The Watchmen director talks bringing cult classics to the masses, pleasing comic book fans, and how to handle a big blue phallus.
By Justin Munroe; Photography by Rony Alwin
A director needs big balls to adapt Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Big blue balls, that is (word to Doctor Manhattan, the story’s giant naked radioactive superhero). The 1986 mega-comic is commonly considered the greatest graphic novel ever, and many diehard fans have uncompromising expectations for the long-rumored movie. But after more than two decades in development limbo, Watchmen the film has seemingly found its match in 42-year-old director Zack Snyder.
Snyder earned the right to tackle Watchmen by remaking George A. Romero’s zombie classic Dawn of the Dead (2004) and adapting Frank Miller’s tale of doomed Spartan warriors in 300 (2006). Having earned his bona fides from the comic world, he’s read to prove that even the most difficult source material can be transformed into a cinematic masterpiece.
Source material like Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen is all fairly cult. Are you driven to expose esoteric stuff to a mass audience?
What I [try] to do is basically make a big-budget cult movie. The movie is the movie; I would rather make a movie that encourages people to read the source material than think somehow I’m making the definitive version of their source material. My position with the studio is that there’s a reason these things are cool, and it’s up to us to try to preserve those things as much as we can. There’s a beat in Watchmen
where Dan [Nite Owl] can’t get an erection. That’s the kind of thing that the studio is like, “Is that really necessary?” And I’m like, “No, that’s cool! That’s got to be in the movie! That’s the best thing ever!” And they’re like, “Oh.”
What’s the harshest criticism you’ve gotten from finicky horror and comic book fans?
They’re pretty hard. The harshest things on the forums I probably couldn’t even really repeat. But, you know, things like I’m brain-dead, I’m illiterate—not that any of that is not true.
What’s the highest praise you’ve received?
“I don’t leave the house unless I watch your movie once a day.” Crazy shit like that. It’s funny, 300 sort of hit high school football right in the knees. By my parents’ [house] in Massachusetts, there’s a school that has a Spartan for a mascot, and on the hill next to the school it says: This is Sparta! [Laughs