When Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli fans ZDM Watch the television adaptation debuting on HBO Max on March 17, they will uncover a very different story than the DC comic of the same name that premiered in 2005.
Although it still takes place in the fictional Manhattan demilitarized zone that was created after a second American Civil War, the war-torn images have disappeared, as has the general feeling of pandemonium, the desperate need for community to survive. The protagonist of the comic, the journalist Matty Roth, and his chronicle of the early years of the DMZ and anchoring the many stories within is also gone.
Instead, the story of the HBO Max miniseries produced by Ava Duvernay is considerably shortened compared to the source material. After the pilot episode debut at SXSW, the actors and showrunner of ZDM they took the stage to talk about the making of the show, how they ended up with only four full episodes, and explain who the new protagonist is.
DMZ delves deeper into a minor comic character
The new version of ZDM centers on Alma Ortega (Rosario Dawson) navigating the DMZ in hopes of finding her lost son, as she becomes embroiled in a local power struggle for control of the DMZ ahead of the elections.
He has connections with several key players around the DMZ and his role is more active than, say, a reporter watching things unfold. Instead, he almost immediately finds himself in the thick of things, working in a clinic and seeing the violence of the DMZ up close.
“We decided this story meant something different 10 years after its first release,” said showrunner Roberto Patino. “So we took the most interesting character, an unnamed background character, and built her personality and a story around her. We decided to make this a story as personal as possible, about a fearless mother looking for her child ”.
How DMZ updates the drama for 2022
The original comic was clearly a response to the post-9/11, war-centered cultural zeitgeist that transposed the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan into the United States to get audiences to see what others are suffering. But the story of a civil war and insurgent militias across the country strikes differently in the post-January. 6 insurrection 2022. Thus, the show takes on a more generic post-apocalyptic aesthetic, mistaking a war zone for a Last of us double where vegetation grows everywhere, the streets are deserted and jaguars roam the residential neighborhoods.
According to Patino, the new look was necessary because the post-9/11 themes and allegories of the source material now mean something very different. Now, ZDM it is much more about trying to break free from cycles of violence, about nature versus education, about violence and tradition in underdeveloped or abandoned communities. According to Dawson, this made the show a very personal story for her, who grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1980s and 1990s. “It was a city of war,” Dawson said. “I grew up in an abandoned building. I knew what it was like where the poor helped the poor and I never expected someone else to come and save you. “
The miniseries is about how toxic masculinity – and the violence and power that comes with it – could be passed down between generations. “The driving force for the characters is whether or not they can break certain cycles,” continued Dawson. “It was important that in the midst of this civil war, show humanity in the midst of the conflict.”
Similarly, co-star Benjamin Bratt, who plays the Governor’s nominee Park Delgado, described the show as coming to terms with bigger problems. Nothing that happens in the DMZ is unique. “It is a global problem that these societies around the world are succumbing to this male toxicity that is clearly leading us in directions that have never worked historically,” he said.
Why are there only four episodes?
As if putting on a show wasn’t hard enough, this story about a post-apocalyptic world also had to deal with its own global phenomenon when the pandemic hit. While many elements of the story seem like a timely response to the past couple of years, the episode shown at SXSW was actually filmed before closing. The pilot wrapped up in March 2020, and filming didn’t resume for another year and a half.
“The script for the first episode was a much broader explanation of a Bible than what would have been an ongoing series,” explained Bratt. “And it was only after the pilot was put together, with the limitations that came with the pandemic that we learned that it would be scaled down considerably into a four-part miniseries.”
According to Dawson, this drastic change meant a lot of fat was being cut for the story, and rather than exploring the macro implications of the DMZ, the more focused story helped the actors perfect the journey their characters needed.
“We had a lot of time to reflect on the story and these characters,” added Dawson. “The pivots of the story come pretty quickly because all of that space has been broken down into these four episodes. And so every single beat is intense. Sometimes you can watch a show and there are those filler episodes. There are no filling moments in this whole thing.
While it’s disappointing to hear that the show has been stripped down to a miniseries, there’s always the option to expand into new seasons as an anthology. After all, Matty Roth and all the other stories from the original comic are still available to be found and explored in the future.