paul greengrass watchmen

Once upon a time, before Zack Snyder’s movie and the excellent HBO series, we almost got Paul Greengrass Watchmen. Greengrass was actually one of several filmmakers to circle the project, including Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, and even Tim Burton. Those are some very different filmmakers, and it’s easy to picture the wild ways Gilliam, Aronofksy, or Burton would interpret the material. But what about Greengrass? How would his version of Watchmen play out? According to the director himself, his Watchmen wouldn’t have been as faithful to the source material as Snyder’s movie. And it also might’ve ended up being similar to Todd Phillips’ Joker.

Greengrass’ comments on his unmade Watchmen come from the Happy Sad Confused podcast, where the filmmaker opened up about the film that never was. While Greengrass stresses that he “didn’t articulate [his vision for Watchmen] clearly because the movie never got made,” he adds: “My view was, I didn’t want to do a faithful adaptation, and that might have been a disastrous endeavor and perhaps why I didn’t get the movie made.”

Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation was famous (or perhaps infamous is a better term) for being extremely rigid when it came to the source material. Snyder essentially used the graphic novel as a series of storyboards and recreated entire panels for the screen. But that’s obviously not what Greengrass would’ve done, based on his comments.

Greengrass went on to compare his vague ideas for the film to Joker, the Oscar-winning Todd Phillips movie where Joaquin Phoenix smokes cigarettes and dances down some steps. Watchmen is a notoriously “adult” comic, full of all sorts of un-family friendly stuff, so it makes sense that Greengrass would look at the dark and gritty Joker and see some comparison.

“I wanted to believe these characters lived in the real world and that a lot of what they were thinking and doing was delusional,” the director said. “There was something in Joker that had [a similar] quality to it. Joker was in a real-world [setting], and he was filled with delusions, and [so the story idea was] superheroes’ identities were within people’s minds and were interior delusions as opposed to actualities. And the [movie] idea would have been where [the two ideas] join, if that makes sense.”

I can’t exactly say I’m curious to see what Greengrass would’ve done with the material, primarily because I think Watchmen works best on the page. The best way to approach it, in my humble opinion, was the path the HBO series took – using the comic as a starting point and then trying something completely new from there, although I suppose Greengrass wanting to not remain so beholden to the source material might’ve made for something interesting. In the end, we’ll never know.

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