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The Watchmen movie you never got to see

The road to getting any film produced isn't without bumps, but test footage from a canned Watchmen movie proves that adapting Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel for the big screen was certainly harder than most film projects. 

The more than four minutes of fuzzy footage is a special relic of the Watchmen's long development journey to the screen, and comes on the heels of HBO's Damon Lindelof-led, critically acclaimed Watchmen series. It was posted to YouTube by David Hayter, the writer/director who penned early 2000s successes X-Men and X2, and who was originally hired to write and direct the feature film version of the seminal graphic novel; it provides a glimpse into what Hayter's cinematic adaptation of Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' masterwork would have looked like.

For those who have seen Zack Synder's dark and glossy 2009 take on Watchmen, the scene is excitingly familiar. Irish actor Ray Stevenson (Thor, Punisher: War Zone) plays the part of the ink-blot-masked Rorschach instead of Jackie Earle Haley (Alita: Battle Angel, 2010's Nightmare on Elm Street), and Game of Thrones' Iain Glen is in the role that what would eventually go to Aquaman star Patrick Wilson, but the clip plays out much the same as a similar scene in Snyder's movie. 

The scene features Rorschach, the story's moral absolutist vigilante narrator, who has stopped by the kitchen of his former partner in crime-fighting, Dan Dreiberg, AKA Nite Owl II. While Rorschach has continued his self-directed crime-fighting despite governmental crackdowns on superheroes, Nite Owl has hung up his costume and gone into retirement. Rorshchach, though, has come to relay news that will change that: another fellow vigilante (but not quite hero), the Comedian, is dead.

Not only are many of the lines exactly the same, but so is much of the blocking — right down to Rorschach sliding the Comedian's bloody button across Dreiberg' kitchen table. This should come as no surprise to Snyder fanatics; the Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman director's script was a mix of his own ideas for the alternate-America universe, and the various drafts Hayter put together beginning in 2003. While Hayter's script was ultimately reworked by Alex Tse (Wu-Tang: An American Saga) , it's clear from the footage that it laid significant groundwork for the version fans and audiences ultimately saw. 

There were more planned and killed Watchmen adaptation

While Hayter's test footage seems to be more or less in line with what Snyder's movie, it's seemingly miles away from another — and even earlier — planned adaptation of Watchmen. During the 1980s, 20th Century Fox nabbed the rights to produce a Watchmen film, and their plans for the gritty, realistic superhero universe were also big and very, very '80s. The rights had been purchased in 1986 by producer Lawrence Gordon, before the fourth issue of the miniseries had even been published; Gordon partnered with famed producer Joel Silver (Die HardLethal Weapon), and asked Moore to write the big-screen adaptation.

Unsurprisingly, Moore declined to be a part of the project — a response much in line with his famous reluctance to be involved in any Watchmen offshoot whatsoever (including the new TV series). In Moore's place, Sam Hamm — who wrote the first draft of Tim Burton's genre-defining Batman — was hired, paving the way for the project to... languish in Development Hell for over a decade.

Hamm's script took a sharp left from the original material, featuring the destruction of the Statue of Liberty and an ending that involved time travel to stop the very blue and omnipresent Dr. Manhattan from ever existing. Arnold Schwarzenegger had even been proposed as a possible actor for the role of the post-human, godlike Dr. Manhattan, just to drive home how '80s-tastic the script really was. (via Io9)

Warner Bros., the parent company of DC Comics, was the next in line to try its hand at an adaptation in the 1990s. Director Terry Gilliam was initially attached to this version, and he at least had the right idea in moving on from Hamm's script and demanding a rewrite which hewed closer to the graphic novel. Unfortunately, Gilliam had too much difficulty wrangling the material to feature length — at one point even proposing a five-hour miniseries instead — and Warner Bros. ultimately balked at his vision. (via Independent)

There was little movement on the project until about 2001, when Gordon decided to give it another shot — this time at Universal, with Hayter at the controls. While his script essentially served as the basis for the film that would finally find its way to the screen (Tse's rewrite has been described as a gentle one), it's obvious from his test footage that he didn't exactly have Snyder's visual sense. 

Several more versions of Watchmen would get scrapped before Snyder's eventual hiring by Universal and even Paramount, which each held the rights at various points. Briefly on the table was a potential take from Black Swan and mother! director Darren Aronofsky, who faced an uphill battle around the narrative's core — a major, disastrous event in Manhattan — following the events of 9/11. Paul Greengrass, production designer for the Bourne movies, also tried his hand at crafting a Watchmen for the George W. Bush era, and he also got so far as shooting test footage (which also featured Glen as Nite Owl).

Ultimately, it took more than 20 years and countless attempts to finally see a live-action Watchmen brought to the screen, and wouldn't you know it, fans have been divided ever since as to whether it's complete garbage or a freakin' masterpiece, with very few coming down anywhere in the middle. Ultimately, though, Snyder can say that he did indeed make a Watchmen movie. Hey, it's more than Hayter, Gilliam, Aronofsky, or Greengrass can say.