Ahead of the release of Watchmen, David Greenberg sat down with the cast in Los Angeles to find out how they transformed an acclaimed graphic novel into a highly anticipated feature film.
Grown men dressed in outrageously colorful costumes. An action packed trailer. Yes, another comic book movie is on the way. But the Watchmen is for from your standard goody-goody superhero affair.
"Its the best written and the most incredibly artistically rendered graphic novel of all time," claims screenwriter David Hayter, who had the task of adapting the 1986 comic book series into a movie script. He's not alone in this view: Watchmen is considered to be a seminal piece of literature by no less than Time magazine, who called it one of the 100 greatest English novels of all time. So much for the notion that comic books are just for kids, eh?
The comic book story is set in an alternate United States in the 80s where superheroes have been accepted as part of everyday society. Upon its release, Watchmen revolutionized the comic book medium with its mature subject matters, multi-layered storytelling and deconstruction of the superhero archetype. Director Zack Snyder claims he's trying to do the same thing to the comic book movie genre.
"A lot of skeptics said 'All he has ever done is "300,â€ the 42 year old director told BEATS in Los Angeles. "But if I never made "300" (see it all with the Widescreen Edition)" there probably would not have been a Watchmen movie. Or maybe there would have, but I guarantee it would have been PG-13 and sequelable.' Considering that just about every hit comic film has been 'PG-13 and sequelable", it speaks volumes that had Watchmen gone that route, the results might have been disastrous.
For starters, the story - about a rag tag team of aging deranged superheroes coming out of retirement to investigate the murder of a former teammate - is ultra violent, "I told the studio from the beginning it was going to be rated R,â€ explains Snyder, "There is no version of this story that isn't rated R.â€
Actor Patrick Wilson, who plays one of the superheroes known as Night Owl, agrees. "You cannot make this movie and not do the violence,â€ he says. "Just like you can't do it without making it political."
The political aspect Wilson refers to involves the story's underlying theme of a disturbing conspiracy within the US and Soviet Union governments. "Watchmen is this straight forward mystery in a sense,â€ says the director. "But there's also this huge conspiracy and international intrigue and everything you'd want in a superhero film.â€
Among early fans and press who have seen pre-release screenings of Watchmen, it's not just the level of violence that is causing buzz for and against the film. There's been plenty of talk about what Warner Brothers and Paramount (the film's distributors) decided to keep in and leave out of the big screen version.
Gone are any overt references to a 9/11-type catastrophe (a vital part of the comic's conclusion) but a violent rape scene has made it to the big screen. "For the people I know who are such huge fans of the comic, the rape scene is iconic," says actress Carla Gugino, who appears as the victim, retired superhero Sally Jupiter. "So much comes from that scene, if s complicated and I don't think there is a simple answer behind the scene. It should be controversial.â€
Watchmen co-creator Alan Moore has so for declined to comment about how the big screen version of his role compares to his original story, but those who do know him claim he feels that the graphic novel stands on its own, and so does the film.
"People always said Watchmen was this unfilmable graphic novel,â€ says Snyder. "But the story is structured in a way that's at once traditional and also unusual.â€ To fully recreate and capture the nuances of the comic, Snyder used the original source material as the storyboard for filming.
"Reps from Warner Brothers called me one day and said 'We want you to do Watchmen, we'll send you some material'," says actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays the superhero Comedian. "I expected a script. Instead they sent me a Xeroxed copy of the graphic novel. I was like 'What the hell?'â€
The original story isn't the only draw for Watchmen though, as anyone who's seen 300 will concur that Snyder knows a thing or two about visual style. Combine his aesthetics with a US $l20 million budget and there's bound to be some explosive onscreen fireworks.
"I saw a screening of it a few weeks ago,â€ says Morgan. "I walked out of that theater blown away. It was like I didn't even know what I just saw, it exceeded all my expectations.â€
Ironically, for a cast member who has been getting early praise, he almost didn't take the role. "I was reading the black and white copy of the book Warners sent me and then I got to page three and Comedian goes flying out the window,â€ he says, "I immediately called my agent and said 'What the f***?!'"
Needless to say, that's not the end of his character. Not by a long shot. For the Watchmen wants to say for too much and is too sophisticated to play the story straight, since The Dark Knight and Iron Man have already taken the comic book movie genre to another level, the release of this film may mean, once and for all, that the perception of comic book movies as silly kid flicks will finally come to an end.
But for better or worse, no matter how much money it makes, don't expect Watchmen II. "There will be no sequel," Snyder says firmly. "Or they will have to do it without me.