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Zack Snyder hit the big time in 2004 with his well-received remake of George Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead. He followed it up in 2006 with a film adaptation of the graphic novel 300. Not only was the movie a huge hit, but comic fans praised it for its accuracy in conveying Frank Miller's source material to the big screen. Its success put him in the drivers' seat on Watchmen--a movie version of the beloved graphic novel from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons which had languished in development hell for the past two decades. Snyder appeared at the San Diego Comic Con to show footage from the upcoming film and answered questions from the press about the responsibility of doing justice to such a work.
Question: Were you relieved by the positive response from the fans here at the Comic Con?
Zack Snyder: A little bit. I mean, there's a long way to go. But it's nice. It's like showing your work to a friend who's a Watchmen fan--and I have a few--and hearing them say it looks good. Only on a larger scale.
Q: Were there any specific parts of the book you were able to compress or combine--scenes you could blend together in order to keep the movie's running time manageable?
ZS: I'm sure there were. For instance, Vietnam. We go there a couple of times. In the book, we go to Vietnam during the Comedian's funeral, and then again during Dr. Manhattan's sojourn on Mars, when he remembers his experiences in the war. We did a shot of all the Viet Cong bowing to him in this huge compound. In the book, it's this shot where they're all being arrested, but we thought we could combine it with that worshipfulness of the VC after they surrendered . . . along with Dr. Manhattan thinking, "why?"
Q: One of the greatest things about the graphic novel is its wonderful meta-commentary on the medium of comics themselves. In transferring it to film, what happens there? Does something get lost? Does something get added?
ZS: I think that's what happens in any endeavor like this. First of all, sales of the graphic novel are big right now. I think it's number one or number two on Amazon right now. [Editor's note: it was number five as of July 31, though the four books ahead of it are all very recent releases and/or preorders.] Which is awesome. I think that if, in the end, the movie is a three-hour advertisement for the book, then I will have succeeded. But the movie has to get at those ideas in a cinematic way. Not everything will work onscreen the way it works on the printed page. So we look at it as embracing mass culture and superhero movies the way the graphic novel embraced comics. For instance, take Ozymandias's costume. There's nipples on it. I was reading on a thread somewhere, and someone was freaking out a bit. But it's not an accident. It didn't just show up on that costume because we thought it was cool. We wanted to riff on the fact that Joel Schumacher made a bunch of superhero movies. It's crazy, but good or bad, it's part of the language of cinema now. We definitely tried to reference as much superhero movie cliché as we could without making it self-aware. We had to do that while still remaining true to the Watchmen universe, just like Alan Moore did.
And Alan wasn't just riffing on comic book literature, he was riffing on all of literature. So we tried to reference all of cinema, instead of just superhero cinema. Like Nixon's war room--it's so Dr. Strangelove, it's ridiculous. I thought we were going to get sued for awhile. Or when Rorschach walks down the streets of New York, it's very much Taxi Driver. In doing that, we can hopefully capture that part of Alan and Dave [Gibbons]'s work.
Q: Do you think the success of 300--and more importantly the way it captures the essence of Frank Miller's work--gives you some street cred when it comes to adapting Watchmen?
ZS: Well, there's always pressure. I want to make the best movie I can, and I put pressure on myself as a filmmaker to make the coolest possible movie. And if the coolest movie is three hours long, then that's the coolest movie. Of course I understand and respect the needs of my partners at Warner Bros. I want them to have financial success with this film. They invested a lot of money in this. But on the other hand, the very things that they might feel are too long or too hard to understand or too violent or too sexy, those are the very reasons to go see the movie.
Q: Do you think the success of The Dark Knight--with its adult themes and intensity--might help you with arguments along those lines, especially at Warners?
ZS: It feels like it would, on paper anyways. I can go in a room and say, "Look, Watchmen should be at least fifteen minutes longer than Dark Knight." Any geek will tell you that! Go on out there to the Comic Con and ask them if Watchmen should be fifteen minutes longer than Dark Knight, they're going to respond with an overwhelming "yes."
Q: A lot of the imagery in Watchmen is going to be CGI, by necessity. How tough is it to fuse that with the live action material?
ZS: We built that into the set. Everything that we designed and built--every little Easter egg that we planted there--was in from the beginning. There's a lot of CGI. I mean, you have Dr. Manhattan in a ton of shots, and he's CG. There's no other way to really do him properly. I talked to Billy [Crudup] about it and he hasn't seen a lot of the footage yet, but the really amazing thing with Manhattan is the small stuff. That shot of him walking through Vietnam, 200 feet tall . . . that's superhero stuff. But the amazing thing to me is him just talking and emoting in the subtlest way. Not blowing stuff up or jumping off the walls, but just being sad or reflective. It's pure acting, and visual effects have gotten to the place where we can integrate that smoothly.
And of course, the graphic novel itself is just the best source for getting all the details right. If we had a frame that was from the graphic novel, we got all of those little details into the shot exactly as they are. We had to build the sets like that: Rorschach on the window-frame and everything else.
For me, the most interesting parts are what sounds like an exact copy of the Dr Strangelove War Room for Nixon (still yet to see that movie - what does the room look like?) and the reference to Dr Manhattan's scenes where Billy Crudup's acting really comes into play - Gollum, anyone?
Dr. Brooklyn wrote:
it was tying it into the rape-revenge stories and making light of a verys erious sub-genre that kind of offended me.