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Feature: Watchmen

Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) in the accident that turns him into Dr Manhattan

We travelled to a top secret location to view footage from film-maker Zack Snyder's forthcoming adaptation of the classic Graphic Novel

If you haven't heard of Watchmen, where have you been? Ever since it was published in the mid 1980s, the graphic novel, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Davie Gibbons, has been celebrated as the most ground-breaking work of the Graphic Novel genre, winning over fans with its skewed, edgy look at a world inhabited with flawed superheroes. In fact, it's so multi-layered, so morally ambiguous and so perfectly crafted by its creators that it has long been thought to be 'unfilmable'. So when Film Review was invited to join film-maker Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300) at a top secret location to view footage from his forthcoming adaptation, we were apprehensive to say the least.

Rorschach up closeBut not nearly as apprehensive as Snyder himself, it transpired; the director was clearly nervous at showcasing his film to a roomful of (very vocal) fans. He needn't have worried, however – not only was the footage outstanding (more of that later) – but his adoration of and respect for the material came shining through from the off.

Watchmen is the comic book that changed the way the genre is perceived in the world,” Snyder says. “You love comic books and you wish for them to grow up with you, and with Watchmen I got that experience. But I didn't have that ego of 'I should make this into a movie' when I read it. It existed as it was.”

Nevertheless, Snyder says that when he got the call from Paramount suggesting he was the man to do the Watchmen job, he couldn't turn it down. “I felt like if I didn't do it someone else would, and it would be my fault it if didn't work! At least if I did it and it didn't work, it would be my fault on purpose.” And, although the studio was initially concerned about the 1985 setting, not to mention the extremely adult tone, by sticking to his guns Snyder secured a script that remains true to Moore's original vision. Recalling his original pitch, Snyder reveals that he told the studio straight, 'You know how you said it was going to be a PG-13? That's a problem for me. There's really cool sex in the movie and violence that I don't think is appropriate for kids!'” Anyone who's read Watchmen will know that, along with all that sex and violence, the novel is as multi-faceted a narrative as you're likely to read. But Snyder isn't worried about anything being lost in translation from page to screen, as he thinks film audiences are savvy enough to take it all in.

“We have this craze in Hollywood for superhero movies and I believe that a mass culture audience is ready for [this film],” Snyder confidently asserts. “Pop culture audiences are ready to have their shit shaken up a bit when it comes to superhero movies. My mother knows that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Superman. She has no business knowing that! It's my hope that a general audience will have their minds blown because it f***s with their mythology”

Rorschach (Jackie Earle Hayley) makes a pointAnd, based on the footage we saw, that's exactly what's going to happen. The three 10-minute segments – the visceral opening sequence followed by title credit montage that effectively sets up the Watchmen history; superhero Dr Manhattan's emotional reminiscing of the events that led up to his genetic mutation and the impact on his life; and an exhilarating prison break – left us gagging for more and made it clear that Snyder knows his source material inside out.

So, take it from us, Watchmen is going to be one of the biggest films of next year, and should wow audiences when it’s released in March. But you should definitely steel yourself for an adults-only viewing experience, as Snyder’s determination to keep the graphic novel's edge intact is unremitting.

“Superman could get all the world leaders in a room and say, if you don't behave, I'll kill you,” Snyder explains of his determination to shake up the previously sanitized superhero universe. “Be he doesn't. He gets cats out of trees. It seems to me if you can go all the way, you go all the way.”

Indeed.

by Nikki Baughan

Photo © Paramount Pictures
Feature © Visual Imagination 2008. Not for reproduction

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