‘Watchmen’ Scenes Of War, Murder And Transformation Draws Thunderous Response At Comic-Con

Director Zack Snyder, his cast and illustrator Dave Gibbons heighten anticipation of the dark film.

SAN DIEGO — If day one of Comic-Con belonged to “Twilight,” then the second afternoon was the realm of “Watchmen.” A comic book holy grail for three decades, the Alan Moore/ Dave Gibbons masterpiece is the only graphic novel ever to win science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Award and the only comic to appear in Time magazine’s list of the greatest novels of the 20th century. This supposedly unfilmable mix of philosophy, theology and heroism has caused such names as Gilliam, Aronofsky and Greengrass to throw their hands up in frustration.

But on Friday — one year after unveiling a “Watchmen” poster and promising he’d get the movie made — Comic-Con king Zack Snyder returned triumphant. Addressing a room full of people dressed like Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, he showed off new footage so amazing, the crowd insisted upon seeing it twice.

Snyder, Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the Comedian), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II) and Matthew Goode (Ozymandias) were all in Hall H, but the fans went particularly nuts upon the revelation of a surprise guest: Gibbons himself.

Earlier, the “Watchmen” illustrator had revealed an eye-popping collaboration with Snyder: Comic-Con-exclusive posters featuring each of the major characters in their most iconic settings (Ozymandias in front of a wall of TVs, Rorschach roaming the dirty streets, the Comedian looking out the window of his apartment), along with quotes that demonstrated their unique outlooks on life. Snyder explained that the posters were based on old ads Gibbons had made to promote the graphic novel, and that he had the actors posing exactly as the artist had imagined.

But the big draw of the afternoon was when Snyder dimmed the lights and showed the extreme footage that he had cut out of the recently released MPAA-approved trailer .

Scored with an operatic track, the footage struck an intense, reverential tone. Fans saw extended moments from Dr. Manhattan’s one-man war in Vietnam (the flesh of his enemies flies off their bones), the Comedian’s murder (a great slow-motion shot has Morgan flying out his window, following him down to the city street while his smiley-face pin flies at the camera) and Manhattan’s transformation (rather than merely raising the hair on his arms, Snyder shows Jon Osterman being torn apart). Brand-new standout stuff included a ’70s-era shot of Wilson, Laurie and Nite Owl kissing in front of a mushroom cloud and a quick peek at a gray-haired, angry Richard Nixon.

Judging by the thunderous response, the crowd liked what they saw from the film, which hits theaters on March 6, 2009.

The cast then took questions from the crowd, providing several hilarious moments between earnest statements about the motivations of their iconic characters. At one point, two identical twins approached the mic and asked a question, with one creepily finishing the other’s sentence. Another man, dressed in a homemade Rorschach costume, asked whether superhero movies were becoming more grown up. Laughing lovingly, Snyder pointed out the irony in receiving such a question from a grown man in a superhero costume.

After two rounds of red-carpet press interviews, the affable “Watchmen” cast jetted away like Nite Owl aboard Archie. For a series so defiantly unwilling to yield to the whims of Hollywood, it sure does seem like they’re writing an inappropriately happy ending.

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

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