For Damon Lindelof, Watchmen isn’t just a childhood favorite. It’s a story that needs to be told today.
“That comic was written in the mid ‘80s, [but it’s] more timely now,” Lindelof said Saturday about his forthcoming HBO adaptation during an appearance at Vulture Fest L.A. Indeed, given the current political climate, the Leftovers creator believes the time is ripe to give Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ deconstructionist superhero opus a bigger platform. “These are dangerous times,” he said. “And we need dangerous shows.”
It’s nothing if not a risky proposition. When Watchmen hit the big screen in 2009, the Zack Snyder-directed comic adaptation was polarizing for moviegoers and critics alike — and a financial dud. In its wake, detractors held it up as evidence that the bleak, unconventional superhero comic that calls the very idea of superheroes into question is — as conventional wisdom has long held — an “unfilmable” property.
HBO on Sept. 20 announced that it would be moving forward with a TV take on the graphic novel, ordering Lindelof’s spin on Moore’s property to pilot as well as opening a writers room and commissioning backup scripts.
And yet Lindelof, whose acclaimed HBO series The Leftovers offered viewers an emotionally raw and haunting vision, rare even in the Peak TV era, clearly disagrees with that sentiment. In fact, with traditional superhero films and TV shows now more prevalent than ever, he feels that Moore and Gibbons’ revisionist take on the genre can serve as a vital reminder.
“What we think about superheroes is wrong,” Lindelof said. “I love the Marvel movies, we saw Justice League, and I’m all for Wonder Woman and Batman and I grew up on these characters, I love these characters. But we should not trust people who put on masks and say that they are looking out for us. If you hide your face, you are up to no good.”
Lindelof first read Watchmen when he was 12 — an age he concedes was perhaps too young — and yet he reflected on the experience as an important part of his artistic development. “It just crackled with electricity,” he said. “It dealt with a psychological realism in the superhero genre that I have kind of fallen in love with. It was too mature for me, but not, I think, completely and totally inappropriate.”
As for making his HBO take something that Moore would be proud of, Lindelof understands the essential futility of trying to satisfy the notoriously prickly writer. “He most certainly doesn’t want us to be doing this,” he said of the author, who famously stated his intention never to see Snyder’s film and generally refuses to be involved with filmed adaptations of his work. “[But] we’re trying to find a way to do it that honors him.”
Whether Moore approves or not, Lindelof clearly feels an urgency to tell this particular story at this particular time. “For a superhero junkie, I’ve never done a superhero movie or a superhero TV show,” he said. “[But] now is the time.”