"Watchmen," the latest comic book headed for the silver screen, ends with the deaths of millions of New Yorkers in a combination of explosions and riots. Nine full-page pictures in the book depict bloody bodies strewn across midtown Manhattan. As much as screenwriter David Hayter wanted to be faithful to his source, he couldn’t put Moore’s original vision in his script after 9/11.
“I felt the same pain everyone else did here when Sept. 11 occurred,” Hayter told the sci-fi site io9. Hayter, who began work on “Watchmen” in 2000, claims he changed the ending of his own will, without any pressure from the studios. Now instead of up-close carnage in New York, Hayter’s ending is a series of atomic explosions in several cities around the world, viewed from a high above.
Dave Gibbons, the artist for the "Watchmen" book, regrets the change.
“Using 9/11 as an excuse to change the ending doesn’t sit right with me, especially since the film already shows a little girl in a dog’s mouth and plenty of gore…Why spend so much time remaining true to the book, only to drop the ball in the final act?”
However, Hayter insists that keeping the New York carnage wouldn’t have worked in a big-budget movie intended for multiplexes. “To do that in a comic book and release it in 1985, is different from doing it real life in a movie and seeing all of these people brutally massacred in the middle of Times Square post-2001.”
Hayter may have been right to be careful. In 2002, the Tom Clancy movie "The Sum Of All Fears" depicted a nuclear attack at the Super Bowl. Coming out less than a year after 9/11, many found it poorly timed and insensitive . And even as critics praised Oliver Stone’s 9/11 movie "World Trade Center" in 2006, they questioned whether audiences were ready for a Hollywood version of the disasters.
"Watchmen," which arrives in theaters around the country next Friday, faces other bigger challenges to attract audiences. Being rated R, it’ll lose some of the younger superhero fan base, and its 1986 Cold War setting may not resonate with viewers too young to remember the 80’s. There’s also of course the fact that the book’s main narrator, a vigilante named Rorschach, spends most of his time ranting about how the world is a cesspool, especially the "vermin" of New York City.