How we’ll watch the Watchmen – making the comics fit on screen

I’ve been a deep fan of Alan Moore’s graphic novel for twenty years now, but I’m torn on the upcoming film version.  It was written to be a comic, and it works brilliantly in that format.  It doesn’t need to be a movie. Yet part of me would love to see these images move and breathe.  I looped the spectacular trailer that came out a dozen times, both amazed and terrified.  It looks great as the music video that trailer is, but can it work as a film narrative?  If anything it would seem to make a better mini-series than a movie, but a movie is what we are getting.  So I decided to break out my well-worn copy of the Watchmen and take a look.

WARNING – I suppose there are spoilers below, but this is a 20 year old comic.  I think the statute of limitations has run out, but if you want to be surprised, then go away.

Let’s start with the length… twelve issues in a two hour movie would average out to 10 minutes an issue.  In traditional 2 minute scenes, that’s 5 scenes out of every issue.  Ouch.  Not a good start.

We know some time will be saved across the whole story by the removal of the Black Freighter Pirate comic subplot/story. Zack Snyder has confirmed this may appear on a simultaneous release on DVD but will not be on the big screen.

Issue One – Death of the Comedian and character introductions.  Not a lot to shave out of this one – we have a bunch of very interesting people to meet and the inciting incident of the story to cover – Rorschach’s investigation.  I think we may see less of the Minutemen in the movie, including Hollis Mason and Dan’s relationship. I also think we’ll see much of Rorschach’s extraneous violence as he extorts the underworld left out. It’s character material, but eats up those precious minutes.  I’d say we would need all 10 minutes for this issue.

Issue Two – Comedian’s funeral and recollection of his mourners. Packed with seemingly casual recollections that turn out to be major issues later. Blake’s relationship with Sally is one aspect of the Crimebusters that can’t be left out. Manhattan in Vietnam with Blake was in the trailer, but could be shrunk. Same with Dan and Blake’s Keene riot patrols.  But he can’t leave out Blake’s visit to Moloch. I also hope they keep the Pagliacci joke – personal favorite.  Again, going to need a full 10 mins for this one.

Issue Three – Manhattan leaves Earth, Dan and Laurie reconnect.  Finally we have an issue where material can be cut out. Doc still has to flee to Mars, but there’s a lot of side story with the street vendor and that crazy doomsday sign carrier that can shrink way down.  Should be able to make up time here.

Issue Four – Doc’s reminiscence on Mars. I love this issue, the texture, the ideas of how Doc views time, and the insight into this fascinating character. But really this would be very hard to convey on the screen in depth, and doesn’t move the story forward. It’s mostly backstory. I think this issue will get cut heavily.

Issue Five – Rorschach captured, Dan is frustrated, Veidt’s assassination attempt. A few major plot points, but I think they can compress in a bit.  I think this issue will show a number of factual plot points and spare the depth.  Again with the street vendor – I think his story will also be greatly reduced in the movie, along with the Pirate ship story and the comic-reading kid.  This will probably clock in around the full 10 mins.

Issue Six – What kind of dork does every issue like this?  Me.  Now this issue, while backstory, is to me the heart of the series.  Not only is Rorschach scrawling his own design on the morally blank face of Armageddon, but so is the entire rest of the cast. Every one of them had their own conception of the world broken, and reformed it in their own image. Moral choice in the face of anarchy.  This is also a black, bleak issue, and the kidnapping details are going to really turn people away of not done well.  This issue will likely eat up more than it’s 10 minutes, and claim some of the ground given up by a few previous issues.

Issue Seven – Dan and Laurie, and some info on the Institute. Dan and Laurie are the emotional heart to this tale, so I expect their relationship to get some coverage.  Just not sure how much.  I think Snyder will have to forsake some character work for plot, and this is where we may see that hit.  Easily take the full 10 mins, and maybe more.

Issue Eight – Jailbreak. I think the jailbreak will get time, as will Rorschach’s escapade’s inside the jail. We will need to see the people working on the island, too.  Again, I expect Hollis to get sidelined, and his death seems like a likely item to cut.  Lots of action here, and since we’ve already seen Nightowl doing a Spartan slow-mo kick in the trailer, I think this will get the full treatment.  Full 10 minutes on this one, plus some.

Issue Nine – Revelations on Mars. This would be gorgeous on the screen, and has Laurie big character revelation.  This one will eat up time, especially if we get the full tour of Mars. I wonder if Snyder will try to keep all the bloodstained-smiley logo references, including the crash on the Argyre Planitia.  I also wonder if we’ll see a lot of voiceover from Laurie to tie her story together.  This issue just can’t shrink that much.  Going to be more than 10 minutes.

Issue Ten – Rorschach and Nightowl close in on Veidt. Lots of small bits of information here, like the delivery of the journal and more Pirate story. I think this will be compressed to mainly show the investigation and the fate of the people working on the island.  Can make up some time here.

Issue Eleven – A button is pushed, Veidt’s backstory and the big reveal.  I think we’ll see reference back to the Crimebuster’s meeting and tidbits on Veidt, but not all the details.  His own decision to scrawl his morality on the world.  But the pacing here I think can be cut down to the 10 minutes.

Issue Twelve – Downtown Exposition City.  One worry I have with this adaptation overall is the need for voiceover.  In a movie you normally want to Show, not Tell. With the crazy way Moore plays with time and intercut threads, I think a voiceover will almost be necessary.  Then the wrap up, hopefully with Seymour and his fateful selection.  This will be the bulk of the third act and push well more than 10 minutes – maybe 15+.

Could this clock in as a 2 1/2 hour movie like Dark Knight?  May not be a choice to preserve both the story and the characters.  But even giving another 2-3 mins per issue may not be enough.  I think we’re looking at a very long movie (which studios and theaters hate) or the cutting knife will go deep.

All of this said, I’m still going to see it the day it opens. As a fan I like to ponder topics like this, but am also willing to let movies prove themselves. For fun Google up fan rants about Lord of the Rings before it opened, or Daniel Craig as James Bond.  I have my concerns, but wish Snyder and Co. nothing but the best in making this work.

About Jeff Moriarty

A dabbler in many arts, from Ignite Phoenix to Improv, and from Information Security to Screenwriting. Jeff loves creating new things, and tries his hand at many forms of writing from screenplays to prose. He pontificates on his personal blog, and helps authors get their works online.


  1. Wolf In The Fold says

    Lord of the Rings may be particularly apt. Great story with tons of stuff fans love but that is really hard to get into a movie (or three). I always loved the hobbits in the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow Downs. Gone! Likewise, as brilliant as watchmen is, my favorite part was that kid reading the Black Freighter. Damn.


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