Batman, schmatman. Get ready for the superhero movie to end all superhero movies.
Director Zack Snyder, who also helmed 300 and Dawn of the Dead, gave a small group of us journalist types a sneak peek at his flick Watchmen, coming in March '09, the other day. For the uninitiated (which I was), the movie is based on Alan Moore's hugely popular 1986 graphic novel about a group of super-antiheroes struggling with their own issues at the same time they're investigating the death of one of their own and the world is hurtling toward nuclear war. I had no idea going in, but this novel that deconstructs the postmodern superhero (and made Time magazine's top 100 of all time) has hugely influenced pop culture over the years, with references to it popping up everywhere even today, from TV's Lost to Pixar's The Incredibles.
"Batman was dark...ish," Snyder told us, "Watchmen goes way out there. Batman gets to go to Nepal and learn to fight with ninjas. That's not dark, that's cool. I wanna do that. When you can't get it up [for your girl] because your latex suit is downstairs, that's dark."
Snyder teased us with a couple of mesmerizing clips before a Q&A session that also included the film's production designer, Alex McDowell, and costume designer Michael Wilkinson. First up was the film's opening scene, a bone-crunching fight sequence that shows an assassin beating the Watchman known as The Comedian and throwing him out a window, Matrix style, to his death, followed by the opening credits. I've never seen opening credits as spectacular as these. To the tune of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a' Changin'," we're shown the history of the Watchmen from the 1940s to the film's present day, through good times and bad, as they lurk behind the scenes of such historic events as Kennedy's assassination and the lunar landing--the credits work almost as a mini-movie in themselves. Genius.
Next up was a shorter action-packed clip with Silk Spectre (in a Vargas girl-style latex getup that made all the guys in the room sit up and take note) and Nite Owl busting Rorschach (with a moving black-and-white inkblot crawling over his face) out of prison. Prisoners and cops get thrashed, midgets get offed...what's not to love?
If these clips hadn't already completely sold me on this story I'd never heard of before, the final clip sealed the deal. Here's where we meet Jon Osterman, aka Dr. Manhattan, as he becomes the tortured blue super man who can pulverize people into bloody mush with an indifferent flick of his hand. As he narrates, we see the accident that changes the gentle scientist's physicality forever, and its after-effects on him, those around him, and the world at large. Mindblowing effects aside, the narration was startlingly moving. I can probably speak for everyone in the room when I say we were all left craving more.
Here's some of what Snyder had to tell us:
The film's been cut from 3 hours to a possibly not-final 2:43 runtime. And definitely R-rated.
On the heavily choreographed action scenes: "The material is pretty dense, and everybody needs a break. I'm an action geek, anyway."
Though some things in the ending differ from the novel, it's basically the same. "The move Adrian makes at the end of the book is the same in the movie. Hopefully it'll leave everyone in the theater going, 'They did that??' I want people to go have a beer after and go, 'What the f***?' We couldn't not take it all the way."
On Alan Moore's opposition: "We have the utmost respect for Moore's opinion. How's that?"
There's no chance of a sequel. "Or prequel, spinoff, or superhero babies."
It'll be released in IMAX "in some way."
The Black Freighter supplemental DVD being released in conjunction with the film will hopefully be incorporated back into the movie in some future alternate DVD version.
I think I already know what my favorite movie of next year will be. I'm psyched -- are you?