SDCC '08 - Comic-Con Watches the 'Watchmen'

Comic Book Virgin: Watching the Watchmen

There was a certain electricity running through the San Diego Convention Center Friday morning as the most anticipated panel of Comic-Con 2008 approached.

The Watchmen panel drew an overflow crowd to Hall H, including celebrity fanboys like Kevin Smith.

The panel moderator, Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen, gave a brief intro extolling the virtues of the visionary original comic book series by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons.

A massive roar erupted as each member of the cast was introduced one by one in alphabetical order, with Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ playing over the speakers

Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre)

Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan)

Matthew Goode (Ozymandias)

Carla Gugino (1st Silk Spectre)

Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach)

Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian)

Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl)

‘Watchmen’ artist Dave Gibbons

…and the new Mayor of Comic-Con, director Zack Snyder.

Snyder began by recapping how he became involved with the film.

While he was making 300 he was approached by Warner Bros. to do the movie. He was hesitant to do it because being such a fan of the graphic novel, he was afraid to mess it up. Then, he said he figured if he turned it down and then it was made by the wrong people, it would be his fault so he might as well do it.

“It’s been a labor of love for me,” Snyder said.

He talked about how important the GN was to the movie. “It’s nice to have a bible for the movie,” Snyder said.

Discussing his appearance at last year’s Con, when he had nothing to show since production hadn’t begun, Snyder said “Thank God we had the poster Dave [Gibbons] drew for us.”

He also joked that when discussing plans for the trailer attached to “The Dark Knight” he thought about just putting up the title ‘Watchmen’...and then and thought better of it.

The moderator asked Gibbons how he felt being on the set watching scenes from the series being filmed. Gibbons mentioned seeing the Owl ship up close as a personal highlight. “It was really a pinch-me moment,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons said he was particularly proud to see the attention to detail on the set, namely the graphitti, especially the inclusion of the signature ‘G’ that he likes to incorporate into his work.

Just about anyone with a passing interest in “Watchmen” is aware that co-creator Alan Moore has sworn off the movie industry and wants nothing to do with any films based on his work, even this one. So it was no surprise to hear the moderator ask Gibbons if he wished Alan Moore would ease his ‘anti-Hollywood’ stance and see the movie based on his masterwork.

“I see there is an elephant in the room” Gibbons joked.

Gibbons said while he understands Moore’s past problems with the movie business, he wished Alan would allow himself to enjoy this experience like he has.

Snyder then returned the focus to the film by introducing a special 3 1/2 minute clip reel of footage from the film that he put together exclusively for the fans in Hall H (and of course, whoever watches the inevitable cell phone video that winds up on YouTube).

Many of the shots shown are in the trailer, but others were not. Among the most impressive scenes was seeing a humongous Dr. Manhattan running roughshod in Vietnam. Watching him disintegrate the Viet Con was chilling.

There were also a number of instantly recognizable scenes from the GN, including the shot that ended the reel, when The Comedian is thrown out the window. One scene that stood out for me showed a flabby Patrick Wilson sitting down next to a display with his Nite Owl costume. Hard to gauge from just a few minutes of footage, but it certainly seems like Snyder’s captured the tone and mood of the story.

To say the footage was well-received is a major understatement.

After the crowd regained their composure, Crudup talked about playing Dr. Manhattan.

Not the sort of guy you would expect to find in a comic book movie, Crudup admitted it was tough “playing a 6' 4" master of matter, when you’re a 5' 9" 40-year-old jackass.” Best known for playing a ‘Golden God’ in “Almost Famous”, Crudup was asked by a fan about playing a blue man, and where the other Blue men guys were jealous?

“I don’t know because we’re no longer on speaking terms,” he joked. Crudup said he trained a lot, doing lots of stuff they don’t teach in acting school.

Time for questions from the fans.

Haley about bringing Rorschach to life.

“It was...it was a blast, it was challenging, mind-numbing. This character, there’s a lot to him." Haley said he studied the script, the graphic novel, and talked with Snyder a lot about the character.

He also said he went online and read many of the blogs and sites discussing Watchmen and credits them with helping him understand the character.

What would Comic-Con be without a question from a suited up Fanboy? Batman asked Zack to name his favorite Watchmen character.

Snyder said it’s not a fair question and then drew boos when he said he liked them all for different reasons.

“Everyone likes Rorschach the best, so that rules him out. Everyone likes the Comedian because he’s kind of a...bad ass. Those two I can’t vote for.”

He called the girls ‘awesome’ and finally gave up and declared them his favorites.

