Interview: “Watchmen” Director Zack Snyder Talks “Director’s Cut” and Studio Battles

by | March 5, 2009 at 7:20 PM | Comic Book Movies, The Movies

Watchmen, as you’ve likely heard by now, is one of the most revered graphic novels ever created, and the task of translating such a fantastically dense 12-issue comic book series into a standard-sized feature film has been an extremely daunting one for decades now. The theatrical version of the film is about 2 hours, 40 minutes, and while that’s certainly a hefty running time, the fans know that there’s no way the whole book could get crammed into that time frame. So what you want to hear is what director Zack Snyder has to say about a director’s cut, the DVD package and the arguments he had with the studio about what to keep and what to cut to make sure it stayed under the 3-hour mark.

Check out the spoilers after the jump.

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This is Snyder, in his own words, talking about the thought processes that went into determining what the finished product would be, and how the DVD is going to look:

The biggest challenge was the tone of the movie. I’m obsessed with tone, and I wanted to make a movie that was satirical and also serious at the same time. You want the movie to be self-reflexive, but not let the viewer off the hook completely. If you feel like it’s a complete satire, then the problems aren’t real and they’re all manufactured to make some intellectual point and it doesn’t matter. That’s also true when you start to talk about the music, the performances, every single part of it. We didn’t do anything by mistake. There is no part of the movie that wasn’t intensely scrutinized. Whether or not it’s right, that’s one thing, but every aspect of the production was completely premeditated. If it was murder, we’d all be in jail.

I drew the whole title sequence. I had the music, I knew it was going to be “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” I was pretty positive about that. We really needed to find out where we are in the world. The title sequence came to be about tracing the alternate history. There’s a bunch that I shot that we didn’t use, or else the title sequence would have been ten minutes long. I had the Comedian raising the flag on Iwo Jima by himself, I had Nixon being sworn in, a couple other ones. Maybe they’ll be on their own thing on the DVD. We never finished the visual effects.

The director’s cut is about three hours and ten minutes. It’s a bit thicker. There were some things that we had to cut out of the theatrical version that were painful for me, like Hollis Mason’s death. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie, to be honest, but it was easy to take off. It came out without really destroying the movie. Anything else, when we were at that point – it was like a house of cards.


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When I was getting ready to shoot the movie, the script was 160 pages or something crazy. It was monstrous. They said “well, we’ve looked at the script, and we’ve identified three areas where you could make significant cuts. The Comedian’s funeral, you don’t really need to do that. Manhattan goes to Mars, nothing happens there, and you don’t need to interrogate Rorschach. We don’t need to know anything about his backstory. You could take those three sections out of the movie, and you’d really have a nice, tight little story.” [laughter] And then they go “do you know what else troubles us? You’ve changed the ending again, and Adrian lives? We really liked the old version where Dan crashed the Owlship and killed Adrian with it at the very end.” I said “Yeah… that’s really not cool. That’s the opposite of the movie.” I didn’t trick them, but I did wait quite a while before I actually said “We can’t have Adrian die at the end. It’s impossible. It’s like a superhero movie then, and a bad one.” They say “well, you know, when we’re at the funeral, we’re away from Rorschach’s investigation for a long time.” Who cares? Yes, Rorschach is trying to figure out what happened, but it’s wafer thin. It’s that way in the graphic novel. You spend long times away from the through-line of the movie. The point of the movie is to go on those tangents in a superhero movie. You either like that or you don’t. That is what it is. Without that, you might as well make X-Men or Fantastic Four or something like that.


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The “Black Freighter” version of the movie is three and a half hours long, and that includes the ins and outs, the kid arriving at the newsstand talking to Bernie, the whole thing, “I’m a newsvendor, so I’m informed,” all that stuff that we shot, knowing that it would be on a DVD somewhere. We knew that it would never make it into the movie. The movie was expensive enough, and I asked a lot from the studio, and I wasn’t going to saddle them with a three hour version of the movie, as long as they finished my cut. They did finish all the visual effects at the highest level, and they’ve also talked about doing a short theatrical run of the director’s cut in July.

Incidentally, one of the things left out of the film was the fact that the Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) was a chain smoker with a rather unique sort of cigarette holder. That’s nowhere to be found in the film. Why?

Alan Horn, the head of the studio, hates smoking. That’s his biggest thing. He would say “the Comedian can smoke because he’s a bad guy, but that’s it.” That was the line that he drew. I was sad, but the movie literally wouldn’t have gotten made. You can have her naked, but she can’t smoke.