After about the same amount of coverage as the 2008 Election, by now you should have a pretty good idea of what went into this Watchmen movie, what everyone thinks of it, and how many stitches are Silk Spectre II’s underwear (the answer is zero, she doesn’t wear any). All of that effort would be for naught, however, if it weren’t for those behind the scenes, notably Zack Snyder, though you can’t ignore his wife, Deborah, or the producers, Lloyd Levin and Lawrence Gordon, or the men tasked with adapting it – Alex Tse and David Hayter. Also, Warner Bros had more than $100 million little helpers in the film. Some of that money went to filling my belly with delicious oatmeal as I waited to listen to all these aforementioned people talk at a press junket. But enough of that, let’s get to what you really want to hear about. My oatmeal had raisins in it.
Recently billed a visionary, Snyder might not call himself by that title, but no one would deny he’s a laid back dude who loves comic books and putting awesome on screen. Considering Watchmen the graphic novel is renowned for being awesome, it only makes sense he’d be approached to direct it. Producer Lawrence Gordon had only six words to describe how a version of Watchmen this faithful was possible – Zack Snyder Zack Snyder Zack Snyder. A member of the R-Rated royalty, Snyder has proved that if you make an appealing movie, audiences will shower it with currency no matter what the rating. His immense success on 300 paved the way for Watchmen being gritty, violent, and made almost exactly as the director envisioned it.
When talking about the darkness of the flick, Snyder spoke about super hero violence in movies and comics and about how clean it was. Someone like Spider-Man could obliterate your ribs with a single shot and Superman would have to try very hard not to remove your skull when kissing your cheek, but people never get hurt. They never die. And that’s bullshit. So in Watchmen Snyder made sure people died. He made sure they bled. He made it dirty and uncomfortably violent, just like Dave Gibbons drew it.
For anyone thinking Snyder wasn’t a good choice or didn’t create something faithful enough, firstly, you’re kind of stupid. The movie is faithful, but secondly, imagine Watchmen without Snyder. The studio was pushing for a modern retelling. Forget the Soviets, we’re talking terrorists and Dr. Manhattan winning the war in Iraq. Rorschach probably would have been really upset about abortion rights while Ozymandias’ temple would be in a desert due to global warming. But the Dawn of the Dead director felt differently. He said that would be too much of a statement on the world and who cares what I think? Snyder is very grounded in talking about his movies and messages, messages which are often ascribed to his films that he never intended. The look of the film was updated a bit in terms of costumes, to match what people currently think onscreen Superheroes look like and because cloth outfits are silly. At the very least, Snyder understood the approach that was needed to make the film, which resulted in a faithful retelling.
David Hayter and Alex Tse
David Hayter has put a lot into the development in this film. Imagine beginning work in 2001, crafting what was called a great adaptation. Imagine then trying to go forward and spinning your wheels for years, expecting to direct, and then watching the picture bounce in and out of green lit status. Then put your brain to work on being told to rewrite your screenplay, changing a work you loved to make it set in the modern day. Cue up 2006 and some guy named Zack Snyder is going to take a crack at the property, but doesn’t like the changes, so he brings in Alex Tse, a relatively young writer with one produced credit to his name. Now that’s a damned roller coaster of emotion if ever there was one.
Hayter got involved with the project out of a love for the source material and a desire to make a film about it. In his initial attempts he wanted to keep it strongly tied to Alan Moore, who he described as lovely and supportive, though the notoriously reclusive writer mentioned that it was ridiculous to spend the GDP of Chile to turn a book into a movie. He described the process of writing the film as simple to adapt, but difficult to protect, in his aim to create a representation of the story, not a translation. When Tse came on board, he worked mostly from Hayter’s script, bringing the story back to the 1980s and abandoning some of the changes while keeping enough of it that Hayter’s name remained on the script. Tse was a fan of the material, but a bit in doubt that the studio would actually throw $100 million at a movie featuring rape and violence as prominent plot points.
Producers in Hollywood sometimes get a bad rap and often they deserve it. In this case, the right group of people came together with the same mindset to make the best Watchmen film they could. Lawrence Gordon has been a part of bringing this novel to the big screen since its inception and was overjoyed to find Zack Snyder. Initially, the film was going to be geared for a PG-13 release, a choice Snyder threw out immediately much to Gordon’s delight. Just in case you were wondering, when asked which character he related to most, Gordon replied Rorshach. I’m an angry guy, I don’t know. A man after my own heart.
A lot of websites have seized upon an old quote from Terry Gilliam who claimed Watchmen was “unfilmable,” though the producers never thought that – they simple thought it was unfinanciable. As stated before, the success of Snyder’s previous R-Rated films convinced Warner Bros that the film could be made and make money, despite the great cost of filming it, which included building more than 200 sets in Canada. One way the project may end up bringing in additional revenue is through merchandise, something which has been very absent the past 20 years. While many might ignorantly claim that Watchmen happy meal toys would be spitting in the face of Alan Moore’s work, one could easily defend any respectable representation of the property – especially considering Adrien Veidt himself marketed the images of the Watchmen within the story.
Watchmen hits theaters on 03/06/09, aka today. Talk about it or better yet — just go see it!