The screen wasn’t kind to Watchmen in 2009. The comic book is one of the medium’s masterpieces; the film, whose ambition I certainly respect, is only superficially interesting. It’s among Zack Snyder’s better films, though that’s saying very little. Alan Moore, one of the comic’s original writers, even requested his name be removed from the project, and has reportedly refused to see it.
I don’t doubt his sentiments are the same for HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series, billed as a “remix” of the original comic. Moore is outspoken in his opposition to his work being adapted by Hollywood. But even he probably has to admit that there’s a lot less reason to worry about the creative team on this series buggering the legacy up. The team is, frankly, better, being helmed as it is by Damon Lindelof. His adaptation skills – or rather, “remix” skills – are well-established. The Leftovers, an adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s book of the same name, hit its stride when it began telling a story well past the purview of the book and morphed into its own, idiosyncratic whatsit with other things on its mind.
Lindelof clearly knows what to leave alone. Instead of a straight adaptation, this series will apparently be set in the here-and-now, but in Watchmen’s alternate universe of vigilantism and odd but not totally unbelievable political unrest. (Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the genius of casting Robert Redford as the alternate timeline’s longest serving US president… Robert Redford?)
The new series begins with The Seventh Cavalry, a white supremacist group, committing attacks on police officers’ houses wearing Rorschach masks. The police respond by beginning to wear masks as well. Already, the theme of co-opted identity and ideology looms large on the series. Rorschach, of course absent from the series along with much of the story’s original protagonists, is now more than just one hero. He’s practically a spectre, a phantom that has spread across the United States in (SPOILER) the wake of his death in the original comic.
In fact, the only characters confirmed to return in the flesh from the original are Dr Manhattan, Silk Spectre (neither of whom have had actors announced for their roles), and Ozymandias, here clearly being played as a relic rather than a vision of humanity’s future by Jeremy Irons. The past is a tool rather than a crutch, it seems, with the series relying on its own ingenuity to tell its story.
And then there’s the trailer, which makes the whole thing look massive. The budget is undisclosed, but likely hefty, even for HBO. And it has the gloss of a Hollywood production, as many HBO series do. Even if it ends up veering to hard into its *ahem* topical aspects, it ought to be big enough to at least fill the blockbuster TV space left by Game of Thrones.