After the Watchmen panel, we were lucky enough to be part of press interviews with director Zack Snyder, original artist Dave Gibbons and the movie's cast. Zack talked about why comic-book movies are finally ready for a dark deconstruction, Dave talked about the "grim 'n' gritty" craze in comics, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan talked about one of the graphic novels' most shocking scenes.
There was a lot of talk about why this is the right time for a Watchmen movie, after 20 years of trying. Snyder said "mass culture has been educated by the movies. Look at the last year, what we've had, the amount of superhero movies that have come out have been huge in pop culture and have changed the landscape." The audiences are familiar with Batman's origin story and the details of Spider-Man's life, information that used to mark you out as a geek. "They are ready for Watchmen. They have been educated."
Patrick Wilson, who plays Dan Dreiberg, said the success of comic book movies has put us "in a different place" than the 1980s and even the mid-1990s. Also, "there needed to be enough distance from the 1980s to set it in that world, and look back at it and judge and understand where the country was politically."
Added Wilson: "When the graphic novel came out, it played a role into the world of comics, embaracing it and attacking it at the same time. This movie I think is sort of [doing] that with comic book movies." Now that we've reached the level of sophistication that allows for films like The Dark Knight, the time is right for that kind of critique in movie form.
Asked how he would market Watchmen to mainstream audiences, Snyder said he'd present it as a drama - and it doesn't matter if the marketing department shows off all of the action sequences from the film, because those aren't the important part of the film. "In a normal comic book movie you show all the action, there's nothing else to show; you've run out of stuff. I think with Watchmen, you don't feel that way at all." He's comfortable with mainstream people being confused by Watchmen at first, because he hopes a groundswell of interest will make it something you must know about, or be seen as an idiot at cocktail parties.
Also, the more you expose people to the material and explain, "Oh, it's deconstructionist. It fucks with the mythology. it reinvents superheroes," the more excited people will be, Snyder said. "I think that mass culture has a teeny bit of superhero fatigue, and the movie that has an answer to that is appealing."
And Snyder is pleased that the film's publicity has sparked more interest in reading the graphic novel. He doesn't see the film as replacing the graphic novel - if anything, it's an advertisement for the graphic novel. And he explained that he sees movies in terms of "point of view." And just like his Dawn Of The Dead was a love letter to George Romero and his 300 was trying to channel Frank Miller's vision, completely sees Watchmen as trying to encapsulate the "crazy narrative" of Moore and Gibbons' graphic novel.
The actors on developing their characters
Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman talked about working out their mother-daughter relationship, which was weird given the fact that they're peers. And the fact that Carla's character pushes Malin's to take on the Silk Spectre role, and Malin only deviates by wearing a sort of latex version of Carla's homemade costume. Said Gugino, "I remember saying this feels like the smallest big movie I've ever done. It felt like we were in a really intimate collaborative family environment, even while we were making this gigantic superhero movie."
Billy Crudup talked more about the challenge of playing Dr. Manhattan: "[Manhattan is] somebody who's preoccupied by something that's incormprehnsible to people. He no longer has any of the practical needs that make up our entire days, eating, sleeping using the bathroom and being in the world in a social way. So I spent a lot of my time in scenes trying to imagine what sort of problems he would be trying to solve." He said he has "superficial expectations" about what will happen in a superhero movie, involving a simple arc of "birth and deconstruction and rebirth," and Watchmen subverted those expectations awesomely. And here's a video of him from the panel talking about preparing for the role, from the panel:
Jeffrey Dean Morgan talked about the ordeals he and Jackie Earle Haley went through trying to get into character as the Comedian and Rohrschach. Some of the things the Comedian does were so brutal, he had never imagined doing anything like it. But they held on to the fact that their characters go through substantial arcs and they come to question themselves, and they're not completely defined by the horrible things they do. "The Comedian, at first you think you're playing this bastard, just a mean son of a bitch, and yet... How do you read a book about a character who does the things he does, and yet you sympathize with him? I found that fascinating." And Haley said he had a very similar experience.
Someone asked about the infamous bar scene involving the Comedian and a pregnant woman, and Haley confirmed it's still in the movie. "That scene, and the scene I do with Carla, were two things that I'll forever remember as an actor... I wasn't prepared for it, as much as I tried to prepare. I wasn't ready to put a gun into a pregnant woman's head and blow her head off." The conversation afterwards is also in there. "It's a big defining moment for my character. It has to be there. The history of the scar, the whole deal. You can't take that away."
Dave Gibbons on Alan Moore and deconstruction:
Gibbons said it's not that Alan Moore is puritanical or thinks Hollywood is impure or dirty - it's just that he's had some terrible experiences. Gibbons has talked to Moore about the movie a few times, and Moore has asked him not to bring it up again. "I think it's bad timing, because this is the one where they are going to do Alan justice, and they are going to give his work the respect it deserves."
For years, during the different iterations of the film in development, Moore and Gibbons weren't necessarily taking it seriously when they read that Arnold Schwartzenegger or one of the Monty Python castmembers was going to be in the film. The Terry Gilliam version would have been interesting and had a gorgeous texture and rich subtext, but would have probably been really long and not quite the same as Watchmen.
I asked Gibbons about the fact that Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns came at a moment of "deconstruction" in comics, which was eventually followed by "reconstruction" with smarter, more optimistic works like Astro City. Would something like this eventually happen with superhero movies?
Gibbons said that after Watchmen and TDKR, everybody in comics decided "grim and gritty" was the new style. And they failed to realize that those two graphic novels were just experimenting with a style. "It was a misconception." Those two graphic novels were just one flavor of comics. All the readers got depressed by the relentless gloom, and then finally everybody was like, "Let's be cheerful, let's be bright again." Could that happen with movies as well? Maybe, he said.
(All Photos AP Photo/Denis Poroy)