Adapting Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen graphic novel hasn’t exactly been all smiles. But HBO has stepped up with a TV series sequel of sorts that promises to keep the nostalgia of the original while breaking new ground. A full Comic-Con trailer brought a truckload of vigilantes, wrapped up in a war with the Tulsa Police Force. Plus, several characters from the graphic novel are set to take the TV stage.
Let’s unpack what we know about HBO’s Watchmen TV series.
Who are the new characters?
Silk Spectre: Jean Smart (Fargo, Legion) is playing Silk Spectre, the yellow-and-black suited hero played by Malin Akerman in Zack Snyder’s movie adaptation. Showrunner Damon Lindelof reportedly confirmed the character’s superhero identity at the 2019 Television Critics Association summer press tour. Smart’s character had been named as FBI agent Laurie Blake (née Juspeczyk), a huge hint she would be wearing the hero’s mask.
As for the name Blake, it suggests she’s connected in some way to Edward Blake, aka the Comedian, who died in the movie adaptation.
Angela Abar: Previously thought to be leading the cast as Angela Abraham, King is in fact playing Angela Abar, according to a HBO press release. Abar is the lead detective of the Tulsa Police Force and a mother of three. As the full trailer explains, the police force must wear masks to protect themselves from the vigilantes raiding their homes, but Abar must also wear a metaphorical mask while looking after her children.
It’s also been speculated her crime fighting persona is Hooded Justice, a mysterious male vigilante in the graphic novel, who appears in the trailer clad in a red cape and a trademark hangman’s noose around his — or her — neck.
Ozymandias: Next on the prestigious cast list, Jeremy Irons is playing “the aging and imperious Lord of a British Manor,” aka an older Adrian Alexander Veidt/Ozymandias if the reports are correct. The billionaire genius who masterminded world peace in Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie adaptation may have more grand plans for the world (or at least Tulsa, Oklahoma) in the TV adaptation.
We also know from the latest press release that:
- Don Johnson plays Judd Crawford, Tulsa Chief of Police
- Tim Blake Nelson plays the intriguingly-named Detective Looking Glass
- Louis Gossett Jr. plays Will Reeves, rumored to be Dr. Manhattan, who makes an appearance in the trailer, initially on Mars as shown in TV news coverage, then apparently on Earth, scooping up a mask of his own
- Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (recently seen in Black Mirror and Aquaman) plays Cal Abar, presumably related to King’s character
- Tom Mison plays Mr. Phillips
- Frances Fisher plays Jane Crawford
- Sara Vickers plays Ms. Crookshanks
- Hong Chau plays Lady Trieu, a mysterious trillionaire
Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Dylan Schombing and James Wolk also have parts.
Just peeping out of Marvel’s massive shadow, HBO made its mark at San Diego Comic-Con this year. Trailers for Westworld, His Dark Materials and Watchmen all brought some hope to the Game of Thrones void. (Meanwhile, the Game of Thrones SDCC panel continued to offer premium drama.)
The latest Watchmen trailer offers a deeper look into plot details, including an explanation of why the police of this world wear yellow masks — to protect their identities from vigilante attacks. One of the most exciting clips is a shot of a blue hand picking up a blue mask. Is the space-travelling Dr. Manhattan ready to set up life back from Mars?
Our first look at HBO’s eight-episode adaptation reveals there’s not just one Rorschach mask-wearing vigilante out there, there’s a whole underground community. Their speaker, featured at the very beginning of the trailer, says, “We are no one, we are everyone and we are invisible.”
That doesn’t bode well for the fate of this alternative universe, where the “hibernating” vigilantes, or superheroes depending on how you look at it, appear to be enacting an uprising that may lead to a “reckoning” and war with the Tulsa Police Force. The ominous chanting of “ticktock, ticktock” certainly sends a chill.
Setting, plot details
The trailers establish a war between an uprising of Rorschach mask-wearing vigilantes, reportedly known as the 7th Calvary, and the Tulsa Police Force, who also don masks to both protect their own identities.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma setting, looks to contain Lindelof’s adaptation on a slightly smaller scale, although Dr. Manhattan nips off to Mars. With this story taking place after the events of Snyder’s movie, characters like the Comedian are likely to remain dead in the TV show’s timeline. But this doesn’t mean Lindelof can’t still dip into the graphic novel’s cast of characters who haven’t been portrayed on screen yet.
HBO offers a fairly general description of the plot that covers Lindelof’s intentions to offer a fresh take on the original story without compromising its bones.
“Based on the Alan Moore graphic novel, Watchmen is set in an alternate history where ‘superheroes’ are treated as outlaws. And while Lindelof (The Leftovers) plans to embrace the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel, the series will also attempt to break new ground of its own.”
Lindelof likened his take to Noah Hawley’s Fargo TV series, which became “its own thing” from the Coen brothers’ original 1996 film, he told Syfy in April, 2018. “I wouldn’t call Noah Hawley’s version of Fargo an adaptation because the film exists inside of his world, and so everything that happened in the film Fargo, it does precede the television show Fargo.”
All the way back in 2009, before Snyder’s Watchmen came out, Lindelof described to CBR how the movie had influenced his writing: “From the flashbacks to the non-linear storytelling to the deeply flawed heroes, these are all elements that I try to put into everything I write.”
So at the very least maybe we can expect those elements in the new series, no doubt honed during Lindelof’s time writing Lost.
For his part, Watchmen comic artist Dave Gibbons appears to approve of the script. “I found Damon’s approach to be really refreshing and exciting and unexpected,” he told Entertainment Weekly in September, 2018. “While it’s very reverential and true to the source material (by which I mean the Watchmen graphic novel that Alan and I did), it’s not retreading the same ground, it’s not a reinterpretation of it. It approaches it in a completely unexpected way.”
Release date, soundtrack, pilot
HBO has confirmed Lindelof’s “revamp” is coming in October, 2019, and according to IMDb, the first series will be eight episodes, one-hour each, so there’s hefty screen time for the large cast of characters.
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Soundtrack fans, note that composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of The Social Network are on board.
Nicole Kassell, a HBO veteran from Westworld and Lindelof’s The Leftovers, directs the pilot. Lindelof praised Kassell for her work, posting on Instagram in June, 2018: “Yesterday, she called wrap on the pilot of Watchmen… and let there be no doubt — she WAS the pilot, navigating our owlship flawlessly from takeoff to landing.”
Like all good superheroes, Watchmen’s history hasn’t been all smiles. Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation came off the back of two decades of development hell. Twelve Monkeys’ director Terry Gilliam flirted with the project before deeming the comic (gathered into a graphic novel in 1987) “unfilmable.” Others like Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne series) entertained taking it on, before Snyder stepped up in 2005.
His final cut spanned 2 hours and 43 minutes, with an “Ultimate Cut” at 3 hours and 35 minutes. With an R-rating, six main characters and a world set in an alternative timeline that applies the multiverse theory, response was split. But at the very least Snyder can claim to have given it a red-hot shot.
Now, a decade later, HBO is tackling Watchmen again, but with a TV series that gives showrunner Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) ample time to address the comic’s complicated narrative. That’s if he chooses to tread there at all. In a five-page open letter to fans, Lindelof, a lifelong fan of the graphic novel, detailed his intentions not to adapt the “sacred ground” but to remix it.
He flashed words like “original”, “contemporary” and “new faces” but also stressed that he wouldn’t “erase what came before.”
This story was originally published Oct. 19, 2018.