The Watchmen That Almost Was

March 5th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , ,

First off, check out the animated short Saturday Morning Watchmen if you haven’t already. Yes, yes, it’s Newgrounds. I don’t care. It’s quality. Check it out.

The new Watchmen movie is about to be released. I got my midnight IMAX tickets ready. Good or bad, it’s probably realistically the best we would ever get. Lord knows they’ve been trying to make it into a movie for years. It started back in the 80’s with a ridiculous script by Sam Hamm, the guy who gave us the Michael Keaton Batman movie. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I have read enough. The ending in the screenplay puts you in a facepalm frenzy by having Dr. Manhattan save the world by going back in time and negating his own origin. This causes the present to be undone so that Nite Owl, Silk Spectre and Rorschach end up in the real world.

That sounds painful. The movie had remained in limbo for years after. There seemed to be some movement in the mid-00’s, with David “Solid Snake” Hayter’s screenplay. Darren Aronofsky was set to direct. Alan Moore, though disagreeing with the concept of a Watchmen movie, still said that Hayter’s vision was the best and most faithful version he had read. Things were moving forward a bit, even with a Watchmen movie teaser site up for a little while. Then it just went away and the whole thing was scrapped for a couple years until being greenlit with another creative team and another screenplay.

But what of the David Hayter script? Was it any good? I’ve actually read it. A few years back, back when the wheels were still in motion, I got my hands on the script and read through it. Totally legit. I had written a list of all the differences between the book and Hayter’s stuff. With the movie coming out, I figured I’d just dust it off and repost it for you guys.

What I got from reading the screenplay was that a Watchmen movie was very, very possible. It wouldn’t suffer from pacing or time issues like many expected. At the same time, it was filled with stupid, stupid changes. Pointless changes. Not the kind of changes that make you say, “Well, I guess I can see why they would do that.” It’s more like, “You know, if they took out those unnecessary, retarded parts, this would be a really sweet movie.” It’s like if they decided that Dark Knight should have had a polka soundtrack.

Just to reiterate: This is NOT the script that they went with for the actual Watchmen movie!

– “Nite Owl” is “Night Owl”.

– “Silk Spectre” is “Slingshot”, which I’ll explain later. Also, she and her mother are always referred to as Laurie and Sally Jupiter.

– Captain Metropolis is at no point referenced.

– It takes place in the present (meaning 2005, since that’s when it was meant to be adapted), meaning the chronology is mixed up a little. I guess that means the Comedian’s face was completely covered up for about all of his career.

– In terms of age, Night Owl is 39, Slingshot is 24, Manhattan is in his 60’s (not that it matters), Comedian is 61, Ozymandias is 41 and Rorschach is probably about 40 or so.

– Rorschach’s narration/journal stuff comes across as more “I’m bitter at what happened” as compared to “society sucks”.

– Rorschach investigated the Comedian’s death as the police were on their way to investigate themselves. On his way out, one of the cops gets in his way. Rorschach jabs him in the throat with two fingers and casually walks away. Naturally, the cops believe he’s involved with the murder.

– Walter Kovacs is far mangier in this version. Long hair and very unshaven.

– When Daniel meets Rorschach in his kitchen, he’s a bit more uncomfortable. He silently takes a steak knife from a set of utensils and hides it behind his back. As the scene ends, it’s revealed that Rorschach was not only aware of it, but he stole it when he wasn’t looking. Somewhat important to the plot.

– The scene where Rorschach walks into a bar for information and snaps that laughing guy’s pinky is omitted.

– Here’s an interesting change. Rorschach only tells what he knows to Daniel. Daniel visits Ozymandias later on to inform him about the Comedian’s death. Ozymandias calls up Dr. Manhattan and informs him off-screen. Manhattan tells it to Laurie, who only responds with, “Good.”

– As for Manhattan’s nudity, the screenplay describes, “He is naked but for his shifting, flaring light.”

– Laurie is known as Slingshot because on her 18th birthday, Manhattan granted her a superpower. When stretching out her index and middle fingers like a peace sign, she can create a ball of energy and shoot it from between them. Probably the most unneeded change of the whole transition.

– By pulling a brain cell out of Laurie’s skull, Manhattan creates a “memory mirror” for Laurie to be able to rewatch any old memory perfectly. This is done for two reasons. One, as an excuse to show us a couple flashbacks from time to time. Two, the device was created with the use of “tachyons”. Foreshadowing, you see.

– When Laurie brings up getting together with Daniel, Manhattan seems sadder than in the comic, where he blissfully ignores her.

– The scene where Daniel and Laurie have dinner and discuss old times is omitted.

– No mention of the autobiography, “Under the Hood”. Barely any coverage on the Minute Men.

