Essays

From Development Hell: A Brief Look at Watchmen’s Long Journey to the Screen

In 1986, “Watchmen” was published as a limited series comic book. Twenty-three years later, it’s finally being released as a film. Here’s a look at what it took to get here.
By  · Published on March 3rd, 2009

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When I was fourteen years old, I read a graphic novel called “Watchmen.” At this point, it had already been published for over a decade. I came late to the game purely because I was only two years old when it was published originally – but when I got to it, I was hooked. I’ve read it at least once a year since, and last night I got to see the film version of the story for the first time since turning to the first page all those years ago.

Even though I’m squarely in the fanatic base of the graphic novel’s corner, I recognize that there is a huge population of people out there that either haven’t heard of the novel or simply don’t care. “Watchmen” is an odd cultural icon in that it’s held in high regard by a sizable group of people while being completely unknown by others. It’s not Star Wars or Star Trek – two pieces of culture that benefit from “being heard of” by people that haven’t seen a film or an episode. “Watchmen” isn’t so lucky.

Because of this, I felt it important to take a look at why fans (and film fans in general) have been so unbearable for the past year. It has, mostly, to do with the excruciatingly long wait that had to be endured before finally watching Watchmen in film form. Here’s just a brief look at that frustrating wait:

Hopefully this gives you just a slight appreciation of not only the lengthy amount of time it’s taken to see this thing through, but the hard work that’s been poured into it (mostly all for naught). Remember, all along the way there were press announcements and trades writing stories about the direction this thing was going. When “Watchmen” was published, it was published to wide public and critical acclaim, so it became a hot commodity for the film world immediately. Imagine every few years that something you’d love to see turned into a movie was announced as a new project featuring a new writer and director. Imagine that shortly after that announcement, the project always fell apart.

So at this point, not only will there be a film version of a fantastically rich story, but there’s a host of What Ifs. Real world, real life dreamcasting that ultimately just fell apart. In a way, it’s this mythos that’s made Watchmen even bigger than it was before, created the air around it that fans salivate over and annoy the uninitiated with.

It’s been a long time coming for some fans, still longer for others, and in three days they get to decide whether Alan Moore was right all along for believing the damned thing was unfilmable in the first place. Luckily, even after it’s released, we can all still wonder what a Gilliam version might look like.

For a much more in-depth look at the development nightmare for Watchmen, go out and buy “The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made” by David Hughes immediately. Immediately.

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