“Watchmen” was in developmental hell for nearly two decades, being passed around among directors including Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky. It finally found a permanent home with Zack Snyder, who became an overnight success with his 2006 blockbuster “300.” An interview with the director reveals the excitement and deliberation behind bringing arguably the greatest graphic novel of all time to the silver screen.

For Snyder, directing “Watchmen” was so unlikely that he didn’t even bother dreaming about it. In fact, the producers were the ones who sought him out after seeing the stylistic brilliance of “300.”

“I got a call from the studio, who said they had a script for ‘Watchmen’ that they didn’t know much about. It was strange because I don’t think they realized how crazy it was,” he said. Snyder had read the graphic novel when it was originally released, and he was one of many who recognized the comic as a literary masterpiece.

At first, Snyder was reluctant to undertake such an overwhelming project. But his love for the source material, along with the fear of witnessing another director ruin the story, led him to accept the gig.

“After reading the script, the studio said if I didn’t do it, they would do it without me, which would be a PG-13 movie with sequels. The setting would be changed from 1985 to the War on Terror, and Dr. Manhattan would be fighting soldiers in the Middle East instead of Vietnam — something I couldn’t let happen. Plus, the material is dense and awesome,” he said.

Snyder acknowledged his disappointment that Alan Moore, the writer of the original graphic novel, refused to participate in the production of his film. In the end, Snyder recognized that Moore’s lack of involvement might have been beneficial.

“Consulting Moore would have been the easy way to figure out how to do the movie. I’ve had to flounder through my own experiences. I’ve been able to make the movie based on the experiences I had when I first read it back in 1988,” he reflected.

Audiences won’t see any big-name stars in “Watchmen” — an intentional decision by the director. The film has many familiar faces, like Billy Crudup (“Almost Famous”) and Malin Akerman (“27 Dresses”), but none of them have the type of stardom that would overpower their roles.

“Billy [Crudup] and all the actors don’t play the Hollywood game. They are their characters, and that makes it really interesting. They don’t jump out of the movie and look like Brad Pitt dressed as Rorschach,” Snyder said. “I had specific ideas visually about the cast. They all sort of fit the pictures the characters create in my mind and are very specific to what I imagined them to be.”

The inclusion of violence in “Watchmen” is very precise. Instead of shoving in one action set piece after another, Snyder prefers to accentuate each one’s brutality.

“In my aesthetic, I think the violence is designed to provoke thought,” he noted. “It’s my hope that the violence is so extreme that the idea of a superhero can be broken down at every level. We’re so used to PG-13 homogenized violence put in a clean wrap. I find it’s irresponsible — to kids. I wanted to smash the whole concept that violence has no consequence when they run in with bad guys.”

“Watchmen” could have been corrupted by a studio system hungry for mass-consumption and hastily produced sequels. But in the hands of Zack Snyder, audiences can expect a faithful, entertaining adaptation of a classic graphic novel.

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