‘Watchmen’ Trailer: Director Zack Snyder Says Sneak Peek Had To Be In The ‘Spirit Of The Graphic Novel’

'I wanted to show pictures right now so people can go, 'Wow, I recognize that frame,' ' filmmaker says.

Ever since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel “Watchmen” changed the way we look at comic books, fans have wished that someone would come along and turn its seemingly unfilmable brilliance into a movie. Over the past 20 years, many have attempted and failed … until now. director has stepped up to the plate with two outs in the ninth.

Has he hit a grand slam? Take a look at the first-ever footage shown in the trailer that precedes “The Dark Knight” and is now live online, and it’s enough to make a grown geek swoon.

MTV News met up with Snyder in his smiley-face-filled offices on the Warner Bros. lot, where he gave us an advance look at the trailer and answered questions about the images still emblazoned on our retinas. Could the greatest graphic novel of all time become the greatest superhero movie when it hits theaters on March 6? Read on, and you’ll know so much more when you watch

MTV: Walk us through your mind-set as you assembled the trailer.

Zack Snyder: Well, the first idea everyone had, from what I saw online, everyone was saying, “Oh, they’re just going to do, like, a title treatment with some Rorschach voice and no pictures.” And I was like, “No, we’ve got to give them some pictures,” because to me the debate is about how close to the graphic novel will the movie be. We’ve just really been trying hard to get the movie as in spirit of the graphic novel as possible, so I wanted to show pictures right now so people can go, “Wow, I recognize that frame.”

MTV: The centerpiece of the trailer seems to be Dr. Manhattan’s transformation.

Snyder: Dr. Manhattan is an interesting person to hang the movie on in a lot of ways, because he’s the conscience of the movie. His perspective on humanity and mankind is a lot of the conscience of the movie, for me anyway, and how he relates to the other characters is really important. He’s also spectacular in his creation, so it seemed fun.

MTV: When we were on the set, was wearing a bizarre getup that made him look like a Smurf hooked up to electrodes. He put a lot of faith in you that you’d make it look cool.

Snyder: Yeah. Well, the guys have done an amazing job. That [CGI] stuff is, honestly, in the early days still, so it gets better and better every day.

MTV: For those who haven’t read the graphic novel, walk us through the other characters we see in the trailer.

Snyder: In there you saw Silk Spectre, who’s the girl in the black and yellow. She’s a sexy superhero who’s trying to reconcile whether or not her mother put her down the right road of being a superhero, because her mother got her into it. You saw Nite Owl, who’s the caped character with the goggles. All the characters come out of retirement, but he’s more of a fighting, gadget-oriented superhero. Rorschach, of course, is the guy in the fedora with the crazy ink blots on his face. He’s a rough-and-tumble, mystery-solving superhero, if you will. Sort of a throwback.

MTV: And he’s mentally ill but arguably the most heroic of them all.

Snyder: Yeah, he’s sort of mentally ill. Some would call it mentally ill, and some would call it a strong moral code. [He laughs.] He narrates part of the movie, so he gives us a sort of black-and-white perspective on justice.

MTV: We also get a quick glimpse of the Comedian firebombing the Viet Cong.

Snyder: Yeah, the Comedian is the character in the film that influences all the other characters. What he does, his morality, his actions have changed the other characters as we see them today. I just wanted to show an image of the Comedian that is both sexy and maniacal — I think that’s what he’s all about.

MTV: The trailer premieres with “Dark Knight,” which is a bit ironic since Nite Owl has always been seen as based on Batman. And then, in the trailer, you have a shot of Nite Owl slamming down on the ground, much like does in “Knight.” Was this intentional?

Snyder: Yeah, a little bit. I feel like the thing with “Watchmen” that’s really important is the way it deconstructs superhero mythology, and I think that cinema now is the place where superheroes go to enter mass culture. We wanted to do the same thing with “Watchmen.” I want people who don’t know “Watchmen” to start to understand how it relates to their mythology, the mythology that we now treasure — which is the mythology of superheroes. So Batman and Nite Owl, yeah, sure. Dr. Manhattan and Superman are also sort of similar beings, in the things they face as problems. If you’re outside of the realm of physical reality, you think about humans in a different way.

MTV: When we interviewed you for “300,” you said the “Watchmen” moment you were most eager to film was Manhattan’s deployment to Vietnam, when he becomes enormous and slaughters the enemy on behalf of the U.S. Now, we can finally see a bit of it!

Snyder: Yeah that’s super fun, and it gets better and better. I’ve got to be honest: The version we’re able to show in the trailer is cool, but it’s the version that’s been approved for all audiences. The R-rated version, when he blows those guys up, it’s a little rougher.

MTV: That’s how he kills people?

Snyder: In the movie, their guts explode — it’s a little rougher.

MTV: And at the end of it all, we get an eye-popping shot of Dr. Manhattan’s crib. What was it like to create this oasis on Mars?

Snyder: Well, what happens is that Manhattan exiles himself to Mars, and he builds that glass palace. Because his father was a clock-maker, he uses that big structure as a metaphor for the clock of the universe. In some ways, it’s his own place of meditation. He’s taken Laurie there at that point in the movie, and they’re talking about how they’re going to resolve their differences. That’s how he does it: When he wants to talk to you, he takes you to Mars and he puts you in a giant glass.

MTV: What else is in the trailer that you’re most proud of?

Snyder: You see a little bit of the Keane Act riots — that’s the guy throwing the Molotov cocktail through the window. The Keane Act was an act of Congress that outlawed the vigilantes originally. … That little image of that little bottle being thrown through the window, and also the shot of the Owl Ship floating there with Blake the Comedian standing in the window and all these people cheering, that’s [the riots that ensue].

MTV: You’re known largely for your skill with action scenes, but the “Watchmen” graphic novel is dominated by meditative, quieter moments. This is a very action-packed trailer. Does this mean you’ve upped the action level considerably?

Snyder: I don’t know if I have. I think there’s an IV drip of action that takes you through the movie, because there are superheroes that probably do fight things, and there are action-y things that actually happen to them. I’m not afraid to put that stuff in the trailer, because it’s cool-looking, and that’s what people want to see to get them excited.

MTV: It’s a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

Snyder: The truth is, the movie is designed to get pop culture excited. And to me, in the end, it is a very intellectual and moral debate that these characters will have. But that doesn’t mean they don’t kick each other’s asses on the way!

Check out everything we’ve got on “Watchmen.”

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