Looking at all the fan-made poster for The Avengers last night, a thought struck me: Maybe the best way to film the sprawling ensemble piece that is Alan Moore's Watchmen would have been to borrow from Marvel's approach?
I'm fully willing to admit this might be one of those late-night, sleep-deprivation-fueled thoughts that is better kept to oneself. But think about it: part of the problem with Watchmen is that it has a bunch of protagonists, each of them potentially the hero of the story. And they each have a rich backstory of their own, along with all of the complex world-building that goes into the Watchmen universe. Especially in the wake of Zack Snyder's movie, it's easy to see how any film of Watchmen would struggle to get you to connect with all of these protagonists.
So what if you gave a couple of those characters a solo movie before bringing them all together for Watchmen? Would it even work? Off the top of my head, I could see this working out pretty well for Nite Owl. We'd have more of a chance to get to know Hollis Mason, and through him discover the history of the superheroes from the 1940s onwards. And it would give us more of a chance to get inside Dan Dreiberg's head. Would it have been a successful movie? Hard to say. But on its own, a Nite Owl feature would have been much cheaper to film, and since the movie version of Nite Owl was already revamped to look more like Batman, the marketing could have positioned it as another Batman Begins.
A Nite Owl movie could have ended with him retiring, or with him hearing from Rorschach that the Comedian had just been murdered.
Beyond that, I can imagine a Rorschach movie or a Dr. Manhattan movie could be a fascinating, compelling stand-alone film. But you know what I'd really like to see? A Comedian movie. Especially if they went back to the character's roots — I may be the only person who loves those old Charlton Peacemaker comics, in which the character is always a bit of a psycho. And yet, he's obsessed with peace and really does, in his own twisted way, want to make the world a better place. (The Comedian is a good deal more cynical than the Peacemaker, so I'm not sure how you'd meld those two backstories, but it might be cool to try. As long as you ignore DC's horrendous 1980s and 1990s reinventions of the Peacemaker.)
The advantage of rolling out character-specific movies for each of Watchmen's main characters is that it cements the idea that this is a superhero universe, just as Marvel's is. It also gets around the fact that Watchmen's complexity and wealth of viewpoints are what make it such a great work — but you can't really shoehorn all of that into one two-hour film.
Lots of people have suggested that Watchmen really should have been a miniseries, perhaps on AMC or HBO. But maybe the other way to crack this particular dilemma would have been to give moviegoers what they really seem to crave from their superheroes — stand-alone origin stories — and then bring the gang together to sort out the Comedian's death. Or is this the Friday afternoon crack pipe talking again?