Given what has happened over the last year or so with the “Watchmen” franchise and its Emmy-winning success as an HBO miniseries, it’s interesting to look back at what might have happened decades earlier. Yes, before Damon Lindelof created his sequel story for HBO, and before Zack Snyder attempted to adapt the original comic book series as a feature film, Paul Greengrass was attached to a film version of the story. A very, very different version than what both Lindelof and Snyder would eventually create.
Speaking to the Happy. Sad. Confused podcast, Greengrass went into more detail about his original vision for “Watchmen,” back when he was attached circa 2004-ish. Of course, the film’s script has made its way around the internet for decades, but we haven’t really heard the filmmaker openly discuss what it would have been like as a feature. And interestingly enough, he likens it to a recent billion-dollar superhero deconstruction, “Joker.”
“Whatever the vision was, I didn’t articulate it clearly because the movie never got made,” Greengrass laughed self-deprecatingly when asked what his idea for the film was. “In essence, what it was—and I loved the graphic novel, and I loved Zack [Snyder‘s] movie, by the way, which was a very faithful rendition of it. My view was, I didn’t want to do a faithful adaptation, and that might have been a disastrous endeavor and perhaps why I didn’t get the movie made.”
Ultimately, it sounds as if Greengrass hoped to create a gritty, realistic version of “Watchmen,” similar to something like “Batman.” Of course, if you read the original comic, most of it is pretty damn grim ‘n gritty, except for the alien squid monster at the end.
“I wanted to believe these characters lived in the real world and that a lot of what they were thinking and doing was delusional,” Greengrass said.
Greengrass drew parallels to what Todd Phillips‘ did with the “Joker,” but was quick to preface and clarify that he didn’t think it robbed from him or anything like that.
“And don’t get me wrong, [you might say], ‘Oh, like the ‘Joker,’ and that I had the idea first because it’s not true at all and I thought the ‘Joker’ was an absolutely brilliant film,” the filmmaker admitted. “But there was something in ‘the ‘Joker’ that had [a similar] quality to it. The ‘Joker’ was in a real world, and he was filled with delusions, and [so the story idea was] superheroes’ identities were within people’s minds and were interior delusions as opposed to actualities. And the [movie] idea would have been where [the two ideas] join, if that makes sense.”
He added, “I’m not sure if it would have worked, but I’ve always thought about that. I think Christopher Nolan did it far, far better than I could with ‘Batman.’ Cause that’s what he did with Batman in a funny way, [he grounded it]. [Gotham] was the perfect place where you could make those characters live in a world that felt real and yet wasn’t real.”
“Watchmen” isn’t the only superhero film that Greengrass has been linked with over the years. Greengrass was also asked about 20th Century Fox‘s “Fantastic Four vs. X-Men” project that he was rumored to be attached to, but said it didn’t get much further than early conversations.
“They did talk to me about it,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t say I was attached. [We] talked, and I thought about it, and in the end…” He trails off and doesn’t finish exactly his thought but says with ‘Watchmen’ he was attached and worked on it for a “few good months” and got to the “taxiway to the runway” stage to take off and then fell apart. “But I slightly felt like, maybe… I wasn’t right for those kinds of movies,” he said, “No, I didn’t get anywhere down the road with [X-Men Vs. Fantastic Four] like I did with ‘Watchmen.’”
So, with two failed superhero film projects under his belt, is Greengrass going to try for Round 3? Well, maybe.
“I wouldn’t say I would never make one of those movies,” he said. “I always think about them, you know?”