Note: I have kept spoilers out of this post. Please keep the comments spoiler-free as well.
I got to see a special advance screening of Watchmen yesterday, at a taping of MTV Spoilers. They showed us the whole movie, and then ran some clips from the new Harry Potter, the Land of the Lost, and the new Star Trek movie, followed by a Q&A with Zack Snyder.
I know a lot of people want to know about Watchmen, so I'll just cut to the chase right away: It's the best movie inspired by a graphic novel that I've ever seen. It could have gone wrong in a thousand different places, and it didn't. I've wanted to see this movie for twenty years, and it was entirely worth the wait. Hear me now, my fellow geeks: you have nothing to worry about. Watchmen is fucking awesome.
Now, the entire story…
I was supposed to be there by 2:45, but lost track of time while writing, and left my house over 30 minutes late. I'd allowed a traffic cushion in my original plan, and it was gone. Everything would have to go perfectly if I was going to get there on time. Driving up the street toward the freeway, my fuel light came on. Then I hit every single red light between me and the nearest gas station. By the time I was on the freeway, I was 45 minutes behind.
Rather than totally lose my shit and drive like a psycho, I just accepted that I'd get there when I got there and not a moment sooner. I listened to the first episode of the new D&D Podcast while I made my way out the 134 and over Laurel Canyon. I laughed the whole way, remembering how much fun we all had when we played up in Seattle. It ended about ten minutes before I got to the screening, so I just let my iPod shuffle to some music. Out of 9000 songs, it chose Depeche Mode's Behind The Wheel. It was a little eerie, because I can clearly recall driving in my Prelude with my friend Darin in 1989, talking about who would be in the Watchmen movie if they made one, while we listened to Music for the Masses. I'd been excited to see the movie, but until that happened, I hadn't fully appreciated the real significance of seeing it.
"I have waited twenty years to see this film," I thought, "and in about twenty minutes, it's finally going to happen."
As I pulled up to the parking garage, I got the nervous feeling in my stomach that's usually reserved for auditions or the first few days of a book launch. I know that it's just a movie, but it's something I've thought about and cared about for two thirds of my life. I guess it was so important to me, I hadn't let myself fully appreciate just how important it was until that moment.
A few minutes later I met my friend Chris (who was my date for the movie), and we made our way to the theater, stopping on the way to talk to the MTV people about my appearance on the show later, after they ran the Star Trek stuff. It was a weird disconnect for me; while I was talking to the MTV producers, I stopped being a geek who couldn't believe he was about to finally see Watchmen, and I was a professional actor, going over the technical specifics of how the show would be put together. My stomach butterflies and that mix of apprehension and excitement vanished for a few minutes, until we walked away, I became a geek again, and it returned with a vengeance.
The lights went down, the film began, and after just a few minutes, my apprehension was gone. I knew after the Comedian hit the street that this was going to be everything I'd hoped for. For the next two hours and forty-five minutes, I gasped, I cheered, I applauded, I was stunned and I was blown away. Most importantly, though, I was transported to the world I first visited, one issue at a time, when I was a teenager. When it was over, I wanted to go right back to the beginning and start over again, just like I did when I finished the graphic novel back in the 80s.
<Non-Spoiler Review Begins>
I'm not going to discuss specifics, because that would suck for a lot of people, but: PAY ATTENTION, MY FELLOW GEEKS: YOU HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.
(Did I just all-cap and bold that? I guess I did. What is this, MacWrite in 1986? Whatever. I'm leaving it, because it's that important to me that my fellow geeks read it.)
