Adapting graphic novels 'personal' for director

No director is hotter in fanboy circles than Zack Snyder, who has accomplished a feat long thought impossible by bringing the dense, deep and critically acclaimed graphic novel “Watchmen” to the bigscreen more than 20 years after its first publication.

” ‘Watchmen’ actually was one of those projects where, when I read it, I was afraid of it,” says Snyder, 43, recipient of the ShoWest Director of the Year Award. “I loved it, I just wasn’t sure how it was going to be a movie.”

Like most fans of his generation, Snyder says seeing the original “Star Wars” was a mind-blowing event that confirmed a lifelong love of everything fantasy, including movies and comicbooks. Snyder says his favorite comics — Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” the original underground version of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and especially the hard-edged sci-fi and Euro-flavored artistry of Heavy Metal magazine — struck a deep chord and shaped his creative aesthetic and choices.

“When I came to the point where I could start to decide what kind of movies I would make for myself, that became the genre that I settled into, completely without trying,” he says. “Those are the movies that I like, so it makes sense that those are the movies I would try to make.”

Snyder made the leap from directing musicvideos and commercials to features in 2004 with “Dawn of the Dead,” a well-received reimagining of the George A. Romero horror classic. But it was turning cartoonist Miller’s retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in “300” that turned Snyder into a comicbook movie auteur and earned him a shot at the comicbook holy grail — Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen.”

“For me, the process of making ‘Watchmen’ and ‘300’ into movies was about making something personal,” he says of his connection to the material. “It’s like getting a picture of your kids and having someone say, ‘Do you want to make this into a movie?’ You know how you feel about it instantly.”

Snyder fought hard to make the film as complete an experience as possible, even animating a comicbook subplot and shooting a faux documentary for the “Tales of the Black Freighter” DVD release. The only major deviation was the movie’s ending, which replaces a fake alien invasion with a threat from the superhuman Dr. Manhattan. Snyder says the new ending — suggested to co-screenwriter David Hayter by a physicist fan of the comic — let him avoid additional scenes that would take time away from the main characters.

Reaction to the film since its release March 6 has seen it declared everything from a masterpiece to a flop. Snyder says that’s mostly what he expected.

“It’s a difficult movie and challenging, and some people get it and some people don’t — and that’s kind of how the graphic novel is,” he explains.

For now, Snyder is working on the director’s cut of the film, due out in July, which he says will be a bit more inside for fans of the comic and clearer to nonfans. His next projects remain genre-based — the fantasy adventure “Sucker Punch,” an animated film called “The Guardians of Ga’Hoole” and Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” — but he says he’d do another comicbook adaptation if the right one came along.

“There are millions of genius pieces of work out there, but nothing’s keeping me up at night,” he says. “Nothing since ‘Watchmen.'”

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