“I would rather not know [about the movie],” said Moore. “[Zack Snyder] may very well be [a very nice guy], but the thing is that he’s also the person who made 300. I’ve not seen any recent comic book films, but I didn’t particularly like the book 300. I had a lot of problems with it, and everything I heard or saw about the film tended to increase [those problems] rather than reduce them: that it was racist, it was homophobic, and above all it was sublimely stupid. I know that that’s not what people going in to see a film like 300 are thinking about but… I wasn’t impressed with that… I talked to Terry Gilliam in the ’80s, and he asked me how I would make Watchmen into a film. I said, ”Well actually, Terry, if anybody asked me, I would have said, ‘I wouldn’t.”’ And I think that Terry [who aborted his attempted adaptation of the book] eventually came to agree with me. There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can’t.”
See? That's what I said! Although I can't find the post where I said it. But I did. 300 was stoopid, homophobic (but typically homoerotic) anti-Iranian pro-premetive war propaganda dross. I was shouting at the screen. Which is rude, in a cinema, but still... Anyway. On with the interview.
How Zack Snyder (Just Barely) Got ‘Watchmen’ to the ScreenBy Dave Itzkoff
A few weeks ago, Zack Snyder nearly became the director who came closest to making a movie version of “Watchmen” without actually getting it released in theaters. He had been busy editing his adaptation of the graphic novel, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, knowing that he was the latest in a long line of directors — including Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass — who had been unable to bring the comic-book epic about dysfunctional superheroes to the big screen.
Meanwhile — as they say in the comics — Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox were engaged in a much-publicized tussle over who owned the rights to the “Watchmen” movie. Though the two studios eventually made amends, Mr. Snyder did contemplate the very real possibility that his movie (scheduled to open on March 6) might never be released. “That,” he said laconically, “would have been a bummer.”
In his first interview since the legal fate of the “Watchmen” movie was decided, Mr. Snyder spoke about the challenges of turning the much-revered comic book into a film, how his movie stacks up against Christopher Nolan’s superhero epic “The Dark Knight,” and his much-blogged-about decision to alter the ending of “Watchmen.” Excerpts from the interview follow. (This interview may contain spoilers for readers unfamiliar with the original graphic novel.)
An article on Zack Snyder and the making of “Watchmen” will appear in this weekend’s Arts & Leisure section.
When you learned that Fox was suing Warner Brothers, did you think that the curse of “Watchmen” had struck again?
A little bit, I’ve got to say. I thought if the movie gets shelved for all time it would be awesome – there are a couple of my friends that have seen it, and they were like, “We would go on lecture tour and just describe the film to people. That would be our whole thing. We would just be in a big hall and say, ‘O.K., the first shot is this. And then the next shot.’” And they could have gotten all the things off the Web and they could kind of weave the story. And they could kind of build the film as spoken word. I wasn’t completely opposed to that.
Does such a close film adaptation of the graphic novel open you up to the criticism that all you did was shoot the comics?
I guess that’s true, but I think you could say that for any book, any work of literature. It’s not that easy to just make a graphic non-reality comic book into living, breathing, moving reality. I always say, I’m certain I changed “Watchmen” less than the Coen brothers changed “No Country for Old Men.” I’m certain of it. But you don’t hear the Cormac McCarthy fans, like, up in arms about it. They should be. It’s like an amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning book. But if we were doing “Moby-Dick” or “Watchmen,” it’s the same issue – this is what’s on the page. The guy walks into a room, sits down, makes a phone call. Do you do that? Or do you say, “It would be better if he sends a telegram?”
That’s what happens. That’s Hollywood. It’s that old thing of, “Listen, kid, it’s cool, it’s cute, it’s a comic book. But let me tell you what the movie’s going to be like. You need action, you need romance. Dan can’t be impotent, are you crazy!” I think after the first draft, the studio was like, no naked blue guy. These are the three things that I think the movie would have been without in a classic studio system: Comedian’s funeral, not necessary. Just bury him. No flashbacks there. Second: Dr. Manhattan on Mars. Unnecessary. He can go to Mars, but then once we see him – pfft – land on Mars, [snaps fingers] back to the story. And Rorschach’s back story – do we need to know anything about Rorschach’s childhood, or does he need to be interrogated by the psychiatrist at all? He can just be in prison, and then Dan and Laurie bust him out.
For moviegoers who have no familiarity with “Watchmen,” what do you think you’ve given them that will get them through the door?
What I tried to do is a couple of things. I tried first of all to give them the reference of the 20th century, to say, “Look, it’s us that I’m talking about.” And then next, I tried to give them – which is in the graphic novel, but I tried to push it even further – just that iconography of superhero mythology that I know all of them know. Even if you just go online and look at the chats and see people, like, “Is this a Batman movie? What is this?” That’s good. You just have to get them about halfway, because I think the rest of it is just going to be the experience of seeing what happens to those icons.
Could you explain your decision to alter your ending from how it plays out in the graphic novel, by removing the giant squid that seems to attack New York?
