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?Zack Snyder: 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?Zack Snyder: 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?Zack Snyder: “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.]
Be honest—how many times have you had sex in the Nite Owl ship?Zack Snyder: You know, it’s difficult to count because of the heavy petting that doesn’t go all the way. You forget whether it was consummated or not, but probably dozens.
So you’re familiar with all the gadgets?Zack Snyder: Oh, yeah. You have to [test it out]. Because there was a love scene to be done; you wanted to make sure that it’s comfortable.
That’s very thoughtful of you.Zack Snyder: I’m prepared to help out.
How many meetings did it take to decide on the dimensions of Manhattan’s penis?Zack Snyder: I think it was one big meeting. [Laughs.] Or one long meeting, depending upon how you want to approach that.
Everyone agreed that Watchmen shouldn’t become a Ron Jeremy movie?Zack Snyder: Yeah, you can’t think too hard on that. You just go with your gut. That road is…not good.
You don’t want to scare away the kids who sneak in.Zack Snyder: No, no, no.
You knew he wouldn’t be in blue briefs, though, right?Zack Snyder: Yeah, I didn’t want to do that. I said, “Listen guys. This is violent and sexy, and there’s going to be a naked blue guy walking around. I just want to be clear that this is rated R so we don’t end up with you going, lsquo;Where’s my PG-13 movie?’”