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A history of the ‘Watchmen’

Nick Anderson | Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Twenty-four years ago, Alan Moore introduced a different world: Nixon was in his third term, America had left Vietnam victorious and masked heroes patrolled the streets, pursuing law, order and justice. Until they were outlawed, that is. It is against this dark backdrop that Moore is able to tell one of the best tales of the last century, while stripping away any of the shining brilliance remaining on our super heroes. Moore’s epic 12-chapter graphic novel changed the way people look at both the medium and the subject of super hero comics. Gone was the American dream, replaced with stark humanity. The novel is fantastic but human, gritty but realistic, preachy but not condescending. These characteristics play into its brilliance. When confronted with such a stunning piece of literature, Hollywood has no choice but to turn it into a full-length movie. As early as 1987, two years after the initial publication, a film was in the works from Fox. Not only were several big names attached to the film, it even had the blessing of its creator. Few were surprised when plans were delayed. First there were the special effects issues – one of the main characters glows blue and has the ability to grow several stories in height. Furthermore, the plot is complex, the scenery is ambitious and the guaranteed audience is small. Unable to get enough funding from Fox, the film went into turnaround in 1991 and the long wait for the fans began. A decade later, superhero movies were gaining buzz following the spectacular success of “X-men.” After spending short spans of time at just about every studio in Hollywood (with the exception of Disney), “Watchmen” ended up in development at Warner Brothers. After achieving significant critical and financial milestones with the reboot of the Batman franchise, the studio was ready for another great comic. Several unseen problems lay ahead. Moore, with a sour taste in his mouth from his previous work in Hollywood, wouldn’t even lend his name to the script. Yet as the movie lost one major name, it gained another: Zach Snyder, a golden figure after the release of “300.” Recognizing his ability to win filmgoers, Warner Brother’s gave Snyder near complete creative control of the film. With fans cheering his every move, Snyder changed the PG-13 script to a full-fledged R, restoring all the violence, sex and profanity of the novel. As stills, posters and trailers reached the public, excitement grew within the fan base and spilled into the general consciousness. It seemed the film might live up to expectations and maintain public appeal, but a lawsuit from Fox threatened all this hope. While not given much notice when it was filed, a judge had ruled that Fox still had the rights to the film. After weeks of questions, the studios settled out of court and prepared to finally release “Watchmen.”After surviving over 20 years in development, one question remained: Would the film faithfully portray the book and satisfy its fans or will it fulfill the deepest fears of its creator? Now that “Watchmen” has hit theaters, audiences can finally know.