It’s really hard to make a great movie and really easy to disparage a bad one, and that’s in large part why it’s so rare to hear people inside Hollywood publicly calling out or even mocking their colleagues for ill-received projects. However, in a recent interview to promote his Liam Neeson thriller Non-Stop, prolific producer Joel Silver didn’t hold back about a project he once spent years fruitlessly developing: Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the iconic graphic novel Watchmen.
When he spoke with Coming Soon, Silver had nothing but criticism for Snyder’s film, which divided critics when it saw wide release in 2009 (though, for our money, we enjoyed Watchmen so much that we ranked it as one of the five greatest comic-book/superhero movies of all time). Most notably, he opined that his ultimately scuttled version, which had Terry Gilliam attached to direct, would have been a far superior adaptation, stating that:
“It was a MUCH much better movie […] I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material. I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success.”
Say what you will about Silver, but it is true that Moore has proven notoriously hard to work with over the years. After a plagiarism lawsuit involving Fox’s adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the novelist has noticeably cooled towards Hollywood, asking for his name to be removed from the credits of all subsequent adaptations of his work (including V for Vendetta and Watchmen). Given how loyal Snyder’s film was to Moore’s original graphic novel, it’s not much of a stress to assume that the director wanted to do right by the writer.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE END OF WATCHMEN BEGIN HERE
However, what Silver said next is likely to ruffle more feathers. For Snyder’s adaptation, writers David Hayter and Alex Tse saw fit to deviate from Moore’s ending, which involved Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt genetically engineering a giant alien squid and faking an alien attack to force Earth’s warring nations to unite. Instead, Hayter and Tse substituted the squid for weaponized energy reactors to make it appear as if Doctor Manhattan had turned against humanity. It was an ending that some fans criticized as lacking the impact of Moore’s original conclusion, but other fans opined that it was both true to the graphic novel’s spirit and just as effective.
Silver revealed that his planned ending, under Terry Gilliam, would have strayed much farther from the source material. Warning: reading the following extract from the interview may evoke outraged fury in the minds of Watchmen fans and audible sighs of relief from everyone else:
“What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of “Brazil”]. What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.”
My reaction? In a word, BOO. As a fan of both Moore’s original novel and Snyder’s adaptation, I can only voice a huge amount of gratitude to whoever took Watchmen away from Silver and Gilliam. Doctor Manhattan removing himself from the equation goes against the very nature of the character, and the ending Silver had in mind for the rest of the characters is just plain silly.
He also elaborated on the fates of Nite Owl, Rorschach and Silk Spectre II:
“So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time […] But I did like the  movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!”
That’s an odd ending for Silver’s statement, considering he previously called Snyder’s film a “slave” to Moore’s graphic novel, but going back to his planned ending, I just can’t see fans appreciating the hokey, it-was-all-a-dream nature of wiping the graphic novel’s very universe out of existence. One of the coolest aspects of Watchmen was that it was set in an alternate-history universe where superheroes ruled the streets and Vietnam was a slam-dunk for America, and Silver’s ending would have returned the story to essentially our world.
What do you think? Would you have preferred Silver’s ending, or do you prefer the faithful Watchmen adaptation that we received? Let us know below!