Now, listen, I know that we live in a world where we've endured Ang Lee's The Hulk, Spiderman 3, both Fantastic Four movies, and Indiana Jones Gets Raped Repeatedly While We Are Forced To Watch In Horror, so I think it would be really strange if we weren't worried and apprehensive about something that already means so much to us, but I hope this will calm your nerves until the movie is released: Watchmen is faithful to the book. It respects the book. I swear by the beard of Zeus, it feels like the book. Yes, there are some cuts, but they serve the release and don't disrupt or betray the narrative at all. Yes, they made a change to something that's a pretty big deal in the book, but it doesn't matter; what they did instead accomplishes exactly the same thing, and it does it perfectly. There is some of the Zack Snyder signature slow motion, and though it's a little heavy in the very first scene (which worried me) it isn't overdone throughout the movie at all, and I found it to be pretty cool and entertaining.
Ultra-purists who are just determined to pick it apart will be able to find some things to be upset about, but I don't know why they're even bothering to see it, to be honest. Speaking only for myself, as someone who has read the book over and over again, there were maybe … three … things that made me go "eh," but I had to work really hard to get even that perturbed, because ultimately none of them mattered. In fact, when the movie was over, and I thought about the stuff they cut or moved around, I just couldn't get upset about it, because nothing happened that fucked with the story or the characters, at all. Zack Snyder's Watchmen is as close to a perfect film adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen as we were ever going to see, and when his super-ultimate-here's-everything cut comes out in the fall, I think it will be perfect. But what I saw yesterday is truly remarkable: a big studio movie adaptation of one of the most — if not the most — important graphic novels of my lifetime that not only didn't fuck it up, but brought it to life brilliantly.
I can't think of a better, more faithful, graphic novel adaptation, ever. Nothing else even comes close.
<Non-Spoiler Review Ends>
When the movie was over, we got down to the business of making the TV show. This can be really tedious, and people who go watch a taping of a show hardly ever go back again, because it just isn't that fun. It could have been a disaster, with a theater that was mostly geeks, but MTV did a fairly good job moving things along, even though the producer who was sort of managing all of us geeks between shots was clearly out of his element, Donny.
Case in point: there were two dudes in the front of the theater dressed up as the Comedian and Rorschach. The producer had them stand up, and the geeks in the audience went nuts, because how cool was that, right?
The producer said something about how the Rorschach guy's costume was so great, they couldn't even tell if it was a fan or … he stammered for a second … or … "you know, the guy who, um, plays Rorschach. The actor. I don't know his name."
The geeks just savaged the guy with boos. It was mostly good natured, but when the producer said, "Hey, hey, hey! I don't get to watch these movies, because I'm really busy making TV shows. You know, like My Sweet Sixteen," they totally turned on him with a taunting so vicious, I expected someone to put a cow into a catapult. It was hilarious. I mean, talk about not knowing who your audience is!
He would repeatedly try to get the audience back on his side for the rest of the evening, but it was like DC 25, and he got -5 for each failed attempt. I think he was up to DC 70 by the time we all left, but it was all in good fun.
They brought many of the cast members up, two at a time, and asked them some questions about the movie. They didn't spend nearly enough time with them, and I thought the questions could have been a hell of a lot better, because the ones they asked were mostly silly things about sex scenes and Doctor Manhattan's Junk (which is a good name for a band), but I guess that's what the audience at home cares about, and they have to keep them happy.
I forget the order in which the following events happened, but this is how I remember them.
After the first two groups of actors did their Q&As, they showed a clip from Land of the Lost. All I can say is: for fuck's sake. Are you serious with this bullshit? If the trailer during the Superbowl was punching my beloved childhood memories in the face, this clip they showed us was pissing on its corpse. I'm not entirely sure, but I think the whole thing is a New Coke way to trick people into thinking the television remake they did in the 90s sucked less than it did.
They showed us something from the new Harry Potter movie, which I can't comment on because I don't know enough about Harry Potter, but it made the Harry Potter fans in the audience really happy. After that, they brought up a couple more actors from the movie (Billy Crudup was hilarious and, yes, ladies, he is that good looking in real life) and then a couple more who talked about the sense of responsibility they felt while making the movie (it showed on screen, guys, you were all fantastic).
