Sep 25, 2021

Terry Gilliam and that Watchmen movie

I recently rediscovered a video where the Great TERRY GILLIAM talked about his attempt to adapt Watchmen to the silver screen. The interview is dated 1989 and Gilliam said: "We're doing Watchmen and I haven't started storyboarding yet. And what's interesting is there's the comic book, which is a storyboard in itself and has an awful lot of information in it. But I know the minute I start drawing [the storyboard], things will happen. You start a dialogue with the drawing." Clip around 8:35. Watch the whole video here.
In 2003, Gilliam honoured us with his introduction to the sold-out Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman book to celebrate Moore's 50th birthday.
Considering that the book is out of print and it will never be reprinted, below you can read the complete text piece.
For more info about Gilliam (if you need it): Official site - Facebook - Wikipedia
God I am so tired of people asking me what is happening with the film version of Watchmen, “When are you going to do it?” “Have you got the money?” “Who’s going to play Rorschach?” “We’ve read that you’ve written a new script.”
No. I don’t have the money, No, I haven’t written a new script. No, I’m not going to do the film. Ever. Now go away and leave me alone!!!

This nightmare began back in 1988 or 89 when Joel Silver, the producer of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, The Matrix, suggested that we make a film of the Watchmen.  “The what?” I said.  He thrust a fat hardback comic book in my hand and said read. I read. I loved.
But, how to make a film of a masterpiece?  Always a problem. So far, no one has made a good version of War and Peace, and to me Watchmen is the W and P of comics…sorry, graphic novels.
I sat down with Charles McKeown, my writing partner on Baron Munchausen and Brazil, to squeeze out a script. Time passed. Frustration increased. How do you condense this monster book into a 2 - 2 1/2 hour film? What goes? What stays? Therein lies the problem.  
I talked to Alan Moore. He didn’t know how to do it. He seemed relieved that I had taken on the responsibility of fucking up his work rather than leaving it to him. I suggested perhaps a 5 part mini series would be better. I still believe that.  
With every bit of narrative tightening, we were losing character detail…and without their neuroses and complex relationships the characters were becoming more like normal run-of-the-mill-quirky-super-heroes. There wasn’t time to tell all their stories. The Comedian was reduced to someone who dies at the beginning. That’s all, just a convenient corpse to kick off the action. None of this was satisfying to me. I wasn’t happy with our results.
By now, actors were fluttering around Watchmen like crazed moths beating at a dirty street lamp.  Robin Williams was keen to play Rorschach. Was that Richard Gere knocking on the door? The pressure on me was building. Thank god, Joel solved the problem. He failed to convince the studios to hand over enough money to make the film. Brilliant! I was saved! And, perhaps, Watchmen as well!                        
Certain works should be left alone…in their original form. Everything does not have to become a movie. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was always best in it’s original manifestation… a radio show.  
So, forget about the movie. Let your imagination animate the characters. Do your own sound effects. Your own camera moves. Dave Gibbons’ artwork is perfect.  From my first reading of Watchmen, it felt like a movie. Why does have to be a movie?
Think of what will have to be lost. Is it worth it?
Terry Gilliam

p.s. Happy 50th Birthday, Alan

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