While reading David Bordwell‘s interesting piece on the various reasons for the recent wave of superhero movies, I came across a link to this article that Ken Tucker wrote for Entertainment Weekly in 2000, shortly before the first X-Men movie came out and proved that there was life in the genre beyond the obvious, iconic household names like Superman and Batman.
It is fun to read Tucker’s list of recommendations, as he begs the studios to ditch the campiness of earlier films, etc. But I am also struck by this bit near the end, which touches on the status at that time of the long-in-development Watchmen adaptation:
The other comics-fan dream is a movie of Watchmen, the landmark 1986 DC Comics 12-issue miniseries created by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. An epic alternate universe teeming with non-established original heroes that worked as a rousing tale and, as Mike Richardson, publisher of Dark Horse Comics, puts it, a “deconstruction of the superhero genre,” Watchmen–first optioned by Joel Silver (The Matrix)–now lies dormant with producer Lawrence Gordon (Mystery Men).
More then 10 years ago, it was a different story. “Everyone was talking about Terry Gilliam! Terry Gilliam!” says Watchmen fan and Dogma director Kevin Smith. In the late ’80s, after Gilliam, the visionary director of Brazil, had been tapped by Silver to adapt the comic, the plug was pulled. Budget was one big factor. “The joke going around was that it was $1 million a page,” says Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm, who wrote the first Watchmen draft. “That was back when $120 million meant something.”
There was also the mission impossible of distilling Watchmen’s sprawling and intricate narrative into a two-hour flick. Says Hamm: “We felt constantly crestfallen about what we couldn’t get in.”
Both Gordon and Gilliam declined to comment on Watchmen’s past or future, but Gibbons thinks that its time may have passed: “It was most likely to happen when Batman was a big success, but then that window was lost. If this new X-Men movie is a big hit, maybe that will open up another window. But to be honest, I’m not holding my breath.”
So, did X-Men open up another window? Yes, and how!
If anything, I think the ground is a lot more fertile now for a Watchmen movie than it was back in the ’90s. And why? Because, like the man said, Watchmen is a “deconstruction of the superhero genre”, and bringing that deconstruction to the big screen would have been a whole lot dicier a few years ago, if there were only one or two big-screen superheroes to deconstruct.
I am reminded of a headline that appeared in the Associated Press back in July: “‘Watchmen’ aims to answer typical superhero films”. Exactly. Writing a comic book in response to an entire genre of comic books is fitting. Making a movie in response to a comic book begins to look like overkill. But making a movie in response to an entire genre of movies is fitting, once again.
So in a way, it is a good thing that the Watchmen movie has never been made before. No matter how good the scripts were, or how apt the directors and actors attached to the project may have been, the movie itself would arguably have been coming out at the wrong time. The movie would have lacked the context that the original comic book had. But now, that context is there.
Of course, the long development process has had its downside, too, the most recent manifestation of which is the lawsuit that Fox has brought against Warner Brothers in an effort to prevent the release of Watchmen, or at least squeeze some money out of them before the film comes out March 6. For details, see Nikki Finke, David Poland, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, the New York Times and the lawsuit documents themselves.