‘Watchmen’ Director Zack Snyder Discusses Challenges Of Taking Comic To The Big Screen

Plus, he addresses film's running time: 'I just don't want to lose any story line.'

SAN DIEGO — These days, “300” director Zack Snyder is hard at work perfecting the impossible. As you read this, he is undoubtedly in some dark edit bay, unshaven and chugging a Starbucks, doing his very best to transform “Watchmen” from an unfilmable comic book into the next smash superhero movie.

So far, what we’ve seen of his efforts has been nothing short of perfection, from the trailer to the fan-pleasing in-jokes to the decision to have My Chemical Romance cover a Bob Dylan song for the end credits.

But how does he deal with the issue of Dr. Manhattan’s crotch? What does he do when the script demands that he cut secondary characters like Hooded Justice? And why won’t the creator of the graphic novel stop trashing Snyder when he hasn’t even seen the movie? In a candid chat with MTV, the director of the March 2009 flick gave us a rundown of the landmines he’s tiptoeing around while crafting a cinematic event worthy of the “Watchmen” name.

MTV: When “Watchmen” was first published in 1986-87, it was a shock to readers who’d become accustomed to clear-cut, antiseptic superheroes. After all the men-in-tights movies we’ve seen in the last few years, are moviegoers similarly ripe for a film that tears apart the mythologies of a Batman type, a Superman type and others?

Zack Snyder: Well, that’s the hope. The hope is that people see their icons in this movie, and they see them deconstructed. That creates a conversation that is transcendent of a superhero movie. It’s not just “Oh, that was fun, let’s get a beer,” but “That was great! Let’s talk about it!” or “What does that mean?”

MTV: “Watchmen” creator Alan Moore recently gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly in which he reinforced his hatred toward any movie version of his book. Moore said he “would rather not know” what you do with your movie and that “There are things that we did with ’Watchmen’ that could only work in a comic.” How do you feel about his comments?

Snyder: I think it’s consistent with his stance, and I respect that. Like I say, the point of the movie is not to replace the graphic novel. Look, after the trailer came out, “Watchmen” went to #2 on Amazon and suddenly hundreds of thousands of copies of the graphic novel are selling. That’s all I can ask for. If the movie is successful, that’s great. But in the end, I want people to read [Moore’s] book.

MTV: It’s no secret that Nite Owl is based somewhat on Batman. With the success of Christopher Nolan’s films, did you try to ramp up such comparisons?

Snyder: Well, Nite Owl’s still a character who is a rich guy. He decided to become a crime-fighter. He lives in a brownstone. Under his brownstone is an abandoned subway station that he’s turned into his Owl Chamber, as he calls it. He’s built this ship; he’s a genius of gadgetry. He has gadgets, and you could call him a gadget-based superhero. He has a grappling gun, and he throws things, and so he is very Batman-esque in that way. He was based on Batman as well as Blue Beetle.

MTV: You’ve said before that the character is like Batman if Batman couldn’t get it up.

Snyder: [Laughs.] Yeah, that’s just real. You’ve got to have that scene.

MTV: At Comic-Con, you revealed some very cool new “Watchmen” posters. What was the inspiration behind them?

Snyder: There were some materials that David [Gibbons] had created to advertise the book. We took those and said, “Let’s just make some versions of that with Photoshop magic and re-create them almost exactly.” [The Sally Jupiter] one we had to make up; that’s the only one we didn’t have. They were actually designed to be put in comic book stores to advertise the book. They were drawings that looked exactly like that.

MTV: Another big question, pardon the pun, is Dr. Manhattan’s crotch area. He’s naked in many scenes. So did you CGI things out or enhance them or what?

Snyder: It’s an R-rated movie, right? What you see in the trailer had to be a little bit squished around so it could get on TV. I think in the final film, you’ll see it’s true to the graphic novel. He’s naked.

MTV: Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre costume also looks beautiful but seems like it would need some serious technical assistance.

Snyder: It’s all latex. It’s a very tight latex suit that we had to oil her up to get her into. [Laughs.]

MTV: Was it hard for her to deal with?

Snyder: I think it was uncomfortable, but we were like, “It’s sexy.” And so she was like, “I guess it’s OK.” … She was constantly like, “Ow, it’s poking me here!” and I was like, “Well, that’s the superhero lifestyle!”

MTV: The footage you’ve shown gives us a brief peek at some secondary Watchmen like Dollar Bill. But you almost cut out Hooded Justice, correct?

Snyder: Yeah, it was hard [to get them all in]. There was a point where Hooded Justice wasn’t in the movie. But then I was like, “No, we’ve got to have him in,” so we had to scramble and get him in. Hooded Justice is in the movie, and he beats up Blake.

MTV: What’s the current run time on the flick?

Snyder: Right now, it runs at around two hours and 50 minutes. I’m trying to make it shorter, because it’s better if it’s shorter, apparently. There is an online petition that says, “Keep ’Watchmen’ at three hours.” We’ll see how that ends. Look, I just don’t want to lose any story line, because you know eventually that’s what happens. You start to have to cut characters out, and I just don’t want to do that.

MTV: Where do you stand with “Tales of the Black Freighter”?

Snyder: We’re waiting for some of the animation to come in, and we’re just working on the edit. We did get Gerry Butler to do the voice. He’s being the voice of the Sea Captain.

MTV: Can you tell us about a moment creating the “Watchmen” movie where you dared to veer away from the comic?

Snyder: Wow. … I added dialogue between Nixon and Kissinger — that kind of stuff was fun to do. It’s Nixon and Kissinger, and they’re older than we would remember them, because it’s 1985.

MTV: Are the Watchmen in these scenes?

Snyder: No, we [cut] to scenes with them. There are scenes where Nixon goes to the War Room, and they’re talking about the escalating war with the Russians. It’s that line of the story. … In most cases, it’s elaboration.

MTV: You’re making a movie out of a literary classic, where everybody knows how it ends. Do you find yourself fighting the desire to change the ending and just throw a curveball at all the die-hard fans?

Snyder: I don’t. There’s something that happens in the graphic novel at the very, very end with one of the lead characters and how he resolves things that is not very Hollywood. … Basically, the graphic novel offers us a moral dilemma. That’s the crux of the book: It offers you a moral dilemma about what’s the right thing to do. It’s so complex that the true answer of what is right is not an easy one-line fix [typical] for Hollywood. … In order to create the conversation at the end of the movie, in order to create the debate about whether it’s right or wrong, you need to do it a certain way. And that’s what we tried to do. … For the fans, it’s not about what happens at the end. It’s about being able to have that conversation after the end.

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

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