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(Regular DHD readers know I don’t do geek. But frequent LA Weekly film reviewer and comic book expert Luke Y Thompson does. He spends all year waiting for Comic-Con and this time he’s covering it for me. Here’s his latest report.)

WATCHMEN Panel
If you aren’t familiar with WATCHMEN, some background is in order. (See all the Nite Owl ship photos here.) The comic series — fans argue over whether it can be called a graphic novel, since it was originally serialized in twelve issues; but so were Dickens’ books, don’cha know? — originally came out in the ’80s, and depicted a 1985 world in which the repercussions of superheroes changed the timeline.

Masked vigilantes have been outlawed by a McCarthyesque act of government, Richard Nixon is still president, and America won the Vietnam war with the help of a superhuman named Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup in the movie). When a man named Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is brutally murdered, the investigations of masked right-wing nutjob Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) reveal that Blake was once The Comedian, a government sanctioned mercenary. Rorschach believes that all masked vigilantes may be being targeted by an unknown conspiracy, but the whole thing turns out to be much bigger and deeper than that.

Studios have been trying to make WATCHMEN into a movie since the ’80s. Joel Silver at one point tried to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to play Dr. Manhattan, and Ahnuld was said to be willing to shave his head and be painted blue. Years later, of course, he got his wish with BATMAN AND ROBIN. Terry Gilliam was attached to direct at one point, from a script by 1989 BATMANscribe Sam Hamm and production designer Anton Furst, but Gilliam ultimately decided that he thought the book was unfilmable, an assessment its writer Alan Moore agrees with. Burned by Hollywood’s adaptations of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN  and V FOR VENDETTA, both of which took many liberties, Moore has disassociated himself from Hollywood completely.

While in post on 300, Zack Snyder was offered the gig, and accepted. He says his aim is to be as faithful as possible, and so far it looks like he’s done it.

Illustrator Dave Gibbons, on the other hand, told the fans at Con that “It’s the stuff of dreams to have something come out of your head and become real.” Of Moore, he says, “I wish he could feel what I’m feeling.” Gibbons even managed to get his “signature” on the film, in the form of graffiti on a New York street.

A new series of clips was shown, scored to Gregorian chants, which included such things as Rorschach’s ever-morphing inkblot mask, Matt Frewer as a retired supervillain, Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) looking pathetic in his basement, Laurie (Malin Akerman) kissing Dan’s alter-ego Nite Owl in front of a mushroom cloud, an aging Richard Nixon, Rorschach as a young red-headed stepchild (literally), and Dr. Manhattan vaporizing foes from the inside out.

The entire principal cast were in the house, including Carla Gugino as Laurie’s mom, the original Silk Spectre. Jackie Earle Haley on being Rorschach: “It was a blast, it was challenging, it was mind-numbing.” Patrick Wilson as Dan/Nite Owl had to be an out-of-shape superhero, which he says “was pretty cool — when everyone else had to get all ripped, I could sit back with a pint of Haagen Dasz and a couple beers and call it a day.” As Dr. Manhattan, Crudup had to wear a motion capture suit and be covered in dots for reference. He says Akerman was”great about it — she laughed in my face for the first week; that was cool.” Matthew Goode developed a backstory for his character, Ozymandias (the world’s smartest man), that involves Nazi parents. Thus you’ll hear his accent have a slight German hint in the character’s private scenes, though he sounds all-American in public. While researching the character, an American friend told him Ozymandias sounded like a gay pothead.

A fan dressed as Batman asked Snyder who his favorite Watchman is. “Everyone likes Rorschach the best, so that rules him out. The girls are awesome, but that’s also a cop-out. Maybe I’ll just stick with the girls. You know what? I like the girls best.” Another fan dressed as the Joker asked Snyder how he deals with the bleakness of the book. Snyder replies that darknes is relative.”SAWis dark because people get their arms sawn off. People get their arms sawn off in our movie too, but it’s different! There’s a moral lesson.” (Um, Zack? The makers of SAW say the same thing.) A fan not dressed as any character says he heard a rumor that the WATCHMEN DVD might have some of the pre-production materials from previous attempts at filming it. Snyder denies that, but also added “I’ll look into that.”

The footage was screened a second time. Fans cheered even louder. The base is pumped for this movie, but will mainstream audiences follow?

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.

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