By now, it's been well-documented that the brilliant comic-book author Alan Moore wants nothing to do with the upcoming big-screen version of his most famous work, Watchmen. Just last month, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said he would be "spitting venom all over it for months to come." He also expressed disgust at the film industry in general: "They take an idea, bowdlerize it, blow it up, make it infantile and spend $100 million to give people a brief escape from their boring and often demeaning lives at work. It's obscene and it's offensive. This is not the culture I signed up for." Moore's principled stance (he refuses both screen credit and payment for new films based on his work) stems from years of enduring what he considers shoddy, unethical treatment by both Hollywood and his former publisher, DC Comics.
But as the excitement for the Watchmen movie continues to build, we thought it might be of historical interest to look back at a time when Moore not only supported a film version of his ground-breaking graphic novel, but also endorsed the screenwriter attached to it -- a writer whose adaptation would bowdlerize, blow up and infantalize Moore's work in ways that still offend fans to this day.
In 1987, in a Q&A published in Comics Interview magazine (an excellent, but sadly long-defunct, print publication), issue 48, Moore told interviewer Darrel Boatz about the recently-optioned Watchmen movie:
Alan: I have got as much confidence as it is possible to have in the people who are handling the Watchmen film. Sam Hamm is an excellent screenwriter, he's been signed to write the Watchmen film. I think that it's got, therefore, as good a chance as any of being a good film [snip]
Darrel: I hadn't known there was a film in the works.
Alan: Yeah, 20th Century Fox have optioned Watchmen as a film. The producers are Joel Silver and Larry Gordon, who were the producers of 48 Hours. [snip] I've spoken to Joel Silver, he seems very enthusiastic and has a good track record of getting films actually made. That said, of course, we've been hearing about Silver Surfer and X-Men films for the past 200 years to my certain knowledge. (Laughter.) Whether the film is actually made or not is completely in the air, and how it turns out is beyond my control. But, you know, they've got Sam Hamm as writer of it, who is a very good, promising, new screenwriter, and has also got a good background and interest in comics and is the screenwriter, I believe, upon [sic] the new Batman film, as well. [snip] I've spoken to Sam, I went out to lunch with him -- he came to Northampton and had lunch with me -- and I've got complete faith in him. I believe that he will try his best to make the film as faithful to the experience of reading Watchmen as he can. I believe he's got a lot of respect for the material, and that's all that I can ask for, really, and I'm prepared to sort of stand by what he does.
What did Moore's sincerely expressed faith in Hamm get him? A screenplay that systematically removed all of the poetry, complexity and beauty of the graphic novel and replaced it with a dumbed-down plot, execrable '80s action-movie dialogue and a radically different ending that makes little logical sense and negates the dreadful power of the original. No summary can do justice to this script's awfulness, so you can check out the entire first draft here. But for those with weak stomachs, here are but some of the lowlights:
--The script begins with a prologue about terrorists taking hostages at the Statue of Liberty during the 1976 bicentennial celebrations. Adrian Veidt (never referred to as Ozymandias) leads a superhero team actually called "The Watchmen" to stop them. During the rescue attempt, the Comedian intentionally kills a hostage that's being used as shield by a terrorist. He quips, "The joke's on you."
--Almost all of the comic's back story is gone except for flashbacks to Dr. Manhattan's origin and the night that Rorschach splits the dog's head. Also gone is the sense of a rich alternate history so painstakingly established in the book.
--Speaking of Rorschach, his dialogue -- some of the most memorable passages in the comic -- has been replaced with out-of-character utterances like, "Hiya pardner, long time no see." And, "A doggy. A big old floppy-eared dog." And, "Two things I hate: street mimes... users of recreational drugs." Street mimes? After dispatching Big Figure (needlessly renamed Little Bigger in the script), Rorschach gets into the quip game by telling Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, "Toilet clogged. Big fat turd." Zing!
--Hamm's script ultimately hinges upon the revelation that Veidt's plan all along was to essentially create a hole in time through which he can assassinate Jon Osterman before his transformation into Dr. Manhattan, thereby altering the course of history to prevent a potential World War III and also eliminate superheroes from existence. (This makes little sense, since costumed adventurers existed decades before Manhattan and would presumably have gone on influencing events even if the good doctor ceased to be.)
--After some more ballyhoo, Veidt is foiled, but Dr. Manhattan is able to save his younger self from the fateful radiation blast, so time is indeed changed and Nite Owl, Rorschach and Silk Spectre find themselves -- inexplicably, since they were just in Antarctica -- in the New York City of our mundane, superhero-less reality. The kid by the newsstand is now reading a comic book called -- wait for it -- The Watchmen. And to add final insult to injury, Nite Owl sees a mounted policeman and exclaims, "Oh my God, they still ride around on horses!"
In the final analysis, could anyone blame Alan Moore for swearing off Hollywood?