How Zack Snyder Saved 'Watchmen' From Terry Gilliam's Ruination
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How Zack Snyder Saved 'Watchmen' From Terry Gilliam's Ruination

By Dustin Rowles | Trade News | March 4, 2014 | Comments ()

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Our favorite celebrity interviewer, HuffPo’s Mike Ryan, sat down with Zack Snyder and his wife this week to discuss the sequel to 300, Rise of an Empire (which was handed off to director Noam Murro, though Snyder is still producing), how Snyder’s style has been “ripped off” by other directors, and how much fun Zack Snyder had springing his Batman vs. Superman casting announcements onto the public. During the course of the interview Ryan — because the man knows how to elicit a good quote — turned the conversation toward recent critical comments producer Joel Silver made about Snyder’s Watchmen, suggesting that the Snyder was a “slave to the material.”

Snyder’s response, which throws Terry Gilliam and his version under the bus, is still surprisingly fair and probably accurate. Snyder’s film wasn’t overwhelmingly well received by the Internet audience, but Gilliam’s version probably would’ve incited a nerd riot.

From HuffPo:

Was “Watchmen” the most “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” project you’ve ever been a part of? Now Joel Silver is criticizing you for being a “slave” to the source material while touting a very different from the source material script that Terry Gilliam was going to film.

Zack Snyder: It’s funny, because the biggest knock against the movie is that we finally changed the ending, right?

Right, you used Dr. Manhattan as the threat to bring the world together as opposed to the alien squid.

Zack Snyder: Right, and if you read the Gilliam ending, it’s completely insane.

Deborah Snyder: The fans would have been thinking that they were smoking crack.

Zack Snyder: Yeah, the fans would have stormed the castle on that one. So, honestly, I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world.

In Gilliam’s version, Dr. Manhattan is convinced to go back in time and prevent Dr. Manhattan from existing. But the specter of his existence is the threat to the world, which is kind of what you did at the end of the movie anyway.

Zack Snyder: Right, of course. It’s just using elements that are in the comic book already, that’s the only thing I did. I would not have grabbed something from out of the air and said, “Oh, here’s a cool ending” just because it’s cool.

Deborah Snyder: But it’s interesting because, you’re right, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You have people who are mad that the ending was changed and you have other people saying, “Oh, it was a slave to the graphic novel.” You can’t please everybody.

Zack Snyder: And that’s the problem with genre. That’s the problem with comic book movies and genre. And I believe that we’ve evolved — I believe that the audiences have evolved. I feel like “Watchmen” came out at sort of the height of the snarky Internet fanboy — like, when he had his biggest strength. And I think if that movie came out now — and this is just my opinion — because now that we’ve had “Avengers” and comic book culture is well established, I think people would realize that the movie is a satire. You know, the whole movie is a satire. It’s a genre-busting movie. The graphic novel was written to analyze the graphic novel — and comic books and the Cold War and politics and the place that comic books play in the mythology of pop culture. I guess that’s what I’m getting at with the end of “Watchmen” — in the end, the most important thing with the end was that it tells the story of the graphic novel. The morality tale of the graphic novel is still told exactly as it was told in the graphic novel — I used slightly different devices. The Gilliam version, if you look at it, it has nothing to do with the idea that is the end of the graphic novel. And that’s the thing that I would go, “Well, then don’t do it.” It doesn’t make any sense.

I can’t imagine people being happy with that version.

Zack Snyder: Yeah! If you love the graphic novel, there’s just no way. It would be like if you were doing “Romeo and Juliet” and instead of them waking up in the grave area, they would have time-traveled back in time and none of it would have happened.

See? You want to defend Terry Gilliam against Zack Snyder, because Terry Gilliam directed Brazil and Zack Snyder directed Sucker Punch, but you have to admit that Snyder has some good points. And as someone who has read exactly two graphic novels — Watchmen and V for Vendetta — I didn’t think that Snyder’s version was that bad, save for some terrible musical choices.