Wilson, who earlier told me he had put on about 20 pounds to play the soft-around-the-middle Dan, said he enjoyed not having to train for the role. “It was great to sit around eating Hagen Daaz ice cream,” Wilson said.

He talked about how much he misses playing Dan, and how likeable the character is. He also praised Gibbons’ artwork for helping him understand certain scenes better, specifically mentioning the moment where Nite Owl and Rorschach go down into the Owl basement. He said it helped him key into the character of Dan.

“You pull for [Dan],” Wilson said. “Every day getting into the costume was a blast because not only do you feel bad ass...but [the suit] gives him an identity. It was awesome, just awesome.”

Fanboy Joker asked about the book’s nihilistic nature. Snyder said he didn’t worry that the film would be too dark and downbeat for mainstream audiences. “What is darkness in a movie. If someone is psychotic... is it a metaphor or ...real? That’s the question Watchmen [tries to ask].”

Finally, a question by someone not in costume! He asked Snyder about the difficulty in adapting the massive story for the big screen. Snyder said he wanted to include all the ‘under the hood’ stuff, all the supplemental material, the articles, the excerpts from Hollis’ novel. He wanted to get as much of that into the film as he could, ‘but you’re going to end up with stuff that’s not in there. We had to cut out some bits,” he admitted.

Before the panel, Snyder told me he’s still worrying about trimming the film from its current three-hour cut.

Back to costumed questions. A Rorschach fan asked Snyder about the trend toward more adult-oriented comic book films. Snyder remarked that it was an awesome question about more mature audiences coming from a guy dressed up as Rorschach.

He said comic book films don’t have to just be big-budget popcorn spectacles. He added that he would like to see Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” made into a movie, and said and there’s another wave of great comic book movies ready to be made.

Gugino was asked about the green-screen method and said she did very little with it on this set. Crudup then jumped in and said the toughest part of the green screen work was for the people working across from him. He said Akerman laughed in his face during the first week of filming because he was wearing a white suit with 140 dots all over his face.

Gugino said while working on a big-budget, effects-heavy film has its unique challenges, “this is such a phenomenal group of actors transforming into these characters.” She also called Snyder their leader, someone who had the complete trust of everyone on the production. “That really made all the other stuff (easier to handle) and make it fall off to the wayside,” she said.

Morgan, who had just arrived on a plane from Thailand, was asked about playing a twisted guy like The Comedian.

He joked that getting into costume and putting a cigar in his mouth helped him get into the mood of wanting to kill people.

Turning serious, he did admit some parts of the shoot -- including some of the intense scenes involving Comedian and Silk Spectre -- were very difficult for him.

“There were days where, I’m not gonna lie...shit, some days shooting with Carla...that were tough,” he said.

Goode said when he received the script, he read a scene with his character, and he was like, “what the f*&% is this?” So he called up a friend, who went on Wikipedia, gave him background on the character, and then said, ‘looks like you’re playing another gay guy!”

He also made a crack about having a Vision Quest moment while on the set in Vancouver, and said if you’ve been in Vancouver you know what he’s talking about. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Vancouver, haven’t seen “Vision Quest” in 20 years, and he never offered an explanation, so I have no idea what he meant by it. But it was still funny.

He then went into a long, meandering explanation about his character’s half-American, half-German roots...and then seemed to lose his train of thought and he laughed it off.

Snyder told a fan who professed his love for Gugino’s performance in the Pauley Shore vehicle “Son in Law” that the Smashing Pumpkins remix used in the trailer won’t be in the film because the song had not been written during the time period in the film (1985). He said it may appear on the soundtrack.

Snyder was asked if there were any material in the film NOT in the graphic novel. Snyder answered with a smiling 1 word answer: Yes.

The cast seemed to really enjoy the audience Q & A, and all seemed genuinely excited about the passion the audience has for their characters. No one expressed it any better than Akerman, when she was asked about the development of her character.

“We’re all real people, with good sides and bad sides....She’s really been forced into this ...profession by her crazy mother,” she said, looking at Gugino and said ‘I can’t believe I’m referring to you as my mother!”

“I really truly hope I (portrayed) Laurie as you saw her in the graphic novel. Hopefully, I won’t let you guys down,” she said.

[Kevin Smith later said that hearing Akerman say this nearly brought to tears to his eyes.]

Snyder also denied a rumor that for the “Watchmen” DVD he was gathering a compilation of footage from the other aborted Watchmen movie attempts.

Snyder said he had never heard that rumor but that he would buy it if it happened. He also said someone should write a book about Watchmen’s complicated film history.

Then they showed the clip reel again and left to a standing ovation.

For just about everyone in Hall H, March 6, 2009 can’t come quickly enough.

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