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Joel Silver Says Zack Snyder's 'Watchmen' A "Slave" To Comic, Terry Gilliam's Version Had No Dr. Manhattan

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by Kevin Jagernauth
February 26, 2014 1:19 PM
15 Comments
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Up there in the pantheon of Movies Terry Gilliam Almost Made, riding right near the top (beneath "Harry Potter") is an adaptation of Alan Moore's "Watchmen." In case you weren't aware, before Zack Snyder got his slow-motion, "Hallejuah"-scored-sex-scene hands on the comic, the project was set up over at 20th Century Fox where Joel Silver and Gilliam were working on it. Obviously, it never came to pass, with Gilliam saying the material was "unfilmable," but today Silver sheds a light on just how different their version would have been.

The producer recently stopped by ComicSoon to talk this weekend's "Non-Stop," and the conversation turned to many other topics, but it's "Watchmen" where Silver doesn't hold back stating plainly that Gilliam's version would've been, "a MUCH much better movie." So what was the problem with Snyder's take? Read on:

I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material. I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both "V For Vendetta" and "Watchmen" and I kinda lost "Watchmen." I was happy with the way "V" came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That's one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of "Watchmen" that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn't enough to get a movie that would have that success. What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script--who had written a script that everybody loved for the first "Batman"--and then he brought in a guy who'd worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of "Brazil"]. 

So, how they did manage to wrestle a story that goes into literal outer space, but also deals with homemade heroes, political undertones and so much more? They re-envisioned the material in a way that would make it work more naturally on the big screen:

What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from "Watchmen" only became characters in a comic book.

So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they're all of the sudden in Times Square and there's a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There's a kid reading the comic book and he's like, "Hey, you're just like in my comic book." It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn't happen. Lost to time.

As you might know, Moore wound up pulling his name from Snyder's "Watchmen" and we can't imagine he would've been thrilled at the pretty wild overhauling of his comic here either. But you know what? It kinda works on paper, and it was pretty smart of Gilliam to find an approach that probably would've worked a bit better, and been certainly more fascinating on the big screen, than Snyder's dry, comic panel replicating take. 

But what do you think? Was Gilliam on the right path or is "Watchmen" truly unfilmable? Tell us below.

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15 Comments

  • joe | March 15, 2014 1:23 PMReply

    snyder made the best watchmen imaginable on screen... the writer of this article and silver/gilliam are retarded tot hink it is unfilmable

    wtf? "hey you're just like in the comic!"

    THAT'S smart? hahah what the hell that's way to literal, on the nose etc...

    the point of making a comic book movie is to bring the COMIC BOOK to life as best as possible... not to beat and mangle it into something else entirely

  • Mike | March 1, 2014 1:20 AMReply

    Wow I'm kind of glad that Joel Silver and Terry Gilliam didn't get their version made. Their version kind of misses the point in my mind. Personally, I really enjoyed Zack Snyder's version. If he made it any less faithful then the purists would be disappointed. In fact some purists were mad enough as it was that he took out the whole squid monster element. However making it faithful apparently disappointed the non purists. So it is a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation. The movie wasn't perfect but I felt that it took risks that most comic book adaptions are too afraid to.

  • Louis Tayler | February 28, 2014 11:29 PMReply

    they should just make a remake of the flim and see if its any good

  • BradRz | February 28, 2014 5:34 PMReply

    At the time (late eighties/early nineties), Moore had given his blessing to Gilliam's take on the project.

  • charles | February 28, 2014 1:13 PMReply

    how can your last question be is it unfilmable when it's already been filmed? Is it unfilmable? No, we all saw a version of it. They filmed it. It went to theaters and made money. Maybe it wasn't a masterpiece but it was filmed/filmable…obviously…….

  • Knut Barnes | February 27, 2014 3:03 AMReply

    Silver's "V" adaptation was pure garbage. It was proof that no one associated with this movie understood the graphic novel. A few nice sequences lost somewhere in just another boring, dumbed-down "Neo/Matrix" style superhero story. The graphic novel wasn't just that. It was much more complex.

  • WadetheFarmer | February 26, 2014 8:44 PMReply

    I just don't understand how you can be too faithful to the comic. I don't understand how you adapt the story of Watchmen any better than Snyder's version. They didn't have all of years of issues of stories and lore to pull from like Spider-man or Batman or Avengers. There are twelve issues that tells one story and that's it. Without butchering the story, you really have no way of taking liberties with it. Zach Snyder is nowhere near a great director, but I think he and the team on that movie did the best adaptation you can ask for. Damned if you do, damned if you don't I guess.

  • Mister D | February 26, 2014 7:46 PMReply

    I like the film, but get why others don't. It is an adaptation of the comic, and for that I think it is well done. Difficult tightrope to walk, especially with something so beloved. I don't think there was a way to win fight, and history will have to be the judge.

    As for Gilliam's, the ending probably is more clever than Alan Moore's Outer Limits ending, but the gut punch of Moore's ending is what makes the book stick go beyond its post-modern look at super heroes. We get a villain, who does something villainous, and the heroes have to basically suck it up. Changing that to (what sounds like) a happy ending would not have worked for me.

  • coy | February 26, 2014 6:06 PMReply

    I don't get the dislike of this movie. There are a couple casting snafus but that movie is peppered with brilliance. Tell me the intro/credits, the funeral set to Sound of Silence, and the whole Manhattan origin aren't beautiful.

  • jimmiescoffee | February 26, 2014 4:31 PMReply

    i dont think snyder is a great director. not even good. but i think 'watchmen' was very well made stuff and gets a bad rap. underrated.

  • KIJ | February 26, 2014 3:19 PMReply

    Snyder's Watchmen was brilliant!

  • brou | February 26, 2014 2:28 PMReply

    Joel Silver talks about Sam Hamm script, which can easily be found on the web (just google Sam Hamm watchmen or Sam Hamm watchmen pdf). We don't know what Gilliam (who, by the way, met Alan Moore) and McKeown take on Watchmen would have been... Basically because they didn't manage to write a screenplay they'd find good enough and left the project.

  • George Y. | February 26, 2014 2:14 PMReply

    Watchmen is not unfilmable...it has been done...and it is incredible.!!!!

  • cattt | February 26, 2014 1:52 PMReply

    Gilliam should've just changed the title & characters' names and direct that script. It has very little to do with Watchmen, but sounds like a good film.

  • El Hanso | February 26, 2014 3:49 PM

    Exactly this. The idea sounds great, but not as a movie version of "Watchmen."

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