Anyway, you can read the rest of the interview over on Huffpo and I’m sure there’s something in there you can take issue with, and also check Mike Ryan’s archive daily, because it’s where you’ll find the best celebrity interviews on the webs.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • psemophile

    As a movie fan, a comic book fan and someone who swears by WATCHMEN, I'd rather have had a Terry Gilliam film than a Zack Snyder one. Snyder was too much of a slave to the comic book and the slomo action shots were quite detrimental to the film.

  • mph23

    I might have preferred Gilliam's take on the Watchmen. I'll never know, though.

  • Greg!

    Zack Snyder is a Terrry Gilliam movie.

  • googergieger

    "And as someone who has read exactly two graphic novels"

    Makes sense. Fuck Snyder though.

  • lozymandias

    Everyone loves movies that slavishly follow the book. Like those Hobbit films.

  • Bananaranma

    When a friend turned to me after the movie and asked, "So what were the super powers of Nite Owl, Rorschach and Silk Spectre? Were they just super-strong?", I knew it was a misfire.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    I certainly have a few qualms about Snyder's take on the material such as how rushed and poorly treated the subplot involving Laurel's paterny was but I thought it was, overrall, a great adaptation with some inspired casting and actors who simply got their characters (Nite Owl, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, The Comedian) with the exception of a terribly miscast Matthew Goode as Ozymandias. He would later make it up to me by being incredible in A Single Man and Stoker.

    And I know what I say now may be considered heresy but I thought the shift of the cause of New York's nuclear obliteration from man-made "aliens" to Dr. Manhattan actually improved the story.

  • I'll agree with Snyder that it was a Damned-No-Matter-What Movie. It was either going to be too long or not long enough. It was going to hew too close to the source or not enough. There was no winning.

    Top it off with a dark, cynical and difficult view of comic books, heroes and it's no surprise people didn't embrace it. That was what Watchmen was as a comic book and that's what it had to be as a movie. And that's part of the problem with Moore's material -- so little of it is light and positive.

    I'd much rather they adapt it faithfully than change it. At least, we won't have the "What if?" hanging over us. I like it for what it is and we can move on.

  • cruzzercruz

    I always applauded Zack for sticking so closely to the source material. Now only if he had chosen better actors, music, and visual design. The story is solid, it's the delivery and aesthetics that break the whole thing.

  • TK

    Yup. Changing the ending was the least of my issues. There's an encyclopedic list of problems to address before we even get that far.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    That sounds like a whole lot of gibberish to me. Of course Watchmen is a satire. Anyone who weren't dropped on their head as a baby recognizes that. That doesn't means it's a good movie.

    The interview reads as if Snyder desperately tried to come up with a explanation for the whole clusterfuck. But he can't even manage that.

  • Laura Darch

    Hey look everybody, Zach Snyder has a talking beard!

  • I don't know, I kind of get the feeling that Gilliam has been coasting on Monty Python and 'Brazil' for the last thirty-odd years. Outside of that, it seems like he's most well-known for trying to film a screen version of Don Quixote and having it turn into a complete apocalyptic nightmare. He reminds me(to a much, much lesser degree) of Alan Moore who, yeah, did some good stuff at one point but now seems intent on turning into a caricature of himself. The difference is that Gilliam seems to have retained a sense of humor about himself.

    But then again, I enjoyed both '300' and 'Man of Steel' thoroughly and un-ironically, so maybe take the above with a grain of salt.

  • Fear and Loathing...12 Monkeys...Time Bandits...The (criminally-underrated) Fisher King...

    Yep. Coasting.

  • Wōđanaz Óðinn

    Also Tideland. Not for mass consumption but not everything has to be hugs and kittens and spandex.

  • foolsage

    You're right: those are all good (arguably great) movies. They were also released in 1998, 1995, 1981, and 1991 respectively, to be fair. Whether Gilliam has talent isn't really in question (or shouldn't be), but it seems fair to question his recent output.

    "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" was... interesting, anyhow. It felt very Gilliam-esque. But it wasn't all that good a movie, and few would call it great. That was in 2009. I haven't seen "The Zero Theorem" but that's the only (full -length) movie he's made since Parnassus.

