Coming March 6 to cinemas everywhere is "Watchmen," the new Warner Bros. film based on the classic DC Comics graphic novel by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. Directing this most anticipated adaptation is Zack Snyder, the hugely acclaimed director of "300," also based on a graphic novel. Snyder got his filmmaking start in the commercial business before his feature film debut, 2004's similarly well received "Dawn of the Dead." With just two movies under his belt, Snyder found himself helming "Watchmen," the veritable holy grail of comic book movies, which for years had been conceived, aborted, conceived and aborted again, and ultimately deemed all but un-filmable.
Pre-release buzz for "Watchmen" is extremely high, with numerous trailers, scene leaks and other promotional material covering the American landscape and cyberspace like so many Bart Simpson dolls. But back in 2007, when CBR visited the Vancouver set of "Watchmen," almost nothing was known about the film, and even less had been seen.
That's when we had a chance to sit down with Zack Snyder to talk about "Watchmen," his goals for the film, the challenges in making it, and what aspect of the graphic novel he was most happy to bring to the screen.
Would you agree that with "300," which was a relatively spartan graphic novel - no pun intended - the challenge was to enhance the comic book's story, and that with the decidedly dense "Watchmen," you have the opposite challenge?
It's true. It's funny, because I noticed in "300" that there's no close-ups of anything, because there's nothing to film. In this movie, there's so much stuff to photograph, whether it be a button or a diner container, everything's almost got a fetish. There's so many ideas and so much of it comes from the environment and the culture of the environment. I guess you find yourself using slightly different tools, because you're like, "Oh, this might mean something." Like, a Nixon poster means something to the world [of the film]. It's not just fun, right? "What is it saying?" That's all part of it.
Why did you buld a real Owl Ship, as opposed to approaching it strictly digitally?
We felt like we could use it in a bunch of different places, and it's in Dan's Owl chamber, and there's a lot of story that takes place inside of it. And also, once we had said, "Okay, we're going to build a real Owl Ship, because we need it for the Owl chamber," then we were like, "Hey, we can just put it on a screen and use it at the riots." It helps achieve whatever [we need] -- but it's cooler, too.
The nature of the "Watchmen" graphic novel is such that it allows you to linger on the panels and see all the details Dave Gibbons drew. You can also and flip back and forth to see how things connect. Were there concerns about losing that quality in the film?
Yeah, absolutely, but I think movies have become, the way we watch movies [has changed]. When you see it in the theater, it's like the first time you read [the book]. But the way that movies are sold and consumed now --
You're referring to home video?
Yeah, absolutely. We were just shooting this little shot from the title sequence in the alley, and there was a lot of shit in there if you really take a second and look at it. We took a lot of stuff from "Under the Hood," from all of those essays throughout the graphic novel, and we tried to take those ideas and stick them in the movie because I love them so much. For instance, we made the "Silk Swingers of Suburbia" movie poster that we never really do a shot of, but it's there and you can find it. There's a lot of stuff like that, that's not the only thing.
Have you figured out a way to cinematically adapt some of Dave Gibbns' storytelling techniques, whereby the panels of "Watchmen" reflect each other at different points in the book? The fearful symmetry, if you will?
A little bit. But I feel this way about it, there's certain things that I'm like, all the way, as far as I can go with it. There's some things that I say, "You know what, that's the book, and if the movie in the end is a two-hour ad for the book, then that's cool." That's kind of how I feel. The movie's not a replacement for the book. I would hope someone would watch it and go, "Wow, that's got to be an awesome book, I'm going to go buy it." If that happens, that's what I consider success.
You've actually changed the ending of "Watchmen" significantly in that there's no longer a manufactured "alien" creature that kills everyone in New York. Can you explain your thinking behind the changes?
I'm not going to say exactly the reasons for that, or the why of it, but I think that comes out of the need to be with Rorschach and Dan and Laurie and Manhattan a little more in the movie. We really felt like that story was another line, it's a whole other line.
What was the first big obstacle you had to jump over to make this movie?
To actually make it happen. It's funny, because when we sat down to talk about, "Oh, do you want to make this movie?" I was like, "No, I don't want to make it, because it's too much, it's crazy." But when we got to the point where they said, "Okay, well, if you don't do it, someone else will." Then I said, "Okay, I'll do it."
Then the biggest challenge was the chipping away of what had been established before I got there. Because everyone was like, "Okay, this is the movie, right? It's the war on terror, it's completely updated, it's 2007." I had an entirely different thing. The challenge was then putting the book back into the movie as much as I could. I think we've gone a long, long way to that, even as far as the dialogue, everything. I try to constantly say, "No, just say that [line from the book], that's better."
"300" is a simple concept to explain to somebody who hasn't read the graphic novel: 300 Spartans fight three gazillion Persians. How do you explain "Watchmen" to somebody who's never heard of it?
It's a different thing. I have to tell you, from a marketing standpoint, the question is how do you get people to want to see the movie? And I still think there's a spectacle in the movie that is both poignant and political and cool and all that. I'm sure when it's cobbled together into some sort of media that you can absorb, I think that people who have no idea what "Watchmen" is will be like, "I got to find out what that's about." I guess the thing with "300" and the thing that we had fun with was it being something else. And I think anyone who knows "Watchmen" knows it's something else.
Considering how many superhero films have come out in the last in the 20 years, there's a certain expectation of what a comic book superhero film is. Do you have to fight against that?
No, I think that the genius of the book is that in the last 20 years, the cinema audience has moved to the place where the comic book audience was 20 years ago, where they have sort of bankrupted their own way of telling stories. And then maybe "The Dark Knight" and maybe "Watchmen" came along, and said, "You know what, there's something else." It's like, "Hey, you've been nice enough long enough." And I think that movies now, with the Fantastic Four and the X-Men and Superman and Batman, my parents know as well as any comic book geek what superheroes are, what they can do, what they can't do, their mythologies and their origin stories. So my feeling is that, I hope, at its best, this movie does for movie audiences [what the book did for comic book audiences].
We said before, if we do this right, it really makes the other movies harder to make. Because you can't just gloss over the why and just go, "Oh, no, it's fine, he exists in this world and it's cool" and no one cares.
As a fan of the sources material, what's been the most gratifying thing that you've put together so far?
I guess really Watchmen headquarters, the old Minutemen in their costumes. I have that photograph on my phone, it's crazy.
CBR Senior Editor Andy Khouri contributed to this story.