In a weird turn of events, Watchmen is once again grabbing headlines. About a week ago (from writing this) Hollywood super-producer Joel Silver (The Matrix) was out to once again take jabs at the 2009 Watchmen film adaptation by Batman vs. Superman director Zack Snyder. Silver once had his own version of a Watchmen movie in the works with eccentric director Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and their ending to Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel was indeed VERY different from both the original "giant squid" ending of Moore's comic and the "giant bomb" ending of Snyder's film.
Silver's boasts about he and Gilliam's version of Watchmen has understandably prompted a response from Snyder and his wife/producing partner, Deborah, while they were out promoting the new film 300: Rise of an Empire, which they are producing. In short, the Snyders say that Terry Gilliam's Watchmen ending was pretty much what you'd expect from Terry Gilliam - far out and weird/borderline crazy. Beyond that, they talk about the current state of the superhero movie genre, and just how much power (or not) those often overzealous fans have.
Speaking with HuffPo, The Snyders had the following to say in response to Joel Silver's boast about Gilliam's ending to the Watchmen movie:
ZS: It's funny, because the biggest knock against the movie is that we finally changed the ending, right?... and if you read the Gilliam ending, it's completely insane... It would be like if you were doing "Romeo and Juliet" and instead of them waking up in the grave area, they would have time-traveled back in time and none of it would have happened.
DS: The fans would have been thinking that they were smoking crack.
ZS: Yeah, the fans would have stormed the castle on that one. So, honestly, I made "Watchmen" for myself. It's probably my favorite movie that I've made... And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world... I would not have grabbed something from out of the air and said, "Oh, here's a cool ending" just because it's cool.
The next portion of the interview enters into waters we recently swam into with our "Truth About Superhero Movie Casting" op-ed: namely, the question of whether fidelity to the source material or making an accessible blockbuster movie experience holds greater importance in the superhero movie-making process. According to the Snyders, there is simply no real way to win at this, no matter how close or far you are from the source material:
DS: But it's interesting because, you're right, it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. You have people who are mad that the ending was changed and you have other people saying, "Oh, it was a slave to the graphic novel." You can't please everybody.
ZS: And that's the problem with genre. That's the problem with comic book movies and genre. And I believe that we've evolved -- I believe that the audiences have evolved. I feel like "Watchmen" came out at sort of the height of the snarky Internet fanboy -- like, when he had his biggest strength. And I think if that movie came out now -- and this is just my opinion -- because now that we've had "Avengers" and comic book culture is well established, I think people would realize that the movie is a satire. You know, the whole movie is a satire. It's a genre-busting movie. The graphic novel was written to analyze the graphic novel -- and comic books and the Cold War and politics and the place that comic books play in the mythology of pop culture. I guess that's what I'm getting at with the end of "Watchmen" -- in the end, the most important thing with the end was that it tells the story of the graphic novel. The morality tale of the graphic novel is still told exactly as it was told in the graphic novel -- I used slightly different devices. The Gilliam version, if you look at it, it has nothing to do with the idea that is the end of the graphic novel. And that's the thing that I would go, "Well, then don't do it." It doesn't make any sense.
Finally, The Snyders elaborate on what it's like making a monumental superhero movie like Batman vs. Superman under the constraints of fan scrutiny and opinion:
DS: Things get leaked so often these days, it's a shame because even casing announcements, or whatever, you're in the middle of a process and sometimes they're so off base -- and then it gets picked up by multiple places and it's all over the place... It's kind of a shame that you can't go through the process in a pure way and then be able to announce it in a way that's exciting. With the [Batman vs. Superman] announcement, there was rumblings and we were like, "Aw." Because we wanted to bring it to the fans. We wanted to bring them something special. We went to Comic-Con for "Watchmen" and we were bringing the cast to announce it and it got leaked a couple of days before. We wanted to give that to them and we got cheated out of it.
ZS: I think it does another thing. The leak becomes the audience involvement. They are now part of it, the process. Do you know what I mean? And you have to take that as the world we live in, as opposed to "Oh, that's too bad."... That's fun for us when we're able to announce Jesse Eisenberg to the audience.
DS: Everyone was like, "What?! Ah!"
ZS: Yeah, that's fun.
Zack and Deborah Snyder talk much more about everything from their stylistic approach to making Man of Steel, to why Zack Snyder's work seems to suffer harsher criticism than most. For all of that (and more), head over to HuffPo.
Snyder has certainly carried a lot fanboy negativity on his back - but not without reason. The groundbreaking adaptation of Frank Miller's 300 comic book thrust him into the comic book movie limelight at a crucial time (2006), and he followed that initial momentum by tackling Watchmen, the mountain of comic book adaptations. When Watchmen's comic book fidelity left many questioning the movie's quality, Snyder's rep was (somewhat unfairly) tarnished; Sucker Punch lived up to its title by delivering both a critical and commercial blow to the filmmaker; and Man of Steel is so divisive that it sits alongside politics and religion in the category of things you do not bring up in casual conversation. And now he's just taking on quite possibly the biggest superhero movie of all time with Batman vs. Superman.
In other words: A lot of this pressure has been self-applied.
In my own opinion, though - Snyder is right. Watchmen came out at a time when studios were utterly convinced that fidelity to fanboys was the only viable way of doing business. Now that time has passed. Movies like Iron Man 3, Fantastic Four and Batman vs. Superman are taking bigger and bolder risks with their visions of these worlds - independent of what the source material has done. While it remains to seen in a lot of cases if this transition is a good or bad thing, it could very well prove true that a solid cinematic vision for a superhero movie - whether familiar or new - could end up being a box office success if executed correctly.
...As for Watchmen? It's done, and Snyder's ending still makes about as much sense as any ending to that story that anyone came up with - including Alan Moore himself. The giant squid was never exactly universally accepted as a masterful stroke of brilliance (it's pretty weird, really) and Joel Silver's "would a, could a" talk doesn't really matter; it's Snyder who got the film in the can, and until that inevitable reboot or prequel trilogy comes along, Snyder's is the version we have.
300: Rise of an Empire will be in theaters on March 7, 2014.
Batman vs. Superman will be in theaters on May 6, 2016.