The comics-inspired “remix” comes into focus with a director and star-studded cast locked in.
Damon Lindelof‘s upcoming series based on the cult comic book series “Watchmen” has already garnered apprehension from fans on multiple fronts. Director Zack Snyder adapted the material in 2009, and reactions were aggressively polarized. Snyder’s film adaptation is extremely faithful to the 1986 comics, taking a “frame-by-frame approach,” which was a directorial decision that garnered both appreciation and rancor from devoted fans.
Watchmen author Alan Moore was among those steadfastly opposed to the film. He’s called his comics “inherently unfilmable” and (melodramatically) condemned the film’s very existence: “I will be spitting venom all over [the movie] for months to come,” he told the LA Times.
So when HBO greenlit Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen pilot this past September, tensions inevitably swelled once again. Not only were some fans wary of another adaptation following 2009’s disappointment, but others wonder if Lindelof is right for the job.
Lindelof is notoriously inconsistent. His writing has earned both critical acclaim and critical ire. For some perspective, the third season of his show The Leftovers has a 98 score on review aggregate site Metacritic, while his 2011 film Cowboys & Aliens has a 50. Best known as the co-creator of Lost, he’s also well-versed in the art of letting down fans. He knows better than anyone that hell hath no fury like a fandom scorned.
But Lindelof is also responsible for The Leftovers, which topped nearly every critic’s list of the best shows of 2017. The Leftovers is vast and intimate, hopeful and morose, hilarious and heart-wrenching, beautiful and challenging and enlightening all at once. It captures humanity in a bottle and shakes it around until it’s achieved its purest form. The series is a marvel and a masterpiece.
The Leftovers was Lindelof’s most recent collaboration with HBO. With Watchmen as his next, Lindelof has a pretty good track record for the network to go off of. For The Leftovers, Lindelof adapted its literary source material for the first season, then reimagined it for the second and third. Those seasons he wrote free from the constraints of the novel were the best of the series. Lindelof is is definitely good at going off-book.
That’s why it’s actually comforting to know Lindelof has no plans to simply adapt Watchmen for the screen, as Snyder attempted to do. He explained his intention in a recent Instagram post (which you can read in its entirety below):
“We have no desire to ‘adapt’ the 12 issues Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons created 30 years ago. Those issues are sacred ground and they will not be retread nor recreated nor reproduced nor rebooted. They will, however be remixed. Because the bass lines in those familiar tracks are just too good and we’d be fools not to sample them.”
With Lindelof’s vision wordily clarified, the final product is beginning to come into view. Even more promising is the fact that the Watchmen pilot is shaping up to be a Leftovers reunion: Nicole Kassel (who directed two of the show’s “Matt episodes”) is set to direct and Emmy-winner Regina King (who played the wonderful Erika in Season 2) is set to star. Kassel has also directed episodes of some of the best television dramas on the air, including Better Call Saul,The Americans, and Westworld; this can hopefully be an added comfort for nervous Watchmen fans.
King will perform alongside some iconic veteran actors who have also boarded the project: Don Johnson, the eponymous star of Nash Bridges (and still iconically known for Miami Vice), and Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) have signed on to play undisclosed roles. Louis Gossett Jr. (who won the 1983 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for An Officer and a Gentleman), Adelaide Clemens (Rectify, The Great Gatsby), and Andrew Howard (Bates Motel, Limitless) round out the cast.
The odds are stacked against Lindelof’s Watchmen “remix.” He understands this. In his Instagram letter, he writes:
“I am compelled [to adapt ‘Watchmen’] despite the inevitable pushback and hatred I will understandably receive for taking on this particular project. This ire will be maximally painful because of its source. That source being you. The true fans.”
But Lindelof is fresh off a fantastic show and has enlisted an excellent director and promising cast; there is enough promise here to sustain our hopes. We can speculate all we want, but until the finished product is available, there is little we can be sure of beyond the creative vision Lindelof has articulated himself. For better or worse, he will honor that vision; he’s never been one to compromise, “not even in the face of Armageddon.”