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Zach Snyder Watchmen image 

As the large crowd of eager cinema enthusiasts and comic book hounds enter in droves, the level of excitement generated by what they are about to see is palpable.  After all, Watchmen has to easily be one of the most anticipated films set for release in 2009, and as our animated MC preaches with geeky exuberance: this is no ordinary super movie.

The Watchmen is a 12 issue comic book limited series, created by writer Alan Moore (of V for Vendetta fame) and illustrator Dave Gibbons. Released in 1986, it was an instant success and would go on to maintain a loyal following, win a Hugo Award in 1988, and was named in Time Magazine’s 2005 list of the Top 100 best English speaking novels from 1923 to present.

Producer Lawrence Gordon snapped up the film rights in 1986, and has since went through several unsuccessful attempts to get a film adaptation off the ground. First came a deal with 20th Century Fox, where it went into turnaround in 1991. The project was then attached to Warner Bros with Terry Gilliam (Brazil) all set to direct. Yet due to insufficient funds, and Gilliam’s insistence that The Watchmen comics were unfilmable, the film once again fell through.

2001 saw Gordon strike a deal with Universal Studios, who hired David Hayter (Wolves) to write the screenplay and direct, in the process updating the 1986 set comic book to the present day. Yet that old chestnut of “creative differences” assured another blow to the already battered film project.

2004, and Paramount Pictures agreed to produce the film, and have Daren Arronofsky (Noah) lined up to direct. Of course, he would leave the project, with Paul Greengrass (Bourne Ultimatum) brought in to take over the helm. He would last well into pre-production until the project was placed into turnaround once again.

A last ditch effort saw Gordon take the film rights back to Warner Bros, who again agreed to finance the picture. But this time they have an ace up their sleeve: director Zack Snyder, whose energetic remake of George Romero’s zombie classic Dawn of the Dead, and adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300, saw the burgeoning filmmaker win instant critical acclaim and fanboy worship. 
During a discussion with the energetic director, Snyder talked about his initial trepidation towards taking on a film with such a volatile history: “I was really amazed by the pedigree of names that had been attached to the project and how awesome they were, the filmmakers. So that part was a little intimidating. I mean if those guys couldn’t do it, then how the hell am I gonna do it?”

Yet realising it to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the self confessed geek to make a film based on a book he holds in high regard, Snyder signed on the dotted line, using his clout from the box office success of 300 to change the films then current political setting (“Sounds great. War on terror. People love that”, he quipped previously), to bring the script back to its comic books roots. “That emboldened me into a place where, yeah, we could make something cool.”    

Back to the beginning, where Snyder introduces three scenes from the upcoming film, that wrapped principal photography back in February, 2008.

The fist scene is exactly that: the film’s opening 12 minutes, which shows the murder of retired super hero The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), set to the smooth sounds of Nat King Cole’s "Unforgettable". The scene is violent, yet eerily poetic in its violence, as heightened sound effects crisply relay the crunch of fists smashing through concrete walls and thud of punches pounding on flesh.

This is followed by the film’s opening credits, an astonishing look at the history of these superheroes, who have changed the world with their presence. Of note is the spectacular visual and make up effects. Snyder would comment afterwards that the effects have not been completed. Could have fooled me.

The second scene takes the viewer through the origin of Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a nuclear physicist turned God-like superhero. This sequence delves into many musings into the philosophical and theological nature of man, and features the blue skinned superhero with his, show we say, “bait and tackle” flapping in the wind. Snyder explains, “In the graphic novel he slowly loses touch with humanity so his clothes get smaller and smaller until he’s naked ...we just went with him being naked...and you’ll see in some of the advertising, like we just finished the trailer and of course the MPAA made me do, like a, you know, defocusing….”

The third scene delves into more sexual territory, as retired superheroes and current lovers Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), and the Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) participate in what Snyder describes as “superhero foreplay”, dressing up in their old garb and kicking butts as a cure to Nite Owl’s impotence, while breaking out former comrade Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) from prison. Again, this is definitely no ordinary superhero movie.

Of point is the films fight sequences, which are superbly choreographed and shot.  “If you are familiar with action in comic books you can sort of see the poses and ideas in the scene”, Snyder would later explain. “(From) what I showed today, I would not say that the Watchmen is an action movie. (Rather) it has an IV-drip of action that keeps you from going down.”

Thankfully, the film does not continue the current trend of shaky-cam theatrics, which have plagued action movies of late, and would have no doubt been a part of Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass’s vision. “I don’t know how to make a, ‘Look, its handheld, it’s crazy. It looks like a documentary’.... to me I’m like, show me that shot. Don’t make it, ‘Oh, look its war correspondent, I can barely see it’. I don’t want to see that. Show it to me.”

Much like 300, Snyder storyboarded Watchmen right out of the pages of the comic book. But he also took influence from seminal movies such as Stanley Kubrick’s classic war satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; Martin Scorsese’s gritty Taxi Driver; and David Fincher’s serial killer thriller Seven.

But as Snyder would go on to explain: “It’s funny how a move kind of evolves. Maybe I can’t help myself. When we were working in the beginning, we would say things like ‘It should be like Seven’, or Taxi Driver, or some raw thing, but when we actually go and make the movie, it ends up being like an opera. Every shot is a painting to me.”

And as far as paintings go, Watchmen is shaping up to be a masterpiece. That is if we get a chance to see it. A recent lawsuit launched by 20th Century Fox –the films first in a long line of distributors – against Warner Bros, claims that Gordon never paid out the studio while he sought to find a new studio to produce the film, and that Warner Bros refused to discuss the matter during production. A federal judge has denied a request to dismiss Fox’s infringement claims, which could see an injunction blocking the release of the film.

When asked about the lawsuit, an understandably coy Snyder responded: “As far as Fox goes, I’m not a lawyer so I hope that they, ah, resolve that. I think they will. They seem, um, decent people (laughs).”

Also, the daggers have already come out from the comic books fanboys, those fanatic rabble rousers who control internet rumour and speculation, over the films ending, which –according to recent test screenings in the United States - has been supposedly altered from its source material.

“I like the idea that people think that we’ve got enough money to make like two entirely different movies, that’s cool, ...that’s a lot of, what’s it called... faith. And even testing two endings is cool, it’s a cool concept”, says Snyder after being asked whether Warner Bros were testing alternate endings to feel out the comic books diehard fans. “There are not two endings, there’s one ending and I won’t say exactly what happens in the ending... I will say that what Watchmen is to me, is the moral imperative of the ending, to me that’s the most important thing and that was the thing that I was in most jeopardy of losing, you know was the bad guy, or whatever you want to call him, his plan, how the superheroes react to it, and what happens to him, and what happens to the other characters and how they’re changed by it.”

Later, Snyder will go on to more detail, when comparing the films Cold War setting to Warner Bros original war on terror angle: “The thing that is cool with the Cold War in the Watchmen, that is impossible (to do) with the war on terror is... that if you had a war on terror then the stakes at the end...which is nuclear war or this; complete end of the world or this, you can’t do with the war on terror. But with the Russians, and 51,000 nuclear warheads, you could pretty much say, ‘Yeah, that would be it’, or this other alternative. But I’m not saying, you know...” 

So far now, we hope, or pray, or wish that the legal smoke clears before the Watchmen is released in Australia on the 5th of March, 2009. From what has been shown thus far, it is a film that has the potential to match substance with Snyder’s expert use of style. Mark it in your calendar.


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