WATCHMEN: In Retrospect
NOTE: This article was originally written in early 2009
Zack Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen was released in 2009 and instantly polarized the CBM audience, with passions seeming to run for and against it with very little in between. What follows is a look back at the film from the days shortly before its release.
Zack Snyder is the Anti-Christ.
So is the rest of Hollywood.
At least that’s the impression one gets from comments made by Watchmen author Alan Moore following some pretty disappointing experiences dealing with the Hollywood system. Ironically, though, it is Snyder and his dedication to properly capturing the acclaimed graphic novel on film that would no doubt have provided Moore with a sense of victory.
“I wish that Alan can feel the same excitement that I’m feeling,” offers Dave Gibbons, the artist who collaborated with Moore on the original comic. “I wish that he hadn’t had such a bad experience in the past, because I’m certainly having a really good experience.”
Driving home the power of that experience has been watching the Watchmen come to life. “What really did it for me was the Owl Ship,” he says. “To step inside the Owl Ship. It first existed in a pencil scribble. And to smell The Comedian’s cigar and have The Comedian slap me on the back and proudly show me one of his guns. Just amazing. I was completely thrilled; it all went by too quickly. I felt like a kid at Christmas.”
There are a lot of Watchmen fans who are feeling the same way, though for them Christmas will come in March 2009 when the film is released. And that film, of course, like the comic before it, takes place in an alternate history where the United States is moving ever closer to a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union in 1985. At the center of it all is a group of superheroes (all but one without any actual powers to speak of), who are about as dysfunctional (in a serious, not comedic way) as you could imagine. As Wikipedia notes, “Watchmen’s deconstruction of the conventional superhero archetype, combined with its innovative adaptation of cinematic techniques and heavy use of symbolism, multi-layered dialogue and metafiction, has influenced both comics and film.”
And that is the challenge that Snyder has purposefully put before himself, bringing this project – an R-rated, three-hour long superhero film – to life.
“People say it’s an out-of-control movie, and I know this sounds crazy, but I’m relaxed about it,” explains Snyder, who had previously helmed the adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, to both critical and commercial acclaim. “I’m relaxed about it because I like the property. It’s a special thing, so we’re trying to treat it in a special way.”
As to the rating, he says that the studio is on board. “The book is dark,” he states. “We never thought, ‘Oh, gosh, is the movie too dark? Are we going to be plodding down this dark road so far that people slit their wrists and call it a day in the theater?’ Truthfully, you have these optimistic characters trying to find their way. It is a reflection on all of us trying to find our way. And the answer is so vague; it’s a moral question that gets answered, but there’s no real answer. It becomes up to you. What is darkness in a movie? Is it a metaphor, is it real? That’s the question of Watchmen. Is it dark just for the sake of dark? Saw is dark, because people get their arms sawed off. People get their arms sawed off in our movie, but for different reasons. Moral reasons. To teach a lesson.”
And in terms of cutting the running time, he points out, “You can only cut out so much before it’s not The Watchmen anymore.”
Most importantly, he doesn’t seem too concerned about Moore’s rejection of the concept and the belief some hold that you simply can’t adapt something like Watchmen into a film.
“But you could say that about any piece of literature turned into a movie,” Snyder emphasizes. “Look at No Country For Old Men, which is pertinent because it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a non-linear stream of consciousness style that got turned into a pretty linear movie, except for the ending. And it’s a great movie. The difference is that Watchmen is a book before it’s anything else, so we have to look at it in those terms. Other comic book or superhero movies are not based on a single work, but on a ton of works and years of evolution and different adventures and you can just cherry pick whatever makes your story work.
“And that’s not to say I don’t have a point of view – I think it makes the movie fun,” he continues. “I have a certain way of looking at things. I find certain things funny that other people don’t, I guess. Look, I think the best movies are movies with a point of view. They’re the ones that you remember, where you couldn’t have thought of it yourself. You just don’t think that way. A Quentin Tarantino movie – it’s not like they’re such visionary pictures, but the point of view is so particular that you say, ‘Wow, I never would have thought of that; I don’t look at the world from that perspective.’ I think Watchmen does that and I try and do that in my own way, and that combination then becomes the movie.”
One key question is whether or not a summer that has seen such mega superhero successes as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock and The Dark Knight will be viewed as a help or hindrance to the considerably darker, more complex Watchmen.
“In my opinion, they’re a huge help,” Snyder muses. “If you take every Hulk, every Batman, every Iron Man – though Dark Knight not as much as the others because it’s kind of transcendent of the genre in its own way – and look at the mass of people who have seem them, that’s what I would call kind of priming the pump for Watchmen. It’s cool, because Watchmen basically deconstructs those things. The more superhero movies you get, the better because it makes the mythology stronger in the culture, and when you start to take that mythology apart, people have the reference to understand the ‘why’ of it.”
What are thoughts regarding Watchmen today? Has the film improved or gotten worse in your minds since the release? Sound off below.
And to read comments from each of the Watchmen cast members (also from shortly before the film's release) and for other Action-related headlines, just click on the image below.
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