– A new scene is added. Rorschach counters detective Gallagher in an alley and interrogates him by sticking Daniel’s steak knife into his finger. In Gallagher’s briefcase, he finds a sketch the Comedian made that said “THE END OF THE WORLD”, surrounded by pyramids. Rorschach goes on an angry rant about cops and how they betrayed him with the strike that led to the Keene Act. Gallagher says he was only 12 when that happened. Nevertheless, Rorschach cuts his finger off.

– The attempted rape scene between the Comedian and Sally is omitted, but it’s brought up several times. Most notably, the flashback where a drunken Laurie explodes on Edward Blake.

– The attempted bringing together of the Crime Busters is just like the comic except for one major difference: Night Owl is the one trying to head it instead of Captain Metropolis.

– In Night Owl’s funeral flashback to the riot, there’s a bit where he saves a rioter from being beaten to death by the Comedian.

– Rorschach only corners Moloch once. Moloch finds a note on his refrigerator, telling him to turn around. Once he’s about to, Rorschach shoves him into the wall and interrogates him.

– In the flashback to the Comedian’s breakdown, there’s a bit where he sees a crucifix on Moloch’s wall and starts crying to it. Then he gets angry and throws his bottle at it.

– We see that sometimes Rorschach travels through the city by perching on top of elevated subway cars. Just something for us to look at while he narrates.

– The two characters at the newsstand only get a couple scenes. The lesbians and the pirate comic are omitted completely. The subplot about the missing artist is also removed.

– The interview with Manhattan mixed with the attempted mugging of Daniel and Laurie is exact. The only difference is that it’s a call-in show and the antagonizing reporter is calling from the audience on his cell phone.

– Once Manhattan leaves Earth, the agent is nowhere near as angry with Laurie as he is in the comic. But he does urge the severity of the situation.

– Obviously, Nixon isn’t president here.

– Amazingly, a lot of the stuff about Manhattan on Mars is intact. Only it’s paced a lot quicker without losing any vital information since most of the flashbacks are lacking in dialogue. Other than Manhattan meeting Janey, the scenes are all summed up by narration. The scene where his father forces him to leave watch making is omitted, but referenced. Some scenes with he and Janey are briefly glanced at or removed completely and the bit where he carves a symbol into his head is gone. Hollis Mason’s retirement is gone. 100-foot Manhattan laying waste of the Vietcong army is in there. Manhattan dealing with the riot is gone.

– For whatever reason, when Manhattan and Laurie visit Ozymandias in Antarctica, Rorschach and Night Owl are in the background. They don’t do or say anything, though.

– Rorschach taking care of the mugger while waiting for Moloch is omitted.

– When Rorschach finds Moloch’s dead body, he’s greeted with his note to look behind him. That’s when the police call in for him to come out with his hands up.

– When landing from his escape jump, Rorschach is hurt, but not enough that he can’t get back up. He sees that there are a bunch of SWAT cops waiting for him and tells them, “Ten years. I’ve been waiting for this.” He brutally fights off a couple of them until they finally take him down. After the unmasking, detective Gallagher angrily kicks Rorschach’s face in.

– In the comics, the issues were character-based, so you’d have a long stretch of story that’d be about nothing but Rorschach or Laurie. Here they mix the scenes up, so it goes back and forth between stuff like Rorschach in prison and the Daniel/Laurie romance.

– The psychiatrist only gets one scene, which is where he shows the inkblots to Walter. From looking at the inkblots, we see quick flashbacks of his mother beating him and young Walter stabbing a bully in the eye with a lit cigarette. No mention of the mask’s origin or Kitty Genovese (for good reason).

– The kidnapping story is different in ways. As Rorschach wanders through the house, we hear his heartbeat. It gets faster and faster as he discovers more clues. Finally he comes across the cutting board and looks out the window to see the dogs fighting over a femur. His heart gets louder and pumps faster until it just… stops. Then it starts beating again, slow. A new man, he grabs a cleaver and walks outside to kill the dogs. Later, when the kidnapper comes home, Rorschach cuffs him to the stove. He starts pouring gasoline everywhere until the guy eventually confesses. He begs to be taken to jail. Rorschach tells him, “Men go to jail. Dogs are put down.” Then he tosses a lit match onto him.

– Rather than a speech about the pointlessness of the world, Rorschach’s moral to the psychiatrist was, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

– Some details are taken out of Laurie’s tour through Daniel’s basement. Stuff like the signed picture of the dominatrix villainess. At one point they talk about an owl boomerang that Daniel made. He tried using it once but he fucked up the design and it ended up cutting open his leg. Important for later.

– The Veidt Building has a waterfall on it somewhere. Night Owl flies the Archimedes through it to immediately wash off years of dust.

