Bringing Alan More & Dave Gibbons' classic DC Comics graphic novel "Watchmen" to the screen has not been easy. For twenty years, producers Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin shepherded the project across for studios with the aid of numerous writers and directors as diverse as Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass. Finally ending up at Warner Bros., the pair were joined by Deborah Snyder when Zack Snyder came onboard to direct. The three sat down with CBR News about the mammoth task involved in "Watchmen's" arrival in movie theatres.
"There are two parts to this movie. It's very simple. Setting it up and making it. And they were equally as difficult," Gordon told CBR. Indeed, the producer likes to keep things simple. Asked why studios love to make superhero movies, he quickly responded, "They make money." After the laughter died down, he continued, "I'm cutting to the bone. As soon as they stop making money, they'll say 'I hate those comic book movies, no more comic book movies.'" Further pressed as to why they make money, Gordon retorted, "[People] like them. Don't try to make the movie business complicated. Some material is complicated. We have very complicated material. Seriously though, audiences like them."
For Levin, it is the quality of the material that brings producers to comic books. "Some of the most interesting work in any medium today is being done in comic books and graphic novels," he said.
Snyder thinks the current wave of successful films is due to the respect the material receives. "People have [always] been taking books and turning them into movies. I think this [era] is the first time we're seeing that they're actually respecting graphic novels and comic books like they would treat a book; like a piece of literature, which is really refreshing," she explained.
However, Snyder was quick to recognize the trend aspect. "When '300' was successful, then it was like all these movies saying, 'Okay, we're going to do all these other movies on green screen!' because [they think] that's the key. When a superhero movie makes huge amounts of money at the box office, the other studio all think, 'Okay, what's out superhero movie going to be?'"
Snyder believes "Watchmen" appears at the perfect moment in that trend. "I think that makes it the right time for 'Watchmen' because there are all these superhero films and people will go to it thinking it's another superhero film," she said. The story will offer something extra to the audience than just another origin story. "I think they're in for the same surprise that readers had when they were exposed to the book, because it's more than that. It deals with serious subject matter. It's a character study. It asks a lot of serious questions."
Gordon credits director Zack Snyder with preserving much of what brought him to the book in the first place. "This is my absolute fervent belief: this movie would not have been made in my lifetime had Zack not committed to it," he said. "It was Zack directing the movie and the success of '300' -- I have no doubt the movie would not have been made by the studio had that not occurred."
Without the director's intensity and clout, all the producers agreed the eventual form of "Watchmen" would have been 90 minutes and rated PG. Gordon, always the pragmatist, understands this is the nature of the business they have chosen. "That's the way movies are. It takes all these years and all these people and all these things, and we just happened to hit it at the right time," he explained. "[Zack] was the right director for it, which is a little important, too. As far as getting the movie financed, that's what got it financed. That's what got it the R-rating, because I don't think the studio wanted an R-rating."
Deborah Snyder reports that getting the R-rating from the MPAA, the organization which issues the advisory ratings, was simple. "We got our R-rating on the first try," she recalled. "I was a little shocked."
The film contains a lot of weighty, graphic material which generally makes movie studios nervous about the ratings. "There were a lot of discussions about the violence and about the sexuality, and about Dr. Manhattan's nudity," Snyder remembered. "Those were things where the studio was like, 'Can't you put his briefs on? Can you cut the love scene? Can you take out some of the violence?'"
While the theatrical version of "Watchmen" tones down some of the violence, Snyder maintained that "it was very important to keep it the way it was because it's commenting on violence. It's very intentional and in a way, if you look at these superhero films that come out, these PG-13 superhero films where people are getting bashed into walls and there's no consequences to the violence. The violence in [our] film has a consequence to it and that's what distinguishes itself and that's one of the things that what makes it 'Watchmen.' So, it was very important to us maintain that and keep that."
Levin believes the material demands a more mature treatment. "I don't think it was an external decision," he said. "It's a pretty organic decision. It's not just the violence, the sex and the nudity. I think, thematically, the graphic novel suggests a movie for mature audiences. There's warfare. There's some very mature, brutal, interpersonal behavior. There's events in the book that put it in that category and suggest the intensity of the depiction."
Asked if audiences will engage with the material, Levin responded, "I think there's always something wonderful to a movie that takes an audience where they haven't been before and I think those complexities and those issues make 'Watchmen' not over-familiar." But he recognizes that there is an amount of risk involved. "What might be perceived as a liability as far as commerciality might ultimately be the thing that audiences end up really appreciating, because it's a different experience. It's akin to the experience of reading the graphic novel."
After the decades-long struggle and mammoth production of "Watchmen," the natural question to ask is whether the producers looking forward to making an easier film? Snyder simply said, "Yeah." Levin responded, "Nothing's easy." Gordon joked, "I think I'm through; forty-something years now."
Gordon was tight-lipped about the legal situation between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, who assert a right to property from the time when Paul Greengrass was going to direct the picture for them. Named in the suit, Gordon cannot reveal many details about the litigation or the eventual settlement. All he would say it that the story will be told "Someday, but not today."