A counter-culture 1980's comic book series that became a cult classic among fervent fans is now on movie screens as a big action movie that also poses big philosophical questions. Here's a look at Watchmen.
British comic book writer Alan Moore imagined a world with dozens of costumed, caped, masked crime-fighters ready to swoop down against the bad guys.
There's 'Nite Owl,' who patrols the skies from his jet-powered Owl ship; wiry 'Rorschach' with a constantly changing face-mask like the ink blot psychological test; 'Comedian,' a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners warrior; 'Ozymandias,' who bills himself as 'the smartest man in the world;' 'Silk Spectre,' a sexy vision in latex and high-heeled boots ready to kick the bad guys into submission; and the most powerful - blue-hued, omniscient and, perhaps, omnipotent 'Dr. Manhattan.'
In this alternate history of the 1980's the superheroes help turn the Vietnam War into an all-out American victory; Richard Nixon is re-elected to a fifth term as President; the U.S.-Soviet Cold War is ominously threatening to go hot; and public outrage against the often-violent super-heroes has led to their being banned.
Director Zack Snyder says a central theme is the question scrawled in spray-paint at the beginning of the film: "who watches the watchmen?"
"The thing with Watchmen is it shines a light on that particular idea of having a guy in costume trying to stop a bank robbery or whatever he is doing," Snyder explains. "It is saying 'really? Are you going to accept that as it is?' We've spent a lot of money and there's a lot of investment in this concept of superheroes as pop culture icons and mythology; but I would hope that with Watchmen there is a little bit more to say."
Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the cigar-chomping, hard-hitting "Comedian," whose tactics are the most brutal.
"'Comedian' sort of enjoys the darkness because, essentially, he's a thug. He's just not a nice guy," he explains.
Morgan says the film's story and characters hew close to the spirit of their comic book origins.
"The great thing - what makes it so special - is that these characters are so fleshed out," Morgan says. "To do this movie in a watered-down fashion or have these characters be watered down wouldn't have been near as effective. It wouldn't have been staying true to what this Watchmen phenomenon is."
'Fleshed-out' certainly describes the skin-tight outfit Swedish-born Malin Akerman wears as 'Silk Spectre II.'
"Yes, the outfit is very provocative, but what I loved about her is that she is 'one of the boys.' A lot of times you get a female character in a film full of men and all she is there for is the sexuality of the female touch; but here she, for me, did not lead with her sexuality," Akerman says. "The costume spoke for itself and, hopefully, was a bit of a diversion for crime fighting."
As he did in his 2006 hit comic book adaptation 300, director Zack Snyder fills the screen with highly stylized violence; but, pointing out that his films are for an adult audience, Snyder makes no apologies.
"Look, I can intellectualize the violence because it's a movie that is supposed to illustrate the consequence of a superhero's action," Snyder says. "For instance, you're used to superhero movies where a lot of guys get beat up and smashed to the ground or fall off a building, but they all dust themselves off and they're fine because the violence is sort of super-irresponsible, I think. I guess the point for me was that in a real scenario, even though it is in some ways satirical, to show someone getting shot or their arm broken or stabbed or whatever it is …that's the real result of violence, not a comic book version of it. I just felt it was important that the movie not feel like it was made for kids."
The screenplay for Watchmen is by David Hayter and Alex Tse. The cast also features Patrick Wilson as 'Nite Owl.' Jackie Earle Haley is behind 'Rorschach's' mask. Matthew Goode is the brilliantly manipulative 'Ozymandias.' Carla Gugino plays the original 'Silk Spectre' who trained daughter Malin Akerman to follow in her high-heeled footsteps. And Billy Crudup is the mild-mannered scientist who, after a lab accident, becomes the all-powerful 'Dr. Manhattan.' The soundtrack is filled with iconic musical touchstones of the era from Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix; and the appropriately super-heroic musical score is by Tyler Bates.