Fast Company

Watchmen: Adapting a Masterpiece for the Movie Screen

How do you adapt a book that has been compared to Citizen Kane into a film? How do you honor a dense literary work while making it digestible to the mainstream public? The answer, I learned at a press event today, is carefully and faithfully. To follow-up his mammoth hit 300 director Zack Snyder decided to direct an adaptation of Watchmen, the seminal graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.

As he explained it, the script originally modernized the story, bringing it to contemporary times and focusing on terrorism. But Snyder wanted the original book, an alternate history that occurred in the 80s and frequently flashed back to the events of the 50s, 60s and 70s. He wanted Richard Nixon running America in his fourth term and dealing with a Cold War where the only deterrent against Russia's nuclear program is a god-like superhero.

Snyder told an entire screening room that he took the script, took the original book and began storyboarding the entire film. Between his drawings of camera shots, he would paste panels from the graphic novel. And as he painstakingly did this, he realized the lines in the original were better than the script. So he would change the dialogue back. He admitted his dream cut of the film would be three and a-half hours long, including all the material he filmed and leaving little from the original book out. While we may still see that in the future, thanks to the successful DVD and Blu-ray market, the current cut of the film is 2:42 in length.

When asked if someone who hasn't read the book should do that before seeing the film, Snyder noted that it could work either way and he is happy if the film is "A movie-long commercial for the book." Paul Levitz, the publisher of DC Comics, said that in the 12 weeks since the Watchmen trailer debuted in theaters with The Dark Knight, the graphic novel has sold more copies than the 7 years of relatively high sales before it.

And so Snyder truly adapted the book and changed little. It is an R-rated superhero tale with some sex, violence, and a thought provoking look at morality. It still has a naked superman in all his glory. It has heroes doing rather un-heroic things. And it should make all but the most knit-picky fans happy. The first twelve minutes and the other scenes we were shown really displayed the world that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created.

Gibbons, who consulted on the film, was also present for the event. he stated it was amazing to see his work brought to life and finally, "Matched the movie that ran in my head." And it may have taken over 20 years, but technology can finally live up to the imagination found within innovative works of art.

Overall, the event left this Watchmen aficionado confident that the film will do the book justice. Those involved know this is more than just 'a comic book movie.' As Snyder lamented after someone asked if he was adding his own characters or material to the movie, "When adapting literature like No Country for Old Men you don't get questions like this."

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