Damon Lindelof’s take on Watchmen is finally here, which means can finally begin to decode the mysterious series. Like Doctor Manhattan himself, HBO has remained understandably inscrutable, keeping many plot and character details under wraps, so that the eventual plot reveals can carry a greater impact.
Even so, we do know that the project isn’t a direct adaptation of the groundbreaking graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Set in the modern day, Lindelof’s Watchmen serves as an epilogue to the source material, weaving a story that involves a terrorist cult inspired by the late Walter Kovacs, aka Rorschach.
The antihero’s journal, acquired by the press right after the events of the graphic novel, carried the full scandalous story of Adrien Veidt’s highly effective, plan to bring about world peace during the Cold War via a phony space squid from another dimension. As such, Watch-heads (a term I just coined) will get to know how the world was changed by the cephalopod’s appearance and Rorschach’s take on it.
While the upcoming series takes all of its beats from the comic, the highly-anticipated television project did draw some subtle inspiration (or rather differentiation) from the 2009 film adaptation from director Zack Snyder. Somewhat divisive among fans, the movie still remains one of the most faithful comic book translations in Hollywood history, especially since Snyder used panels from the graphic novel as some of his storyboards.
“ I did go back and watch the Zack Snyder adaptation to see what Michael Wilkinson designed for the film,” said costume designer, Meghan Kasperlik, who boarded the series after Sharen Davis contributed to the pilot.
“I am very familiar with Michael Wilkinson’s work, as I was Michael’s assistant designer on a number of projects ( American Hustle, Joy, Noah), so it was exciting and always informative to see Michael’s work,” she added. “I also chatted with Michael when I accepted the Watchmen series to see if, as a mentor, he had any words of wisdom. Michael was very excited for me, gave me some inspiring words, and said it was time for the grasshopper to make it her own. Michael is a legend in the world of superhero costumes, so I went back and saw what he did and how I could design the HBO Watchmen in a new light and new way for what Damon has created.”
The same could also be said for production designer Mark Worthington ( Star Trek: Discovery, The Umbrella Academy) who helped develop the overall look of the show via its pilot episode before handing off the reigns to Kristian Milsted and David Lee.
“Yeah, [I watched] parts of it,” he admitted. “You go back for references and in some ways-again, visual style-not to copy it but to say if this is a response to this, how do we wanna get at that in a maybe different way? So yeah, I was constantly going back to the graphic novel, constantly going back to the movie. Probably more to the graphic novel in a way since it’s the primary source. To find inspiration or how do we deal with this character now? That sort of thing. You use all the sources you can when you’re working on [something like this].”
With that said, Worthington, who didn’t stay on for the rest of the season, didn’t rely too much on Snyder’s vision. He added:
“We’re essentially doing a film [too]. It’s a streaming thing, but it’s essentially a film. You don’t want to be affected too much … I think that Damon, even in the writing, you can feel like he was rooted in the graphic novel in terms of his response and what he was doing. That’s not a denigration of the Zack Snyder film at all, I just think it’s that like all of us, he had read the graphic novel. That was the thing that he had hooked him and [something] we were all so passionate about … That’s more of the inspiration [for] the show actually.”
Kasperlik echoed those comments, describing the source material as “our bible.”
“Many of us brought it to meetings and I always had it on my desk and I would constantly, every day, flip through pages and read certain chapters just in case I’d missed something,” she said. “There was a total fan boy in one of the PAs. He definitely helped me discover those Easter eggs that only a fan boy would known and then I took that and tried to incorporate it into certain characters’ costumes. So, when the audience is watching, if you’re a fan boy, you’re know that [certain things] are from the graphic novel.”
While she couldn’t tease much, Meghan did touch on the costumes for Jeremy Irons, who is rumored to be playing an older version of Veidt, aka Ozymandias. Of course, nothing is confirmed at this time and his character is simply described as “the Lord of a Country Estate.”
“When I was really working out [Jeremy’s costumes], I definitely referenced the novel,” she added. “Just kind of going through his story and seeing if there was anything in the novel that I could then incorporate into his costume and those little Easter eggs that we’re all hoping for. I was trying incorporate as much as possible and that definitely happened [there].”
We had to show him aging, I took that into consideration, his storyline and how he progressed within the story. So, what did he look like in the ’80s versus what is he looking like now? Without giving too much away of the story, what components does he still have? And his costumes are very exciting, they were one of my favorite characters to do because there are some really exciting, new never-before-seen costumes that the audience will hopefully be taken by. It was how do we bring this richness in, but age him as a man and his story like how long has he had this?
“Damon knows the comic book backwards and forwards … he loves it and he’s very respectful of it. There were certain things that he wanted to have. Nite Owl’s ship would be one of them … There’s certain aspects of it that were important for him to maintain,” Worthington stated. “He’s respectful to the tone of the original … He’s taking the story to a series of very different places, [but] he’s retaining these [essential] aspects of characters-some you’ll recognize, some are new-but I think that’s the thing he wanted to make sure he was doing right, was the spirit of it, the tone of it, the basics and thematic ideas of it. Those ideas are sacrosanct to him and I think he’s very respectful of that and he does some really beautiful new things with it that you’ll see. And then, of course, there are little details here and there. You get obsessive … You can’t help but do that given the nature of the way comic books are written and how people appreciate them.”
Set in an alternate reality where superheroes exist, America won the Vietnam War, and Nixon was never impeached, Watchmen could easily fall into the established mold of the comic book genre, but Lindelof wanted to keep it as grounded as possible.
“[He] didn’t want it to go way off into too much [fantasy],” explained Worthington, hinting that Marcel Breuer’s public library in Atlanta serves as a major setting for a crucial flashback sequence. “It’s not Marvel. It isn’t that stylized. It’s in our world, it’s in our time. That said, [Damon] has an interesting sensibility visually which is both subtle and bold at the same time. He’ll push for bolder visual choices where they’re very appropriate, given the action of the scene. Not arbitrarily things that just look ‘cool.’ He’s not interested in that … Damon always comes full circle back around to a character note or a story note … but again, we weren’t going for a more comic book look, if you will.”
“We would go back and reference the source material and [ask], ‘How can we move it into our world, our Watchmen world of 2019?’ … The vigilantes in the graphic novel made their own costumes. That was the theory, so they’re not necessarily the big Avengers with super high-tech costumes. They have to be more attainable that the person who’s wearing the costume could actually create it,” Kasperlik said. “The show itself is spanning 100 years, so we cover so much in nine episodes … Without giving too much away, there’s noir and dystopian [elements].”
Season 1 of Watchmen premieres on HBO Sunday, Oct. 20.
Regina King leads the cast as Angela Abar, who wears two masks; one as a lead detective in The Tulsa Police Force and another as wife and mother of three.
The castalsoincludes Don Johnson as Judd Crawford, Tulsa Chief of Police; Jean Smart as FBI Agent Laurie Blake; Tim Blake Nelson as Detective Looking Glass; Louis Gossett Jr. (as Will Reeves; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Cal Abar; Tom Mison as Mr. Phillips; Frances Fisher as Jane Crawford and Sara Vickers as Ms. Crookshanks. Additional cast include Hong Chau as Lady Trieu, the mysterious trillionaire, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Dylan Schombing and James Wolk.
Episode 1-“It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”-is now available to stream on HBO’s various digital platforms.