Last week we reported that when Terry Gilliam was attached to direct the Watchmen movie, he would have radically rewritten the ending to Alan Moore's graphic novel. In an interview with HuffPo, director Zack Snyder explains why Gilliam was "smoking crack" — and he makes a lot of good points.
If you'll recall, producer Joel Silver explained that Gilliam was going to have Ozymandias convince Dr. Manhattan to erase his own existence, which would have altered reality and somehow turned the "real" events of Watchmen into a comic. Specifically:
So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they're all of the sudden in Times Square and there's a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There's a kid reading the comic book and he's like, "Hey, you're just like in my comic book."
Which is, indeed, insane. When this ending — and Silver's comments that Snyder was a "slave to the material" — was brought up in this interview, Zack and his wife and fellow producer Deborah Snyder had the following response, and I'll be damned if I don't agree with him.
Was "Watchmen" the most "damned if you do, damned if you don't" project you've ever been a part of? Now Joel Silver is criticizing you for being a "slave" to the source material while touting a very different from the source material script that Terry Gilliam was going to film.
Zack Snyder: It's funny, because the biggest knock against the movie is that we finally changed the ending, right?
Right, you used Dr. Manhattan as the threat to bring the world together as opposed to the alien squid.
Zack Snyder: Right, and if you read the Gilliam ending, it's completely insane.
Deborah Snyder: The fans would have been thinking that they were smoking crack.
Zack Snyder: 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 love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. 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.
In Gilliam's version, Dr. Manhattan is convinced to go back in time and prevent Dr. Manhattan from existing. But the specter of his existence is the threat to the world, which is kind of what you did at the end of the movie anyway.
Zack Snyder: Right, of course. It's just using elements that are in the comic book already, that's the only thing I did. I would not have grabbed something from out of the air and said, "Oh, here's a cool ending" just because it's cool.
Deborah Snyder: 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.
Zack Snyder: 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.
I can't imagine people being happy with that version.
Zack Snyder: Yeah! If you love the graphic novel, there's just no way. 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.
Honestly, I've never had the problem with Watchmen some people had; I think it's as accurate an adaptation to the graphic novel as was possible as a modern motion picture, and I think if there's ever a time to be a "slave to the material," it's when the material is something like Watchmen. I also agree that Snyder's ending — since there's really no way the interdimensional giant squid would have worked for modern audiences and still carried the thematic weight of Moore's original ending — is true to the material, while Gilliam's is pretty much wildly off point.
I may not agree that the time of the snarky Internet fanboy is over, mainly because I am a snarky Internet fanboy, but I do think he has a point that Watchmen would have played better after Avengers and people got even more used to superhero movies, and had some time to internalize them. But if Snyder had declined, it's extremely possible Warner Bros. would have hired someone else to make the movie, and that someone could have been Brett Ratner. So maybe we all owe Zack Snyder a bit of thanks.