Two Creators; Same Understanding
Before Watchmen premiered for HBO on October 20th, Damon Lindelof was interviewed by Rolling Stone. In it, he discussed his own personal experience for the seminal Watchmen Graphic Novel. He tells his story for growing up in the 80s and being a 13-year-old teenager getting his first copy of Watchmen. What’s impressive about hearing Lindelof’s story, is that it’s very similar to how Zack Snyder first came to experience Watchmen.
Zack was a college student when he first read Watchmen, but something stuck with him. He knew Watchmen was unique and described it as such back in 2008 for EW:
“Watchmen is like the music you feel is written just for you. ”That’s my song, no one else gets that but me.” That’s why the fan base is so rabid. Because they feel personal about it. The difference between Watchmen and a normal comic book is this. With Batman’s Gotham City, you are transported to another world where that superhero makes sense. Watchmen comes at it in a different way. It almost superimposes its heroes on your world, which then changes how you view your world through its prism.”
“That’s the genius of this book. That’s what we try and do in the movie. The movie is a challenge, sort of like the book is a challenge, to your icons, your morality, how you perceive pop culture. How you perceive mythology. And for that matter, how you perceive God. It was absolutely genius that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did all of that in the context of a superhero story. That was a revolution for a lot of people. You sit down to read something that’s ”just a comic book,” and then you’re, like, ”Holy s—, my mind got blown!”
EW: Are you nervous about going to Comic-Con this year and appearing before all the fans who hold the comic as sacred?
“I’m nervous but really excited. I feel like there has never been a movie more custom-made for that crowd. Not at this scale. Comic-Con fans have become the gatekeepers of pop culture. You test these movies there. So I’m going to go down there and say, ”Hey, what do you guys think?” If they’re going to go, ”What the f— is this?” that’s fine! That’s part of the process.”
“A genre fan, a comic-book movie fan, is worth 20 normal fans. They blog, talk, buy. For them, a movie is a life experience. The special piece that I’ve cut for Comic-Con, it’s designed to let them know that I care about this book. I hope that amidst all of the hyped-up superhero movies that are down there — and I’m sure there are good movies amongst them — Watchmen will be seen for what it is: pure, completely unspoiled, certainly the lesser of all the evils.”
Now, when it comes to Damon Lindelof and his new HBO Series, many were wondering if it would continue what Zack had done in his film. After all, the new series was set in the present modern world and Zack’s film was set in 1985. But when it came time to actually view Zack’s cut before audiences would (a pseudo-test-screening), he called Lindelof to watch it:
RS: What did you think of the Zack Snyder movie?
“Zack knew that I was a Watchmen junkie. So he reached out after he finished shooting and asked “Will you watch it? I’m going to have a friends and family screening.” It was very early days. The movie he screened for us was almost a full hour longer than what was released. Billy Crudup was covered in little blue lightbulbs and wearing a unitard. The effects weren’t done yet. So it required a certain level of imagination. Seeing the movie at that point, I lost all objectivity. It was like David Copperfield taking you backstage and saying, “I want your opinion about this illusion; I’m going to pull off.” So I could never ever see the trick without feeling, “Oh, I know how that is done.”
“All of that said, my feeling about Zack’s movie — and this is also mitigated by the fact that I know Zack a little — is that this guy’s love of Watchmen is, if you’ll pardon the pun, true blue. This was not a guy looking to make a cash grab. This is a guy who loves the book, can recite chapter and verse. His desire to get it right — and I just did my first season of Watchmen, and I don’t know if I got it right — was so intense and so genuine, that I just was rooting for him in any way one can. That said, my primary criticism of the movie is you cannot take these 12 issues and jam them into a theatrical experience. What makes Watchmen Watchmen is its density, its slow-burn-ness. It just doesn’t lend itself into being adapted into a film. Given the boundaries of, “You need to make this movie so we can release it in theaters, so it has to be under three hours,” you have to play the hits. Every shining moment in the book needs to be in the movie. So there’s no way to end up with a better movie than the one Zack Snyder made, in my opinion. I’m not going to sit here and say, “How do you do Watchmen without Max Shea and without The Black Freighter?” The answer is, it’s impossible.”
As you can tell, both men have great respect for one another, especially for their love of Watchmen. And with both so adamant about not straying too far from the source material, it’s amazing that both have done something to add to the legacy. Zack took a more realistic approach to how the events ended in his film. But Lindelof knew that in order to continue the story that was told, he had to lean more into the Graphic Novel.
RS: So when you got the chance to make this show, you easily could have done a straightforward adaptation of the comic that included all of the things Zack didn’t have room for. Was that something you even considered?
“I thought about it. The first time that I was approached informally, we’d heard this criticism out there in the zeitgeist that the movie had to be fit inside a certain box; what if you could do it as a prestige television drama? This conversation was in 2011 or 2012, and the movie had just come out. I [didn’t] think I could do Watchmen better than Zack did it, even as a prestige series. So now I’ve got to cast a better Nite-Owl than Patrick Wilson? Or, I’ve got to make a different owl ship from the one that he made? It felt like, people saw that story, I’m not going to be able to execute it better than Zack Snyder, so why bother?”
“More importantly, the reason that I watch television, the stuff that I love and think about before I go to bed and while I’m driving my car, is stuff where I don’t know what’s going to happen next. The excitement of that, you can never do with Watchmen. The minute you see a red-headed dude carrying an “End is nigh” sign in the pilot, you go, “Rorschach.” All of the exciting revelations [of the] comic book, we’re now denying the audience, because you’re just painting by the numbers. I realized that [even doing] my best version of Alan and Dave’s masterwork, I’d just be a cover band. So it wasn’t going to happen. And we have to talk about the elephant in the room at some point: Alan really was very explicit in saying that he didn’t want anyone to adapt these 12 issues for any medium outside comics. He also said lots of other things that I ignored, but I did agree with him on that one.”
American Hero Story
Now that you have both creators with a complete understanding of one another, you’ll understand what I’m saying: American Hero Story Minutemen is a love letter to Zack Snyder’s film. Lindelof took the concept of the story within a story and completely utilized it as a full homage to Snyder. In the first episode of Watchmen, we saw a brief glimpse of the characters and they ALL had the same costumes and likeness to what Zack created.
Lindelof went a step further by encapsulating what Zack did and implementing his style into his Series. In the second episode, we finally see the live-action version of AHS. From the slow-motion fight scenes to the utlra-violent beatings; it’s a clear homage to how Zack created his Watchmen Film. But to have Hooded Justice break INTO the glass, as if an inversion of Comedian being thrown out, was perfect. If this is to continue throughout the entire series, Lindelof picked the BEST way to pay homage to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen while also creating his own story.