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Can Damon Lindelof successfully adapt Alan Moore’s Watchmen?

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HBO has ordered a pilot for its adaptation of the celebrated graphic novel

Image: DC Comics

Alan Moore’s Watchmen is a step closer to being adapted once more, this time by Lost and The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof at the helm. HBO has given the project a pilot order and ordered additional scripts, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Yesterday, Lindelof posted an image to Instagram that depicted a trophy given to one of the heroes, Hollis Mason, when he retired from crime fighting in the comics.

In June, THR revealed that the network had put the show into development with Lindelof. It’s the second try for HBO, which began discussing a Watchmen series with Zack Snyder in 2015, who directed the 2009 film adaptation. Lindelof is developing the show from scratch, according to Variety.

Written by Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, Watchmen was published as a limited series between 1986 and 1987, and quickly earned considerable critical acclaim for its mature and satirical take on superheroes. It was eventually named in Time magazine’s List of the 100 Best Novels in 2005. In 2012, DC Comics launched a prequel series, Before Watchmen.

Moore and Gibbons specifically designed Watchmen to take advantage of the comics medium, not a cinematic one; Moore has said that the comic was "inherently unfilmable." The story itself could be adapted, but in the process, the design choices that supported the story would be lost with the shift in medium. Video blogger Kristian Williams summed it up best: “Watchmen is less about the story being told, and more about the way it’s being told. It’s a comic about comics.”

That’s the charge that’s been leveled against Snyder’s adaptation. While the director carefully emulated many of the scenes from the novel, it’s never managed to be anything but a lesser imitation of the source material.

This brings us to Lindelof’s work with HBO. While the graphic novel has been said to be unfilmable, television has come a long way in the last decade. Lindelof has played a role in this with his work on shows such as ABC’s Lost and HBO’s The Leftovers. Networks such as HBO have further pushed the boundaries with projects such as Game of Thrones. Watchmen would certainly fit in with the shows that HBO already airs: it contains plenty of sex and violence, and it’s a complicated story that delves into the morality of a world full of superheroes.

Certainly, HBO is looking to find replacements for George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy when it ends next season. It’s developing five (five!) successors to Game of Thrones, but it’s also turning to other classic genre properties, such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and now, Moore’s Watchmen. (It also doesn’t hurt that DC has its own major cinematic universe in theaters.)

But will Lindelof actually be able to go beyond what Snyder did with his film adaptation? Properly adapting Moore’s story is a tall order. With a television show, he’ll have more time to work with, which will likely mean that the parts that didn’t make the cut in the first adaptation, such as the comic-within-the-comic Tales of the Black Freighter, could make an appearance. Faithfully adapting the source material goes beyond replicating the scenes in the comic, however. It’s about understanding the purpose of the story, and recognizing how the art, structure, lettering, and characters all work to inform the story, commenting on the world of comics as it did so. Hopefully, Lindelof will be up to the task.