I think it keeps the movie on point a little more than it would if we had the squid, then I think we would have had to go explain and talk about. I like the squid in the graphic novel. Everyone thinks I hate the squid and I don’t get “Watchmen.” “Snyder’s crazy, he’s ruining it. He changed the ending” – which I did not, I will say. Like, if you really talk about, What is the end of “Watchmen”? It’s the exact same ending that there is in the book, there’s no two ways about it. I think for me, the squid just represents a 30-minute right turn that, in order for it to make any sense at all, you would have to take. What I was concerned with, if I took that 30-minute left turn to explain the squid, you’d be talking about taking 30 minutes of other stuff out of the movie. And right now, I’m on the edge with just how much Rorschach I have, and how much Nite Owl, and how much Dr. Manhattan, just as far as their character stuff. I wouldn’t want to lose a minute of that stuff.
Has the success of “The Dark Knight,” another two-and-a-half hour movie about realistic superheroes, helped your “Watchmen” film?
I think it’s helped a lot. I think it has. It’s as serious as, like, brain surgery on a baby – which I think is a good thing, I’m not saying that in a bad way – but you can’t have a superhero movie more serious than that. It’s like “The Reader.” I think it does lay crucial mythological groundwork for the appreciation of “Watchmen.” Maybe I’m too close to it, but that’s my feeling.
I think I just have a natural operatic aesthetic. I can’t help it. People have said to me, when they talk about the graphic novel, about how it’s gritty and real, and I always go, “Yeah, you realize also though that a lot of that book takes place on Mars. And Manhattan is 200 feet tall when he walks through the jungles of Vietnam. And the bad guy-slash-good guy does have an Antarctic lair that looks like possibly like an Egyptian pyramid-ish place.” That said, it’s difficult for me, anyway, to leave that conversation not going, “Wow, this is a fantastic world.” That doesn’t mean that the characters inside of that world don’t have doubts and fears and are broken, and have to find themselves again. All that stuff. And are rescuing people from a tenement fire is their version of foreplay. Whatever you want to say about it. Because I embrace that part of it, I love that part of it.
The thing about “Dark Knight” is its objective is to set Batman into your world, so that you can imagine the moral dilemmas he faces are exactly parallel to moral dilemmas that you would face in this world, today, if you were out there fighting crime dressed like a bat. Where I think in “Watchmen,” because it creates metaphors and symbolism, it has a little freer of a hand. It’s pointing a finger at those exact moments, going, “Really? Doesn’t this also remind you of this? Or doesn’t that make you think this?” That’s where I think that aesthetically the movies diverge.
Over the years, Alan Moore has complained that filmmakers have taken too many liberties when adapting his work into movies. Do you find it ironic that here’s a film that is extremely faithful to his work, and yet he’s vowed never to watch it?
I get in trouble every time I make a comment about Alan. Clearly I have a giant respect for him. I don’t think you could see this movie and not think that O.K., Snyder likes Alan Moore. His wishes have been that we don’t contact him or ask him what he thinks, or make comment about what he might think. I think that’s the biggest mistake people have made with him in the past, is they’ve assumed how he would feel, and no one could know how he feels but him. So it’s been it’s been my mantra to try and keep from making an assumption about him. But it is ironic. [laughs]
Now that Warner Brothers can actually see what you’ve done with “Watchmen,” has anyone tried to broach the subject of a sequel?
No, no. I don’t know how you would do that. We never did it, but we were going to do a limited release Bazooka bubble gum. I wanted Dave [Gibbons] to draw a comic book for me, and you had to collect all of them to make it make sense. I think it’s three panels per bubble gum, and you had to get 10 gums to make it all. And I was going to make a thing called Planet Rorschach. So you see this planet, and it’s covered with New York City. It’s like a planet of New York City. There’s no suburbs. There’s one giant Empire State Building, like Mount Olympus, in the middle of it. And hovering above the needle is Manhattan, blue, glowing. But the planet’s going, “Hurm, hurm, hurm, hurm, hurm, hurm.” You can’t tell, it’s this big, deafening, “Hurm.” And as you get close, you go down into the city and the whole world is populated with Rorschachs. And they’re all bumping into each other, going, “Hurm, hurm, no compromise, hurm, hurm, Armageddon.” That’s basically it. So I was like, “Is that the movie you guys want to make?”
So, definitely, no “Watchmen” sequel?
Listen, they own the rights. If they wanted to go and hire some guy to make them a sequel to “Watchmen,” I don’t know that they would get any of those actors to do it, and I know that I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. But they own it. They can do whatever they want. They can make a movie – I’ve spoiled it, I think, a little bit. Do you leave that film going, “Man, I wonder what the next chapter is?” [laughs]
But you know as well as anyone, a movie studio is a big machine, and once the gears get turning —
Yeah, there’s not a lot of ideas, I guess. It is true. Just like this “300” sequel that we talked about. I said to them, here’s the thing, this is the way I would do it. The way I would do it is if Frank drew a graphic novel, it came out in the marketplace and people said, “That’s pretty cool.” And I read it and said, “You know what, Frank, that’s pretty cool. Maybe we’ll make this into a movie.” That is the only version – the studio wants it to be, sit with Frank, come up with an idea, write a screenplay, maybe he’ll do a graphic novel based on the screenplay. I’m like, “Yeah, I want nothing to do with that.” I have no interest in that. It would be like me going to Cormac McCarthy and going, “I have an idea for a movie: You write a book and I’ll write a movie, and you can release it. You’ll win a Pulitzer, I’ll win an Oscar. It’ll be awesome.” The attitude toward comic books, they show their hand a little bit. They would never say that about a real novelist, but they would about a comic book. “They just crank those out, right? It’s like no big deal.” In the end, all I would hope is that geek culture, this movie gives geek culture a little bit of cred.