– The rescue mission is shortened a bit. When we join the two in post-coitus, the stereo system is still on, playing some of the Beatles. Daniel talks about how the last line of the last track of the last Beatles album was “And in the end: The love you take… is equal to the love you make.” Important for later.

– A scene is included where Ozymandias is about to leave NYC. Daniel asks him to help him out, but Ozy tells him to leave town since most of the major cities have been targeted in the upcoming nuclear war. The two part ways.

– Oh yeah, our enemy is China, not Russia. Forgot to mention that.

– Detective Fine’s visit to Daniel’s house is different. He has more reason to be sure that Daniel is Night Owl. Mainly when he finds the steak knife missing. He tries to take Daniel in, but Daniel overpowers him and knocks him out. He and Laurie tie him up and get out of there.

– The jailbreak is exactly like it is in the comic. But once they come back to the apartment, Rorschach examines Detective Fine. While Daniel talks to Laurie and Manhattan, Rorschach realizes that Fine had freed himself, called for backup and then retied himself. Rorschach and Night Owl get away just in time.

– Unfortunately, the scene where Rorschach gets his spare costume and has a run-in with his landlady is omitted. A shame, since that was an important scene for his character.

– Ozymandias only has one henchman. The descriptions in the screenplay make it sound like he’s his genetically engineered gay lover or something. Also, we get to see Ozymandias’ plane barely land in Antarctica.

– After the incident in the bar where Night Owl straddles a punk involved with Mason’s death, the two heroes stand around the sidewalk. The two debate over whether or not they need Ozymandias’ help, when Night Owl comes into realization. He sees the reflection of the V of the Veidt Building, which, when upside-down, appears as a pyramid. Then the whole Ozymandias/Pyramid connection becomes obvious to him. He sadly sits on the curb, telling Rorschach that they aren’t going to make it. In a nice touch, they look at one of Adrian’s billboards, which is a fitness ad. The tagline is, “I WILL GIVE YOU BODIES BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS.”

– On Mars, the discussion between Manhattan and Laurie is mostly the same. Towards the end, they get directly to the point, though. Rather than go through 50 flashbacks, Manhattan just plain tells her that Edward Blake was her father. Unlike the comic, Manhattan never mentions how he’s going to kill somebody in the snow.

– The Minute Men reunion flashback is omitted. Though earlier in the story, they do mention how one of the members is in the insane asylum.

– Ozymandias eats dinner with his henchman when Bubastis comes in to notify him that Rorschach and Night Owl are coming. Ozymandias offers his henchman some wine which is obviously poisoned. At no point do they go into Ozymandias’ life story.

– Nothing big, but they got rid of one of my favorite exchanges. The one where Rorschach and Night Owl relieve tension by talking about the old days of working together.

– The two heroes attempt to take Ozymandias down and he, of course, defeats both. But when doing it, he punches Rorschach out cold and tranquilizes Night Owl after smashing his nose. Also, for this and the next part, Ozymandias keeps the dead body of his henchman nearby.

– The two are bound on metal tables, where Ozymandias tells them his plan. Around the world, leaders are being delivered untraceable black boxes with instructions to put aside their hostilities and await orders. But there’s no alien invasion here. Instead, though it’s a bit hard to explain, Ozymandias has some satellite stuff in space that would direct a solar radiated blast into New York City, vaporizing half of the population, but leave most of the buildings intact. Instead of “I did it 35 minutes ago,” he tells Night Owl, “I did it… just now,” while pressing a button.

– Bodies are vaporized, which is far more humane than the treatment they got from the “alien invasion” in the comic. Blast shadows are seen, including that of the newsstand guy and the little boy holding hands in fear. Considering 9/11 was still fresh, I’m a bit surprised they could even go that far.

– Laurie doesn’t steal a dead man’s gun when she’s in NYC.

– Rorschach and Night Owl are meant to be exposed to the blizzard outside and die from it, but Manhattan saves them as he walks by in his drunken state (due to the tachyons). He seems a bit angry at Night Owl due to him sleeping with Laurie.

– After Manhattan and Bubastis are vaporized, Laurie uses her Slingshot power on Ozymandias. He simply catches it and tosses it back at her, knocking her down. Coincidentally, he did mention earlier that he could catch bullets, so why they changed it is a mystery to me.

– So the other stuff happens. Giant Manhattan comes in, Ozymandias turns on the TV, shows his victory, etc. He makes a deal with how the heroes have to keep quiet or all the people who died will have died for nothing. But also, they can no longer be adventurers or Ozymandias will go after them. They all agree but Rorschach. Night Owl chases after to talk some sense into him. Then we get the scene where Manhattan blows up Rorschach. Night Owl screams for Rorschach to come back during this scene, but Rorschach and Manhattan ignore him. Night Owl is really broken up about seeing his friend die. He goes in and comforts Laurie. Manhattan sees them sleeping, smiles, talks to Ozymandias like in the comic and leaves for good.

