In the wake of a recent test screening in Portland where early unofficial reports claim the ending has been drastically changed from its comic counterpart, some recent interviews with Zack Snyder explain the director’s method of adapting the revered comic book to the screen.
In the interviews, Snyder talks about his coy manipulation of bringing the film away from a modern day version that the studio originally wanted which focuses on the War on Terror, and getting them to keep the film’s alternate 1985 Cold War time period.
You know, the big thing is Nixon, right, 'cause Nixon's in the graphic novel. I thought, Nixon is so cool, it's just really not Watchmen without Nixon. So that just started this process of me just kind of taking little chips off of the War on Terror concept until I ended up going, 'You know, maybe 1985 is cool, and maybe Nixon's cool, and maybe we just oughtta leave it the way it is.'
Snyder also discussed that during the process of storyboarding all of the scenes for his film adaptation what took place in the graphic novel was more important to him than what was written in the shooting script.
'The script says this, the graphic novel says this. Hmm, that's a problem if they don't say the same thing, right?' So then in that process of drawing what we would shoot, I would say, 'You know, the dialogue's just better here, in the graphic novel. Let's just do that instead.' Or I'd say, 'That picture's better than what we have written.' And not to say that we completely threw the script away, but in pre-production, people would say, 'Don't look at the script, look at the drawings and look at the graphic novel, because that's what the movie is.'
Snyder also talked about having to restructure the story a little to make the vast material that can be found within the pages of Watchmen flow correctly on screen. He decided to keep some of the stories brought to life in the comic’s supplemental material — such as the mock autobiography of retired masked hero Hollis Mason — and place those scenes into the film’s opening credits. He even combined characters like Jon Osterman’s co-worker Wally Weaver with Milton Glass, whose writings on Dr. Manhattan appear as supplemental material in the comic as well.
According to Snyder, some of the hardest scenes to keep in the film were The Comedian’s funeral, Dr. Manhattan on Mars, and some of the Rorschach flashbacks.
Those [cornerstones] are kind of the 'why's of the movie for me. When I was struggling with whether I would do the movie or not, I thought about those things -- I would think about the Comedian's funeral, Manhattan on Mars, Rorschach talking to the psychiatrist -- and would think, 'Okay, I gotta do it.' Those things for me are as awesome and cool as it gets.
Snyder explained that the flashbacks that occur during The Comedian’s funeral were so integral to character development in the story there was no way he could have eliminated all of them and still kept the story of Watchmen intact.
…the Comedian’s funeral… he is buried an HOUR into the movie, and that’s like a long time for a movie! A Hollywood version of Watchmen would have it done by the first 15 minutes and then got on with the investigation… But to me, when those characters are standing by that graveside, I felt that there was a lot of work to be done with all of them.
But Snyder admits that with a film adaptation there are scenes that need to be changed, and even cut out of the film entirely. It’s easy to tell that he’s hoping the comic’s die-hard fans are willing to cut him a little slack with some of the edits and changes he felt needed to be made to bring the story of Watchmen to the screen.
There's a rabid fan base for the graphic novel that maybe are against the motion picture or are maybe against the concept of the motion picture or the changes you might make to the book itself. But look, No Country for Old Men I guarantee you is changed twice as much or three times as much as we changed Watchmen. But there's no vocal group of anti-No Country for Old Men purists that are gonna kill the Coens because their movie isn't frame-for-frame, or line-for-line, accurate… I just treated [Watchmen] like a great book that you're making into a movie.
That's not to say he doesn’t respect the fans a great deal. With all that he has shown on the faithfulness scale so far, it seems like he really wants to make a film that the die-hard fan will enjoy — and possibly even rave about.
When I started out, I knew I had to be true to the graphic novel, not least for the fans. I believe that each of those hardcore fans is worth 20 ordinary people, maybe more… They are the ones who would drag the ones who aren’t clued in to watch the movie. So if the movie sucks… then the ones who don’t know anything about it would be saying, ‘Hey, no one is talking about it’, and it’s screwed.
But lately many die-hard Watchmen fans are getting concerned that Snyder may have messed up the one aspect of the film adaptation that they hoped he would keep intact — the ending. What happened? Just a few days ago, news leaked of a test screening in Portland of the Watchmen movie. Unconfirmed reports by alleged audience members from that screening are saying that even though the same characters live and die at the end of the film, the violent climax has been completely revised.
Snyder, however, maintains that, all changes aside, the “meat” of the end of his Watchmen movie remains faithful to the graphic novel.
The ending does not puss out, I will assure you of that… Basically, the moral checkmate that's [at] the end of the graphic novel -- to me that's the point of the graphic novel. The question about whether or not it was the right thing to do -- and the way all the characters have to react to that -- is really beautifully constructed, so that the question it poses is really the crux of what the graphic novel is, I think. And that's the movie.
In the end, we will all have to wait until March 6th to see if he got it right.
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