Heresy of the Week – No Zack, you’re not better than Terry Gilliam

watchmen comic

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

In his recent derisory comments about Terry Gilliam’s approach to making Watchmen, Zack Snyder exposes his tin ear for film as a greater art form, an also the arrogance which poisons his own works.

Oh Zack. You just can’t help it, can you? Like a small child, left alone in the sweet shop overnight, it was never going to end well.

Over the last week we’ve been treated to a description — a description only, mind — of how Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal superhero comic Watchmen would have handled the ending. Sadly, Gilliam’s version never came to the screen, but this (apparently) is how it would have ended:

“[Terry Gilliam] maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.

Weird, eh? Certainly a departure from the giant alien squid [spoiler?] of the comic’s conclusion. And remarkably meta. The heroes aren’t heroes any more, just people dressed up as heroes. Which is, in the story, perhaps what they were from the beginning.

Very fascinating. But then someone decided that it would be a good idea to ask Zack Snyder — whose flash-bang-wallop version sadly did make it to screen — what he thought of it. And this was his answer:

Right, and if you read the Gilliam ending, it’s completely insane. … Yeah, the fans would have stormed the castle on that one. … The Gilliam version, if you look at it, it has nothing to do with the idea that is the end of the graphic novel. And that’s the thing that I would go, “Well, then don’t do it.” It doesn’t make any sense. … If you love the graphic novel, there’s just no way. It would be like if you were doing “Romeo and Juliet” and instead of them waking up in the grave area, they would have time-traveled back in time and none of it would have happened.”

I’m not even sure where to begin with this. This is the maker of not only a superficial shadow of Watchmen — usual caveat: the opening musical sequence was perfect, because music videos are about Snyder’s natural level — but the frustrating mess of Sucker Punch, the brainless translation of Frank Miller’s 300, the I-cared-more-about-the-backstory Man of Steel, and of course the utterly unnecessary sequel 300: Rise of an Empire.

Terry Gilliam, meanwhile, is a member of Monty Python. He made Brazil, and 12 Monkeys which still ranks amongst my favourite films of all time. Alright The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus wasn’t particularly brilliant, but it struggled under the weight of the death of its lead actor and the meaning it tried to convey — the latter of which is something Snyder is a stranger to.

Because although Zack is right, and fans of the comic may not have liked Gilliam’s ending, he would have made it his own. What Snyder did with Watchmen was to remove the meaning and the impact of the source material, and present something which looked a lot like it, but got stuck behind Richard Nixon’s prosthetic nose.

You aren’t better than Terry Gilliam, Zack Snyder. You aren’t even in the same league. This year you are both releasing films, and I am much more excited to see his Zero Theorem than your 301 Dalmatians 300: Rise of an Empire.

Just as I’d rather see his version of Watchmen than yours.

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