I’ve been interviewing movie stars and filmmakers for eight years for The Times, and I don’t know that any of them are more affable than Zack Snyder, the director of "300" who, today, will have all eyes on him in Comic-Con’s huge Hall H during the 10:55 a.m. panel devoted to "Watchmen." (*An earlier verison of this post said the panel would be at 11:55 a.m.) The release of that 1986 graphic novel (which, many people forget, was originally released as 12-issue comic book series) was a pivotal point in the history of comic books and no one is a bigger fan of the masterpiece than writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.
"It’s absolutely literary. It’s so great to hand it to people who don’t know graphic novels because it’s a book. I mean I love ‘The Dark Knight Returns,’ it’s one of my absolute favorites, but it still feels like a comic book, it has Batman and people, ‘I know what this.’ But you hand ‘Watchmen’ and right from that first page you get the sense that this is something different."
I have Snyder tell me all this while we’re standing inside the Owl Ship, the aircraft from "Watchmen" that Snyder’s team in Vancouver, Canada, meticulously built from scratch. It’s an absolutely amazing construct and its very solid; it doesn’t have the feel of a flimsy Hollywood prop. Climbing inside reminded me of a time I boarded a working submarine in Hawaii for a sea-floor cruise. Snyder says he still can’t believe he was "handed all this money and told to go to Canada and make ‘Watchmen’ real," and that’s one of the reasons this big heavy Owl Ship was brought to San Diego and put on display at the Warner Bros. booth (No. 4329) to give fans a sense of the lengths that the movie is going to to create Moore’s world with gravity and substance, not just CGI gloss.
"Here’s the coffeemaker back here. We even got those coffee cups flown from New York, you know, from Greek delis? The blue cups — here they are." He opened up a cabinet and found them. "Isn’t that great?"
Snyder left me around with the controls, and they have tactile feel of a real cockpit. There are small photographs pinned up on the wall, just as they were in the comics, and perched in one corner is a copy of "Under the Hood," a superhero’s autobiography that fits prominently into the story’s unfolding. "The guys glued the book there, you can’t take it out. That’s probably a good thing." These details may never been seen on screen but Snyder is such a devoted fan he wanted to start with the DNA-level particulars of the graphic novel so he could bring it alive. When i visited him on the set months ago, he had a battered copy of the graphic novel with him during scenes.
On Thursday, fiddling with the flamethrower controls of the Owl Ship, it was clear that the book by Moore and Gibbons is somehow as important to him as his own film. "If I just end up making a three-hour advertisement for the graphic novel," he said, "I’ve done my job."
He’s already done that. DC President Paul Levitz told me that just the release of the trailer for Snyder’s movie has prompted such demand that DC has just ordered another 250,000 copies of the $19.99 trade paperback version of "Watchmen." Last week, 75,000 copies were sold, Snyder said, quoting a stat passed on to him from Warner Bros. Moore, as has been well-documented, has wiped his hands of Hollywood after watching his other creations reach the screen in disappointing fashion, such "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." I’m wondering if the reclusive British writer will be able to stay soured on the movie industry after Snyder is done borrowing the Owl Ship.
– Geoff Boucher
Photo: Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan is shown as The Comedian in the mystery adventure film "Watchmen." (AP Photo/Warner Bros., Clay Enos)