Watchmen pilot

Earlier this week, Lost and The Leftovers co-creator Damon Lindelof posted an Instagram photo announcing “Day One” of work on his television adaptation of Watchmen, DC Comics’ famed 1980s limited series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. TV Line reports that HBO has now officially ordered a pilot and “back up scripts” for the show, but what might a Lindelof-led version of Watchmen actually be like? Let’s try to figure that out.

Lindelof’s Thoughts on the Movie

First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie. Aesthetically, the film often looks like images from the comics have literally come to life, and much has been made of Snyder’s single-minded devotion to recreating the source material. In an interview with Lostpedia from April 2009, Lindelof was asked what he thought about Snyder’s film adaptation:

I think it’s a very complicated question. You almost can’t judge the movie purely as a movie because of its relation to the fact that it is an adaptation of the graphic novel. That being said I think that Zack Snyder made the best possible movie adaptation considering the fact that he was really out to not revise things, the fans really wanted a literal adaptation. That’s exactly what he delivered. He delivered that with an incredible amount of grace and skill. But I think that, for those of us who basically said “How do you do Watchmen in a two and a half hour movie?” He has now answered: “This is how”. You just have to kind of leave it at that. Over time, I think history will basically tell whether the movie was brilliant or less than, but all I can say is how incredibly impressed I personally watching what Zack had accomplished.

That viewpoint is representative of the larger fan reaction to Snyder’s movie, but reading it now, it has me thinking how unlikely it is that Lindelof will take the same approach as Snyder. Assuming the series gets picked up, he’ll have far more time to tell his version of this story, and since we’ve already gotten a literal adaptation (minus the squid at the end, of course), it seems redundant to do that again.

Lindelof clearly holds the original comics in high esteem; he read them one issue at a time when they were first published beginning in 1986, and he once referred to Watchmen as “the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced.” They had a tremendous influence on him as a storyteller. He later said, “From the flashbacks to the non-linear storytelling to the deeply flawed heroes, these are all elements that I try to put into everything I write.” That’s especially evident in Lost, which is a pulpier show than The Leftovers and seems like a better blueprint for the style of storytelling we might see in his Watchmen.

Billy Crudup in The Flash

Lindelof on the Comics

For years, the comic series was thought to be unadaptable because it’s so reliant on the comics medium to transmit information to the reader: there’s a comic-within-a-comic, and things like obituaries and newspaper articles are scattered throughout the narrative. So how could that translate into a television format? Below, I’ve pulled some select quotes from a 2009 ComicBookResources piece in which Lindelof “reviewed” the twelfth and final issue of the comic series, and I think these may provide some insight into his thoughts about specific characters and the larger themes at play here that could inform his TV adaptation. For starters:

“Well, here’s the thing about [the character of Dr.] Jon [Osterman]— despite [Alan] Moore’s genius in non-linear storytelling, we still don’t entirely process how Dr. Manhattan ‘perceives’ time. He can look forward and backward, but only if he wants to.”

Considering Lost was built on a non-linear storytelling structure and made terrific use of both flashbacks and flash-forwards (not to mention the “flash-sideways”), it seems clear that we’re going to see Lindelof playing with time once again here in a big way. Next:

“For me, one of my favorite moments in the entire series is when Jon stands over Dan [Dreiberg] and Laurie [Juspeczyk] sleeping…and smiles. It somehow communicates that he has recaptured a bit of his humanity.”

That Lindelof would single out this moment among all others says a lot about the type of personality he has. He’s a guy who thrives on creating emotionally resonant and bittersweet moments, and while I feel like Snyder related the most to Rorschach out of Watchmen’s characters, Lindelof strikes me as a more humanist, empathetic breed of storyteller.  Amid the big-budget effects and chaos that’s sure to come, it’s the characters who will be the most important in the end.

“This theme, ‘Kill a few to scare the living shit out of everyone else and thus, spare the lives of many,’ is an incredibly strong one.”

I won’t spoil what plot point of the comics he’s referring to there in case you haven’t read them or seen Snyder’s movie, but if this resonated enough with him to comment on it back then, you can be sure it’s still on his mind now as he’s thinking about this property in a deeper, more analytical way than he ever has before. As long as it has a lasting impact on the remaining characters, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him kill off a character or two that doesn’t die in the comics in order to put his stamp on things and differentiate his version from the others.

Watchmen TV show

A Better Adaptation?

Reading through the comments on our previous Watchmen articles, it seems as though some fans think that while Snyder’s version is visually accurate, it failed to properly capture the themes and characterizations that made the comics so great. I’m interested to see if Watchmen fans think Lindelof has the potential to better translate those aspects of the story, even if he ends up making something that looks different from the movie and the comics in the process. Sound off with your thoughts below, and we’ll keep you updated with more Watchmen news as soon as we hear it.

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