David Hayter lives a double life: while many know him as the voice of Solid Snake, he’s also a well-regarded screenwriter and director in Hollywood. After voicing comic book heroes and anime fighters throughout the 1990s, Hayter picked up jobs writing films like the 2000 X-Men, The Scorpion King, and X2. And then there was Watchmen.
The idea of turning Watchmen started late in 1986, before the last issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic even hit stands. After Moore rejected 20th Century Fox’s initial pitch for him to write the script — as if he’d want anything to do with an adaptation — the studio hired Batman (1989) screenwriter Sam Hamm to take a stab at making sense of the untraditional superhero plot. Terry Gilliam got involved as a director, the drafts blew up into giant action movies that barely resembled the comic, and producers floated names like Arnold Schwarzenegger around for Doctor Manhattan. The ’80s!
Watchmen stewed in development limbo for more than a decade before Universal picked up the rights. In 2003, off the success of X-Men, the company hired Hayter to write and direct an adaptation. Of course, that didn’t work out either: Hayter eventually left over creative differences, while Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass both toyed with producing his screenplay. In the end, Zack Snyder, mixing bits of Hayter’s drafts with his own ideas, made the Watchmen movie in 2009.
While most of the accounts of Hayter’s days on Watchmen focused on countless drafts and changes to Moore’s story — his script reportedly had Doctor Manhattan grant Laurie the Jubilee-like power of shooting blue energy out of her fingers, and a beam of space radiation destroy New York instead of a psychic squid — the writer-director got far enough along with the project to shoot test footage with cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts (Howard’s End, Underworld). Thanks to HBO giving the world Watchmen fever, we can finally see that footage.
Hayter took to Twitter this week to share the test scene, which stars Ray Stevenson (Punisher: War Zone) as Rorschach and Iain Glen (Game of Thrones, and now the Batman of Titans) as Dan Dreiberg. It’s a classic bit of Watchmen dialogue, with the former costumed heroes discussing the murder of The Comedian. In true early 2000s fashion, the scene was ripped from VHS and transferred to the YouTube embed you see below.
The test footage is a far cry from Snyder’s hyper-gloss, hyper-faithful approach in the 2009 movie, and the prestige-TV shine of Damon Lindelof’s new sequel series. But can we ever really know Watchmen in live-action unless we see Arnold Schwarzenegger painted blue and sitting on Mars? Hayter’s test footage will suffice for now.