Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Today, Impact feels special. Along with all the best publications in the country, and an especially random one from New Zealand, we were sent to a press conference for the new Watchmen film. The following words contain no spoilers; unless you haven’t read the graphic novel, in which case we have no sympathy for… nay, actually pity you.
Zack Snyder’s elation at being able to direct the highly-anticipated, forthcoming adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen is seen on his face as he states: “pop culture’s ready to have their shit shaken up a bit”. With this, Snyder is addressing the concerns that the audience may not extend past those who have read the graphic novel, or “big fat comic book”. Watchmen emerges in a superhero-saturated era of cinema, where Snyder admitted embarrassedly “even his mother knows Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider”, and where Batman has become the world’s largest cinematic franchise.
Snyder claims he has had his battles with the studio, which he appears to have translated cathartically into the Comedian’s brutally destructive, set-destroying fist fight, and is now able to provide his audience with a true representation of the comic that “changed the perception of that form of media”. And, as the man for the job, the director has made it beautiful.
The tittering crowd was made up of fanboy-turned-journalists trying to maintain an air of slight professionalism and those who justify their ignorance of the text by claiming to be representative of the members of their audience who would enter the cinema equally ignorant. Either way, everyone seemed to be excited by the three scenes we were shown.
The first, and opening to the film itself, is the death of the Comedian, sharing the source material’s employment of this scene as the catalyst to the ensuing narrative. Then Snyder offers context for the second scene, in which Dr. Manhattan compares the solidarity of Mars with his experiences on Earth, offering an insight into the graphic novel’s pessimistic view of humanity, “I’m tired of being involved in their lives”. The character’s background is evoked with a series of consecutive flashbacks that, in the original text, are spread out to coincide with the character’s emotions at that stage of the story. The merging of various scenes setting up Dr. Manhattan (including his body reassembling itself like watch pieces across a long period of time) is probably a tactic employed by Snyder to allow more room to unravel the events of the central mystery. I’ll admit I was as thrilled to see the prison-break sequence as the director was to introduce “a scene that I picked for you with a little bit of action in it”. Putting down any pretentious reservations I had about Watchmen not be about the action spectacle, I guiltlessly enjoyed this scene and began to understand Hollywood’s fascination with reproducing any literary work on film. Zack (I feel we are close enough to now be on first-name terms) stated that these clips gave a sense of the “tone of the overall piece” and sat down to be grilled (and burned by one particular front-row questioner, who clearly enjoyed expressing the impression left on him by 300).
As succinct as Zack Synder’s quotes can appear in this written piece, the man’s conversation (largely with his own shoes) and his understanding of both text and audience does not seem to come naturally and proof of this can be seen in the inconsistencies between all quotes from this presentation (anything from Empire to the Metro). However, the director was clearly ready for the first few questions and coolly produced answers for the big 3: the censors, the squid and the Moore.
1) The Censors: At the beginning he stated that he fought with the studios for, what he believes to be, an essential tenet of the comic, the eloquently put “really cool sex and violence”. I tend to think not many who have continued reading this far into my article would disagree. The pressure upon the director to follow a pg-13 rating was suppressed from simple ideas like the fact that you “can’t blur Dr. Manhattan’s penis”.
2) The Moore: The frighteningly stereotypical geek/critic in the front row (an exact replica exists in The Simpsons’ Poochie episode) stirs the director by pointing out that Alan Moore, the graphic novel’s creator, claimed it to be “unfilmable”. Snyder quickly and easily told us Moore had wished his name to be removed from the production from the start. He also claimed that he wasn’t mentioned on set because the director did not want to make assumptions about Moore and his intentions. Dave Gibbons, who was also at this screening and answering questions, offered his own personal view of his co-creator and stating that “Alan has had bad experiences with Hollywood”.
3) The Squid: As with the question about Alan Moore, Snyder lightens the subject by injecting some humour into the tense room and saying “I had a horrible calamari incident as a child”. Needless to say, it was a funny joke, but the laughter died swiftly into silence, willing a satisfactory response from the nervous director. “Watchmen is more character than it is story and I feel that, by including the squid and Moore’s exact ending, I would have to sacrifice something else”. Snyder’s belief that the ending is about “taking the superhero thing all the way” shows his grasp of the material, as well as his own personal involvement in the project. He says he felt he had to make the choice between “squid or moral dilemma” and that his decision matches “what Watchmen is to me”.
Snyder finished with an appeal to the whole audience, both to those who have and those who tragically have not read the graphic novel, “I hope to give them something different”. What this (and the sneaky shot I noted of a large blue hand crashing through a glass ceiling in the extra clips) means is a mystery…
I left with one thought, which can be shared with any who have seen the trailer and Snyder’s previous film. 300 was also beautiful and because of this it was able to linger on its strong images, employing an excessive amount of slow motion to highlight either the film’s status as a mythological piece or just how pretty it was. Snyder’s reliance on slow motion was never going to disappear, but a body of hardcore front-rowers may be concerned with his preoccupation to make everything look glamorous. One of my personal attractions to the graphic novel was a sense of real life events, where the domestic setting of many scenes represents the characters’ mundane existences. This separates the “costumed heroes” from their predecessors, such as Spiderman, and the fact that many key sequences happen in small apartments and dingy kitchens (something all students should be able to identify with) made the heroes more normal and the comic a revelation. The moral ambiguity at the end matches the unglamorous nature of the source material. My anticipation for the film’s release is tied to a curiosity about whether Snyder’s unavoidable Hollywood gloss will miss this aspect of Watchmen, the aspect that really would shake pop culture’s shit up a bit.
Watchmen is out on the 6th of March 2009 and I am first in line.