– Here’s where things get radically different from the comic. Hours later, Night Owl snaps awake. He gets up and suits up. Ozymandias wakes up, realizing what’s about to happen. Laurie wakes up to find Night Owl gone. She wanders around and finds a lot of champagne. She drinks herself silly in a futile attempt to help cope with what happened to NYC.

– Night Owl enters Ozymandias’ very large bedroom room to kill him. Ozymandias lurks in the shadows and behind pillars, asking why he’s doing this. Night Owl explains that it’s for three reasons. One, he can never go back to the life of Daniel Dreiberg. Two, it’s for the Comedian and Moloch and all the innocents who died. And three, it’s what Rorschach would have done. The two fight. Night Owl gives it all he’s got, but there’s no way he can outfight Ozymandias. Once he’s victorious, Ozymandias pulls out a box filled with various Japanese throwing weapons. He casually tosses a spike into Night Owl. Out of desperation, Night Owl tosses his owl boomerang straight at Ozymandias. It’s easily dodged and falls into the darkness. Ozymandias commands Night Owl to stand up, which he barely does.

“Before I do this… One last thing. There’s something I’ve always been curious about.”

“What’s that?”

“(sudden burst of laughter) Why an owl? I mean, assuming your intention is to intimidate the criminal element… What’s so frightening about an owl?”

“I don’t know, really. I guess it’s because… No matter how hard you listen, you never hear them coming.”

Night Owl ducks as the boomerang finishes going full circle. It keeps going and surprises Ozymandias by stabbing into his chest. Ozymandias gets desperate and angry with how the follow-up of his plan is ruined, but tells Night Owl that he never would have let them live anyway. The last thing he hears is Night Owl saying, “I know that, Adrian. How stupid do you think I am…?”

– Daniel comes back to Laurie and the two are ready to leave. But they notice the news is talking about the black boxes and how the world leaders are awaiting the follow-up instructions. Daniel types up something, hits send and the two leave. We see the message is, “And in the end: The love you take… is equal to the love you make.”

– Instead of the other way around, it is Sally who visits the new identities for Laurie and Daniel. They live in an apartment in NYC where a slimmer and trimmer Daniel still works as Night Owl. Laurie is much cleaner now, having given up drinking and smoking. They also have a baby daughter. The Veidt Building had been imploded and the world is a better place. The scene ends with Sally playing with her granddaughter as a tear drops on the baby’s smiling cheek. That makes a transition to…

– A splatter of red ketchup falls on Seymour’s smiley face shirt. We know where this is going.

A while back I was going to start my own half-joking online petition to have me play Seymour in the movie, but then I had to ruin it by dropping a bunch of weight. Eh. It could’ve been funny.

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6 comments to “The Watchmen That Almost Was”

  1. The bit with Nite Owl sitting on the street seems ripped off from the bit in Moore’s “From Hell”, where the Detective & Psychic do the same thing after discovering William Gull…additionally, the “Bodies Beyond Your Wildest Dreams” logo is clearly there in the title page of the final issue, floating amongst the corpses of the two Bernards and the squid.

    Plus, from your annotations I notice that Jesse Custer is to Jesus Christ as Giant Manhattan is to Grant Morrison…similar initials, similar mindset, similar appearance, similar abilities.

  2. saw the movie last night. It’s properly good. Some changes, but I’m of the opinion that they’re to make the thing comprehensible to the audience. My friend fell asleep twice.

  3. I had heard of the David Hayter script years ago, but I’ve never seen the changes from the original like this. Maybe it’s me, but I expected more of Rorschach sneaking into Ozymandias’ secret polar base to disable a nuclear equipped walking battle squid while that nerd Nite Owl uses the radio to talk to him about love blooming on the battlefield.

  4. Wow. Truly a terrifying look at what might have been. The Peace Sign That Killed is quite amazing.

  5. I cannot wait to see this flick, animation looks amazing. I watched the saturday morning cartoon from the link you posted. looks comical. thought it would have something to do with the movie

  6. A correction: Aronofsky was only attached very briefly, before Paramount decided to push ahead aggressively for a summer 2006 release; his commitments to The Fountain made him unavailable. Paul Greengrass was set to direct when the film actually came close to getting a greenlight back in 2005 — CHUD still has an interview with him from that time up somewhere, not too long after the teaser site went up. Then Paramount had a change of management, and many (if not most) of their projects in development got sent into turnaround.