely nuances that you can get in a 12-issue comic book that would be difficult to pack into a two-hour movie,'' he acknowledges. But he says that since lengthy books like ''The Cider House Rules'' have been successfully condensed into movies, the same can be done for ''Watchmen.'' ''One of the greatest aspects about 'Watchmen' is the relationship between what's being said and what's being seen. The films that I love do the same thing.''

Another formidable complication, however, is the ending, which finds millions dead in a horrific New York City cataclysm. ''When [Sept. 11] occurred we were just in preliminary discussions, and I thought that might be it,'' Hayter says. ''I thought, 'Oh my God, the ending of 'Watchmen' just happened to the world.' But [ultimately], all that does is reinforce the truth behind this story.''

Hayter declines to say how he plans to handle the ending, and Universal didn't return calls for this story, but Moore says he'd be shocked if it wasn't altered. ''I think they weren't even going to go for that ending back in the 1980s when it was first discussed [as a movie],'' he says. As long as a revamped finale doesn't involve an ape-headed Abraham Lincoln, fans might be able to live with it.

Originally posted Dec 10, 2001

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