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Watching Watchmen With Director Zack Snyder

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Nick Nadel’s Tuesday column examines the increasingly busy intersection between comic books and the movies.

Director Zack Snyder and artist/co-creator Dave Gibbons screened nearly half an hour of Watchmen footage for journalists in New York this week. I was lucky enough to attend, and am pleased to report that we are in for a truly unique movie-going experience. (Lawsuit pending, of course.) Snyder has upped his game from the slavish panel-to-screen translation of 300 , and looks to have crafted his most moving and detailed work to date. Simply put, if early footage is any indication, Watchmen will be the movie of 2009. (Good luck topping it, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.) Below, my take on the footage screened, and some behind-the-scenes tidbits from Snyder and Gibbons. Spoilers ahead, but you should really read the graphic novel.

Opening Scene and Credit Sequence
During his introduction, Snyder discussed pushing Warner Bros. away
from their proposed “war on terror” update, and back to the graphic
novel’s alternate 1985 setting. The mood of Cold War paranoia is set
immediately, with Edward Blake, aka the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan),
watching The McLaughlin Group on TV before tussling with a mystery assailant. The fight is heavily stylized and brutal, bringing to mind the violence in Sin City .
It’s not the pathetic, tragic demise from the graphic novel, but it’s
still pretty effective. Next we get one of the most engrossing credit
sequences in recent memory, tracing the evolution of superheroes in
this alternate timeline to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are
A-Changing.” The introduction of the old and new generation of heroes
brims with fun details — from Dr. Manhattan’s meeting with JFK to the
tragic fate of Silhouette — many of which are only hinted to in the
graphic novel. The opening sequence alone is worth the price of
admission as it immediately announces that this film will not be
another League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Dr. Manhattan on Mars
This sequence, taking place midway through the film, shows the god-like
Dr. Manhattan flashing back to his tragic origin, and various other
points in his life, after fleeing Earth for Mars. As in the graphic
novel, these scenes are quite moving, due in no small part to Billy
Crudup’s performance as Watchmen‘s
resident Superman by-way-of Captain Atom uber-hero. Crudup’s calm vocal
delivery perfectly conveys Manhattan’s inability to connect with
humanity, and his accidental transformation into Dr. Manhattan is more
affecting than Edward Norton’s in The Incredible Hulk. Crudup could quite possibly steal the film with his subtle performance.

Rorschach Prison Break
Of the sequences screened, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre’s breakout of Rorschach (having been framed for murder) was my least favorite. I’m not fully convinced by Patrick Wilson in the Nite Owl role.
Wilson’s a fine actor, especially in Little Children , but he’s too studly for the lumpy, middle-aged Owl. (Also, the costume reminds me a bit too much of Batmanuel from The Tick.)
That said, the fisticuffs were effectively staged (Snyder loves his
slow-mo punches), and geeks have a new action heroine in Malin
Akerman’s Silk Spectre II. (Though I would’ve liked to see more of
Carla Gugino’s Sally Jupiter, aka Silk Spectre I, briefly showcased in
the credit sequence.) We also get a brief moment of Rorschach’s
ultra-violence, and a peak at his shifting mask.

Watchmen‘s current running time is 2 hours and 43 minutes,
and will hopefully be released without studio-mandated trims. (A longer
DVD cut could include 20 additional minutes, and integrate the
direct-to-DVD animated Tales of the Black Freighter film into
the narrative.) Also, while he didn’t go into too many details, Snyder
confirms that the ending isn’t a cop-out — though I’m skeptical that
it’ll actually play out as intensely as it does in the graphic novel.
Snyder also discussed storyboarding the film alongside the graphic
novel, often favoring Moore’s dialogue over what was in the script. He
approached adapting Watchmen as he would a novel, staying true
to the material while adding his own stamp and hiding plenty of Easter
eggs along the way. (Look for a telltale number on Comedian’s door
hinting to a future Snyder project.)

Gibbons and Snyder both feel that our current comic book movie
craze has primed audiences for Alan Moore’s deconstruction of the
genre. While it won’t compare to reading Watchmen (really, what
movie could?), I am convinced that Snyder and crew have created
something entirely new and exciting. (And if nothing else, it’ll bring
even more readers to one of the greatest works of literature of the
last half century.) Sadly, Alan Moore won’t be watching Watchmen. Looks like he’ll be missing out.

When not writing, Nick
Nadel is in line at the comic book store alongside the other geeks, er,
fans of speculative fiction. His most prized possession is a 1960s
Batman comic wherein
the Dynamic Duo are trapped inside a fortune cookie factory. He lives
in Brooklyn and updates his aptly named website ( with comedy writing and videos.

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