Watchmen was an unused 1988 script of Alan Moore's Watchmen written by Sam Hamm for a planned movie adaptation. It would have been directed by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame for a tentative 1991 release, but it was cancelled due to several budgetary issues and script concerns. Another attempt to make the film failed in 1996.
In 1987, Warner Brothers acquired the film rights to Watchmen, and Alan Moore was approached to write the film screenplay.. When Moore declined after feeling he was not up to the challenge, Hamm was offered the chance to adapt the comic into a script.
The script begins in 1976 with a terrorist situation on the Statue of Liberty. Led by Captain Metropolis and Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, the "Watchmen" set out to foil the plot, much to the chagrin of the SWAT teams. However, Doctor Manhattan fails to save the lead terrorist from destroying Lady Liberty, causing a severe backlash on the team's reputation by the media and disgruntled public. Shortly afterwards, the Keene Act is passed by the President to outlaw all vigilante action, and the Watchmen disband as a result later on.
Ten years later in 1986, Rorschach is shown, in his civilian persona of Walter Kovacs, hearing of the death of Edward Blake - also known as The Comedian, who was supposedly thrown to his death from his apartment window. It is mentioned by other characters that he is currently wanted on fourteen charges of murder; eight of which he claims to have been trumped up. He later meets with Dan Dreiberg, the former Nite Owl, to discuss the murder and the possible implications it means for them. After Rorschach makes a rendevous at Veidt Industries and finds no answers, Veidt goes to Rockerfeller Military Center to speak with Doctor Manhattan, formerly Jonathan Osterman, and Laurie Juspeczyk, who once was Silk Spectre, about Blake's death, which Veidt theorizes might have been a political killing by one of Blake's many enemies. During this time, Laurie's relationship with Manhattan dissolves, and she becomes romantically involved with Dan.
Rumours spread of former colleagues of Manhattan contracting cancer, and Laurie is suspected of being infected herself. A check-up soon reveals she indeed has lung cancer. When Manhattan appears on television for an interview, he is confronted with these allegations, resulting in his self-imposed exile to Mars. He relives his past life as Dr. Jonathan Osterman when he was engaged to fellow scientist Janey Slater, his life-changing accident that made him the superpowered being he is, and his role in America winning the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Rorschach continues the Blake investigation on his own, but he ends up getting framed for murdering an old adversary named Moloch, revealed to the public as Kovacs, and imprisoned. Veidt is nearly killed in an assassination attempt, but he thwarts the gunman. Frustrated with the political tensions, Dan and Laurie reprise their roles of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre to save a building of tenents from a fire, and they later spring Rorschach from jail during a prison riot.
Doctor Manhattan takes Laurie to his retreat on Mars, and after being cured of her cancer, she convinces him that life is worth saving. Upon arriving at Karnak, Veidt's Antarctic base of operations, the team discovers that not only is Veidt responsible for Rorschach's framing, Moloch's murder, Jon's exile, and Blake's death, he is planning to go back in time using a taychon chamber to revise the timeline of history. He reasons that Jon's becoming a superpowered being has caused the world to become the way it is, and it is his existence that the Cold War hinges upon. His rationale is that going back in time to 1962 and assassinating Jon before his accident will straighten the timeline and avoid the impending nuclear war altogether.
In the end, Veidt is vaporized by the machine as he attempts to return to the 1960s. Having regained his humanity, Doctor Manhattan sacrifices himself by going back in time to save his former self from becoming disintegrated and reformed, giving Jon Osterman the chance for a happy life with Janey Slater. The timeline is readjusted so that America does not win the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon resigns from the presidency after the Watergate Scandal, nuclear war with Russia is averted, and costumed heroes are confined to the pages of comic books. However, Rorschach, Nite Owl, and Silk Spectre are transported to New York City in the late 1980s where Watchmen is a successful comic book maxi-series. As they create a sensation from the local pedestrians due to their uniforms standing out of place, a group of policeman descend upon them. The script then ends with Rorschach hissing at the cops, implying that they will fight back.
Differences from the Comic
- Instead of being called The Crimebusters, the team is known as "The Watchmen."
- Hollis Mason is not shown or mentioned as being the first Nite Owl.
- The narrative method of Rorschach's journal is not used in the script.
- Aside from her story of Rorschach being a political extremist, the Dolores Shairp subplot of being involved in prostitution and lying to the press about Kovacs is omitted entirely.
- The Tales of the Black Freighter comic storyline intersped throughout the Watchmen series is absent. However, Bernie and Bernard still make brief appearances.
- Apart from Captain Metropolis, none of the other Minutemen are shown in flashbacks or any other capacity.
- In addition, Sally Jupiter is not in the script, nor is the attempted rape by the Comedian.
- Due to Sally and Blake's past not being included, Laurie's subplot of the feud with her mother and the issue of her paternity is omitted.
- Dan's lack of confidence is attributed to his missing the vigilante days; the comics character's erectile dysfunction is not mentioned.
- Walter Kovacs' troubled childhood is not shown in any capacity. The only Rorschach flashback that remains is his reaction to the Blair Roche murder.
- Malcolm Long's subplot of his failing marriage is also not included.
- There is a side plot of Laurie contracting lung cancer in the future due to smoking, and Doctor Manhattan removes all traces of cancer from her body during their conversation on Mars.
- The book ends with Veidt teleporting an alien-like creature to explode in New York City, which causes America and Russia to end the war and unite. Everybody agrees to keep the plot a secret, but Rorschach is killed by Doctor Manhattan when he refuses to compromise. Also, Manhattan departs for another galaxy to create new life, Dan and Laurie go into hiding, and the series concludes with Rorschach's journal being considered to be published by The New Frontiersman.
Terry Gilliam was unhappy with Hamm's draft, because, according to Gilliam, the first draft was "just a bunch of superheroes." With his collaborators Warren Skarren and Charles McKeown, Gilliam wrote a new draft that restored the original comics' narration of Rorschach's journal and additional scenes that were cut. Although it has never been released, it has been rumoured to be closer in tone to the comic series.
- David Hughes (2002-04-22). "Who Watches the Watchmen? - How The Greatest Graphic Novel of Them All Confounded Hollywood", The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1556524498.
- Sam Hamm's Watchmen First Draft-