SPOILER WARNING: This story is one giant-squid-sized spoiler for "Watchmen," in theaters now.
In a film that can fairly be called "slavishly devoted" to its source, "Watchmen" contains one major departure. In the classic DC Comics graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Adrian Veidt's plan to end the Cold War culminates in a faked attack on the earth by Doctor Manhattan instead of a supposed transdimensional alien squid. It has been the burning topic on various websites and the source of intense debates amongst fans. CBR News talked to the "Watchmen" cast and crew about the change and why they feel it was a valid decision.
"'We want the vaginal monster!'" laughed "Watchmen" star Matthew Goode. As Adrian Veidt, he is closest to the plot. "There's always going to be fan backlash. We're certainly prepared," he said, with the understanding that any change will be met with anger in certain circles. However, he feels the amount of story tied to the Squid would have unbalanced the film. "It's such a vast, intelligent novel, that I think if you were to go into the story about the murdered psychic and Bubastis as a try-out, it would've been a bridge too far."
Also, Goode suggested a more filmic reason why the Squid had to go. "Even though the film is an unreality, you still have to make it real and that might've taken people out of it if you had a giant squid," he offered.
The realization of the Squid in a film was also a concern for Dave Gibbons, who drew the creature in the original novel. "What Adrian Veidt does is a colossally convincing special effect. In [a] movie, which consists of colossally convincing special effects, it's just one more effect," the artist said, meaning the importance of the Squid would be lost in the effort to realize it effectively.
Like Goode, Gibbons thinks the island scenes that set up the Squid, with a group of characters separate from the main cast, would be too much story for a single film. "It would've had to be its own side movie," Gibbons remarked.
Originally, the Squid was deleted by screenwriter David Hayter. He signed to write "Watchmen" on September 10, 2001. Following the events of the next day, Hayter did not believe he could use the visual language of the book's ending. "That was a difficult time to end a movie with scenes of bloody torn-apart bodies just littering Times Square," the writer recalled. Hayter chose to make the cut "not only for the studio's sake, but in empathy with the rest of America and the world."
The removal of the Squid did not mean Hayter was free to write a completely new ending. Veidt would still need to attack New York. "So, the initial ending was Adrian using accelerated solar power to direct [weaponized] beams of light [at New York]," he revealed. While an odd choice, Hayter thought it was consistent with the character. "There's a whole thing about him being a sun god and comparing himself to Alexander."
But, Hayter admits, that direction made Veidt more overtly a villain.
Hayter's draft was commissioned by Universal, but "Watchmen" eventually moved to Paramount. It was during that re-writing phase for director Paul Greengrass that Hayter hit upon an answer he could accept. "The goal was: can we really find something already written into the story that's an element of power that can be used as a weapon of mass destruction and bring us to the same story elements that make the ending so amazing in the book?" he explained. "Eventually, that became Doctor Manhattan."
Greengrass was receptive to the concept. For the director, the altered ending brought Adrian Veidt into focus. "If Doctor Manhattan had never existed; if he had never been brought into existence, Adrian would be the most powerful man in the world," Hayter said of Greengrass's viewpoint. "But once Doctor Manhattan comes along, he's the most powerful insect in the world. There's no comparison. So, what Paul loved was that Adrian, by using Doctor Manhattan as his weapon, puts himself back on top."
This notion appealed to the writer. "'Watchmen' is about powerful people imposing their own moral codes on the world and yet, they're not purely moral people. They're flawed--intensely flawed--people with the huge egos. It's really acting out of ego to impose your will on the world. So I felt that sort of all tied together."
Besides the thematic concerns it underscored, the use of Doctor Manhattan also slotted into that plot point without changing the story. "The most important thing was that it brings you to the same sequence of events and sets off the same character responses as in the book," Hayter explained.
Dave Gibbons, representative of the original vision, feels this is a good solution for the film. "I think the ending they put on it is a really appropriate ending, and, actually, they haven't just plopped a different ending on and ripped the squid out," he said. "It actually ties back into the story and makes tremendous sense in the dramatic development of the story in way that the Squid wouldn't [for a film]."
According to Gibbons, the alteration still says everything the book addresses. "I think the ending is true to graphic novel; it's the same sense of has [Adrian] done the right thing? There's the moral ambiguity. There's the crisis of cultures that it gives to all the main characters. And that remains in tact. So I'm perfectly happy with it."
In any adaptation, some of the source material's depth and flavor is lost. However, the filmmakers did not make the change in ending without great thought. The finished Zack Snyder film offers a nod to Veidt's original masterstroke. Bubastis, his genetically altered lynx, makes an appearance at Karnak. The lynx was an early prototype from the effort to create the Squid. While the film's Adrian Veidt is driven by vanity to destroy Doctor Manhattan, perhaps somewhere in his Antarctic Monument he has a gigantic, burbling, Squid. Just in case.