  • This is what I'm saying. It might be a bit unfair to pull out the 'what have you done for me lately' card, if only because I feel it puts me uncomfortably close to the people who harp at Martin to finish his books like he works for them. But on the other hand, when you make one great movie, a couple of expensive failures, and a string of middlin' to good movies you might want to step back and see if you really deserve to have 'genius' automatically appended to your work.

  • foolsage

    Gilliam's made more than one great movie though. After three or four great movies, I think it's safe to say the talent is there. He's a genius (I think it's fair to say he's earned that), but that isn't a guarantee of quality.

    The question to me, simply, is: will Gilliam direct any more great movies? He's shown that he's capable, but he's also shown himself capable of making some rather mediocre films. "The Brothers Grimm" probably isn't on a lot of lists of best films, for instance. That came in 2005, and was the next film Gilliam directed after "Fear and Loathing".

    Really, my issue is consistency. Gilliam was on fire from 1985 ("Brazil) through 1998 ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"), with excellent if not always commercially successful films in between ("Baron Munchausen", "Fisher King", "12 Monkeys"). But in the last 16 years he seems to have wandered off the reservation more than a little. I really do not know what to expect from him anymore in terms of quality.

  • Gilliam is not the only one to have a great patch and then fall on hard times. John Carpenter went from 78 through 88 making great movies, but he never quite recuperated that form. M. Night Shyamalan had a shorter window -- 2 great movies, 2 okay and then the bottom fell out. It happens. Particularly when you're making genre material.

  • Alicia

    *nods* Ridley Scott is another one that you can add to that list: he seems to be past his best days.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Thank God I remember Signs existed. For a moment there I thought we were counting Lady in the Water as one of the okay movies. Whew.

  • We will never count Lady in the Water as okay. There is nothing okay about it.

  • cruzzercruz

    I'm with you on all points. Fist bumps ensue.

  • Chrispeare

    Does he really want to go to war with a Python? I don't think so.

  • jthomas666

    It isn't that Snyder's Watchmen is bad, just incredibly uncreative. It's more than just a little damning that the most creative part of the whole movie is the OPENING CREDITS.

    Yes, Gilliam's movie would have been batshit crazy. It might have only held a tenuous relationship with the source material. It might have sparked nerd riots. In short, it would have been *passionate*--as opposed to Snyder's "romance" between Dan and Laurie.

  • NateMan

    I couldn't stand Watchmen because it was so fucking boring, so in that regard... Yes, he was a bit too slavish to the source, because frankly I found the source boring as shit as well. But since we as a people usually complain the further the movie distances itself from the book - How To Train Your Dragon being one of the few exceptions - I can't really fault him for being so devoted to the original.

  • Krissy

    Now mind you, I really know nothing about the source material but I agree that the movie was mind numbingly boring. But even worse, all of the characters were so sickeningly pretentious that I could barely stomach getting through one viewing.

  • lozymandias

    True, but damn those Opening Credits are awesome.

  • jthomas666

    Absolutely! which makes the slavish, unimaginative adaptation that follows even *more* frustrating.

  • Tinkerville

    Why...why in the hell am I agreeing with Zack Snyder? This is making me question my entire existence.

  • TK

    Snyder makes some good points. However, he doesn't address the most important question, which is "why is Watchmen such a terrible fucking movie?"

  • thatsmrsnyder

    Well, consequently, he made one of the greatest movie trailers of all time, so... It wasn't a total loss.

  • Jiffylush

    He made a completely forgettable movie and is saying that we are lucky that Terry Gilliam didn't make something weird.

    Hate to break it to you but the source was pretty fucking weird.

    Snyder is a successful director, Gilliam is a talented director. Would it have been a very different movie? Absolutely. Would making a weird Watchmen movie have been a bad thing? No fucking way.

  • MarTeaNi

    Until this interview hit, I had completely forgotten that a Watchmen movie happened.

    I'm 50/50 on Gilliam's films, but I at least remember they existed.

  • "You can’t please everybody. And that’s the problem with genre. That’s the problem with comic book movies and genre."

    No idea what you're talking about, bro. Comic book fans are best known for their reasoned, progressive stances toward changes in the source material because WAIT THE HUMAN TORCH IS NOW BLACK WHAT THE SHIT THIS IS A GODDAMN WAR CRIME!!!!

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