After all that, they showed the Star Trek thing. It was mostly stuff we've already seen, but the geeks (including me) were excited about it. Their host asked me some questions about the movie, and I thought I got in one comment about myself that was stupid, one about the movie that was insightful, and another that was humorous. You can watch MTV Spoilers on Saturday if you want to see what I said. BUT BE WARNED: THERE WILL BE MASSIVE WATCHMEN SPOILERS IN THIS SHOW.
After I finished my bit, I got to sit back down and enjoy the rest of the taping, which included the promise of something from the new Transformers movie that they didn't actually show (I guess it was a rights thing, and they can't show it until Saturday night) and then the only thing that could have made the evening even more awesome than it already was: a Q&A with Watchmen's director Zack Snyder.
They told us that he'd probably talk for about 30 minutes or so, but he ended up staying for close to 45. I was just blown away by his candor and his enthusiasm not only for Watchmen, but for comics and filmmaking in general. I know that he's been talking about this stuff and answering these exact questions for months, but if he was feeling any fatigue over it, he didn't let it show. He could have sat there and spoken in the language of Hollywood douchebags, but he spoke in the purest form of Geek that I've ever witnessed from a filmmaker. He didn't talk at us, he talked with us, and it was great.
I can't possibly remember everything he said, but there were a couple things that totally stood out, that I think geeks would want to know:
He said that when he was in film school, he wanted to make movies out of everything, whether it was a pair of shoes, or a cup of coffee. When he read comics back then, he thought that it would be great to make some of them into movies. He singled out Dark Knight Returns and Sin City, but when he got to Watchmen, he said there was no way he would even attempt it.
Then the studio came to him after 300 and asked him to make the movie. He didn't want to do it at first, partially because he was so afraid he'd screw it up, but also because the script was just horrible. It was set in the current day, it was about Doctor Manhattan going to Iraq, something about "The War on Terror" and was a PG-13 monstrosity that would be left open to a sequel. It was, in other words, exactly the kind of thing we're so afraid the studios will do to things we love when they adapt them for film.
He said that the more he thought about it, though, the more he felt a responsibility to make it. He said something like, "If I made it, I had a chance to not screw it up. If I did screw it up, at least it was me who screwed it up. But if I let them take the script they showed me to someone else to screw up, it would have been my fault. So I had to make it."
He also talked about how the studio kept trying to turn it into what he called a "PG-13 Superhero movie" and how he just refused to let that happen. He said that it was going to be rated R, there wouldn't be this ending that they wanted which would make you go for fuck's sake. are you serious with that bullshit? It would be set in 1985, and it would be faithful to the book.
I've read interviews with him, and I've heard from some second-hand sources that he cared deeply about the material, but until I saw him speak last night, I didn't fully appreciate just how passionate he was. While I listened to him speak, it hit me: Zack Snyder cares about Watchmen as much as we do, and it shows.
Before I realized it, I was on my feet, getting in line, not to ask a question, but to make a comment.
When I approached the mic, I felt my hands get cold and I couldn't feel my feet. This is typically what happens to me when I'm really nervous.
I cleared my throat and said, "Hi, my name is Wil, and I'm from Pasadena."
He said, "Hey, I'm from Pasadena, too!"
"AWESOME!" I said, and felt stupid.
I steadied myself, as the entire theater faded away and all I could hear was the sound of my own voice, coming out of someone else, very far away. "I just wanted to tell you that I've wanted to see this movie for twenty years."
I took a breath, and was horrified to feel some very real emotion rising up in my chest.
"Oh fuck. Just say it and run away!"
"I just wanted to say thank you for making it worth the wait."
He said something, but I don't know what it was. I was too busy running away.
As I left the theater, and feeling returned to my hands and feet, I thought, "Shit. I forgot to tell him, "If they ask you to make Sandman, please say yes.'"
I doubt he'll ever read this, but just in case he does … Zack Snyder, this is Wil from Pasadena. If they ever ask you to make Sandman, please say yes.