‘Watchmen’ director fan of original

By David Orlikoff

From an inauspicious start in commercials, director Zack Snyder has climbed the ladder to direct some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Love or hate it, 300’s specific graphical style has become a cultural phenomenon. The hype surrounding Snyder’s newest film is more than 20 years in the making, as he turns what many call the best graphic novel of all time into Watchmen, the movie.

The Chronicle spoke with Snyder about American mythology, maintaining the integrity of source material and violence in films.

The Chronicle: What kinds of messages are included in “Watchmen”?

Zack Snyder: The politics of superheroes and the politics of superpowers are similar. The morality of policing your neighbors, of being a vigilante, is a slippery slope. The movie asks who polices the police or who watches the watchmen or who governs the government or who gods God. It also looks at America in general. Alan Moore, the writer for the graphic novel, is English. There’s this distance and time from when he wrote it to the movie’s release, and it’s interesting how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Why did you change the ending from the graphic novel?

I really didn’t want to spend the time at a sort of confusing concept to explain the original ending because I knew I would have to lose a lot of character development.  Also, I think the concept of the other to hate, the thing that we blame, the thing that we have to divorce from our lives in order to move on, that thing being God, I find elegant and interesting.

“Watchmen” has been described as the unfilmable story. What made you decide to take on this project?

When I first got the assignment, I felt there was no way I could do it. But after reading the script, I felt like if I didn’t do it, [the studio] would do it without me, and the way they were going to do it was going to be really [awful]. The directive was for a PG-13 movie that was sequalable, and instead of 1985, it would be set during the “War on Terror.” Dr. Manhattan goes to Iraq instead of Vietnam, and the bad guy ending was exactly what you would imagine in a superhero movie.  That was just something that I felt as best I could I couldn’t let happen-so I had to do it.

With the success of “The Dark Knight,” do superhero movies have a chance at the Oscars?

It’s all about this culture accepting that this is our mythology. It’s difficult for people to accept that the way our stories are told are by comics. I don’t think that there’s anything nonintellectual about superheroes-it’s all how you make it. That’s what people perceive is the danger, that we’re dumbing ourselves down by making superheroes high art. That’s the perception with superheroes, but I don’t believe that’s true. I believe superheroes have the ability to be as intellectually stimulating as anything.

Do slow motion action sequences mirror a comic book panel?

You know, they do. For me, when I flip a page in the graphic novel, I kind of freeze on the image. I love fight choreography, and I love the human form. I’m not a fan of handheld, shaky, “I don’t know what’s going on,” action.

What do you add to the story by making it a movie? What can you do with film that you can’t in a comic?

It can be harder for a comic to get the audience to react emotionally sometimes. For instance, when I read the end of the graphic novel, I was so overwhelmed with philosophy that it didn’t strike me as emotional. And I think the difference in the movie is that that scene is an emotional scene. I see it as about these characters coming to this conclusion. It’s no longer two divergent philosophies coming together, it’s two characters. I think the movie is a supplemental experience to the graphic novel. By no means was it meant to-and it doesn’t-replace those concepts, I think it just merely enhances that experience.

With this project being so challenging and with all the studio pressure, what kept you going?

I felt I had to keep it from becoming a superhero movie. In the studio’s mind that’s a safe and cool idea just to make it as formulaic a superhero movie as you can. But if that happened, there’d be nothing left of the source material. Nothing left of the, “Why do we do the movie?” part. I really felt that was important to not let that happen.

Why are your movies so violent?

Violence in Watchmen is very specific and designed to promote thought. Part of the reason why the violence is so extreme is that I wanted the idea of the superhero movie to be broken down at every level. Not just psychologically, but as an audience-as viewers-we’re so used to PG-13 homogenized violence that’s irresponsible, in the sense that it’s targeted toward kids. The idea behind Watchmen is to really smash that concept that violence has no consequence and that when superheroes fight bad guys it’s easy and pain free, because people get knocked out but no one gets really hurt.