SAN DIEGO — Many have called the comic book series “Watchmen” unfilmable. With the exclusive footage Comic-con attendees were shown at Friday’s event, director Zack Snyder (“300”) is proving otherwise.
Snyder said that when Warner Bros. approached him about making a “Watchmen” movie as he wrapped production on “300,” he was initially hesitant, but he realized that if he refused the movie, it would pass on to another director who might not create a good translation of the novel.
“If the movie for whatever reason didn’t turn out, it still would have been my fault,” Snyder said of his decision to make the film, which will be released March 6, 2009.
Previous tries by directors such as Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass came up empty as they tried to recreate the world of “Watchmen” in modern times using current political tensions, but Snyder tried to stay as true to the original as a two-and-a-half-hour movie can to a 416 page graphic novel.
“Making a movie about the war on terror and [modern politics] seemed really wrong in a lot of ways to me,” said Snyder. “It’s cooler if people go, â€˜Oh hey, this makes me think,’ instead of me telling people what to think.”
“Watchmen” is the only graphic novel to be listed on Time Magazine’s 2005 list of “the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.” It tells the intertwined stories of a group of unwanted superheroes; Rorschach, The Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, Silk Spectre I and II, and Night Owl II, from their numerous perspectives throughout various time periods. “Watchmen” dates itself as it is set in an alternative future where the United States won the Vietnam War (thanks to Dr. Manhattan), and Nixon is serving his fifth term as president.
Snyder acknowledged that while the movie will remain similar to the comic series in many ways, some aspects of the “Watchmen” world will have to be changed for the sake of length.
“You’re going to end up with some stuff that’s not in [the original story], but that’s just how it is,” Snyder said.
More important than the segments that might have been cut are the subtle parts of “Watchmen” that Snyder left in. While cavalier directors may have considered getting rid of character development for the sake of large action scenes, Snyder said that he left out a lot of the big blockbuster action attractions in order to have more of the story elements.
The four minute montage of clips that Snyder presented exclusively to the audience showed evidence of his attention to detail. The scene in which Rorschach discovers that the murdered Edward Blake was in fact the Comedian includes a brief shot of a photograph of Laurie Juspeczyk, a connection to later events in the Watchmen storyline. A light bulb flashes and Sally Jupiter rubs her eyes as she stands in her Silk Spectre outfit in a scene that matches frame for frame with the graphic novel. A Vietnamese woman slashes the Comedian’s face with a broken bottle in a scene that reveals just how cruel the Comedian had been in his life. All of these clips are of events small enough that they could have been cut, but significant enough to diehard fans like Snyder that they weren’t.
Even a shot of Dollar Bill lying dead after he got his cape caught in a revolving door surrounded by police was in the series of clips, and that was a scene that had only been mentioned in the supplemental material included in the novel compilation of the series.
Snyder said that he was especially proud of how his actors absorbed the mythology of “Watchmen” and how well they kept their characters consistent with the book.
The actor who had the most difficult time slipping into character was Billy Crudup (“The Good Shepherd”), who is playing the omniscient, blue, and completely computer generated Jon Osterman (superhero alias Dr. Manhattan). Instead of a costume, Crudup had to wear a skin-tight suit with motion sensors covering it so that a computer could capture his movements and make them Dr. Manhattan’s. He said that it took weeks before costar Malin Akerman (“27 Dresses”), who plays Manhattan’s love interest Laurie Juspeczyk (superhero alias Silk Spectre II) to look at him without bursting out laughing.
“I wasn’t the only one,” Akerman said in her defense.
“Dr. Manhattan is like nothing I have a frame of reference for,” said Crudup. “How do you play [Dr. Manhattan] while you’re a five-foot-nine, 40 year old jackass playing dress up?”
“Changing my molecules … that’s stuff they don’t teach you in drama school,” he said.
Jackie Earle Haley (“Semi-Pro”), playing Walter Kovacs (superhero alias Rorschach), said that he learned the most about his character not from the comic book but from the blogs where fans discussed Rorschach’s intricate and nihilistic character.