New Watchmen Footage Screened!

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Warner Bros. just unveiled a first look at Watchmen to an eager audience at their studio lot in West Hollywood. Director Zack Snyder joined costume designer Michael Wilkinson and Production Designer Alex McDowell for the event, showing off the first 12 minutes and a few subsequent scenes, totaling nearly a half hour of brand-new footage.

Opening with stylish black-on-yellow production logos, the shot begins on the classic smiley face button-pinned to a man selling newspapers on the street. Tracking immediately upward, we’re taken inside Edward Blake’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) apartment. Just as in the first panels of the original comic book, we see the Comedian sitting at home alone in the final moments of his life. The scene (and nearly every shot showcased) is jam-packed with hidden references. On the wall is a ’50′s style pin-up of Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino) and on the television we see a pundit-style press show with footage of Richard Nixon giving a Presidential speech. Discussions are held about a “Doomsday Clock” and ongoing tensions with Russia. Here, Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is introduced as America’s best defense in the Cold War.

Coming back to Blake’s apartment, we find him changing the channel to a film that plays the song “Unforgettable.” The song continues to play throughout the scene as a masked assailant breaks in the front door and fights with Blake. The fight is much longer than in the comic and includes a number of Snyder’s signature slow-motion shots.

The fight ends with Blake losing and blood dripping from his chin onto his own smiley face button. He’s thrown back, crashing through the window and falling to the pavement below. The button falls in slow-motion, landing by his side before being surrounded by a pool of blood from his dead body.

Cue Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A’Changin’” as we enter the opening credits, beginning with a shot of the 50′s-style Minute Men taking a group photo. There’s a lot of great bits against Dylan’s words, all captured in an almost-still kind of slow-motion. We’re taken through the whole history of superheroes in this world with many shots representing an alternate take on real-life historical events; Doctor Manhattan shakes hands with President Kennedy (using actual footage) and we then see his assassination by the Comedian (standing on the grassy knoll). Lesbian superheroine Silhouette kisses a nurse at the end of World War II (parodying the LIFE magazine photo) and then a shot of her subsequent murder. Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) stands outside Studio 54. The Enola Gay flies past, painted with the image of Sally Jupiter. Andy Warhol (with Truman Capote) shows off a painting of Nite Owl. Doctor Manhattan stands on the moon, filming the first astronauts. Sally Jupiter’s retirement party is framed like DaVinci’s “The Last Supper.”

The scene ends with a new wave of superheroes taking the same shot the credits begin with, 30 years later and then pulls out to reveal a store window filled with televisions and the spraypainted: “WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?” in red across the glass. A molotov cocktail is thrown through the window and the scene erupts in flames.

The next scene showcased had Doctor Manhattan sitting on Mars, looking at a photograph and speaking in an inner monologue, remembering (with flashbacks) the events of his life that led to this particular moment. We see him in an amusement park in 1959 with his girlfriend, Janey. We see an accident that happens in his laboratory that leads to him becoming all-powerful, returning as a blue, glowing God-like force. We see him being drafted by the government and asked to step in to end the Vietnam war. We see him using his powers to obliterate tanks, villages and people. We learn that he cheated on his wife with the second Silk Spectre, Laurie (Malin Akerman) and, wanting to escape humanity, has traveled to Mars where he meditates in the desert. Floating above the ground with his legs crossed, Dr. Manhattan calls forth an enormous clockwork structure from the sand, building a golden monument against the red desert.

The last scene featured Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Laurie having just had sex aboard Nite Owl’s ship. Snyder explained that the characters are set up so that their superheroics are somewhat fetishized and that both characters get a sexual thrill out of crime-fighting. The two decide to break into a maximum security prison and bust out Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) who has been arrested. The Owl ship lands at the prison and major fights ensue as Rorschach is freed from his cell and other prisoners riot. A midget runs from Rorschach, but he chases him into the bathroom. We see him cornered before the door shuts and, after a silence, there’s a flush as Rorschach emerges. Water and blood spills from the crack at the bottom of the bathroom door.

Snyder and crew answered a number of questions and let slip a few interesting bits :

“The Black Freighter” cartoon runs about 20 minutes. It will be released on DVD with a “60 Minutes” style news program, looking back on the release of the original Nite Owl’s memoirs, “Under the Hood” a decade later.

As he’s stated in the past, the plan for “Black Freighter” is to have it cut in with the rest of the full movie for an ultimate DVD cut somewhere down the line.

The current running time is two hours and 45 minutes but that may change in either direction.

Snyder promised there would never be a sequel saying, “No chance of a sequel or prequel or ‘Watchmen Babies’ or anything like that.”

Though the film was not shot in IMAX, there will be an IMAX release, “in some way.”

Other songs that appear in the film include Nena’s “99 Luftballons” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence.” The latter song plays at Blake’s funeral and required special permission from the artists to be used; permission that has only been granted once before (For The Graduate in 1967).

Watchmen hits theaters on March 6, 2009.

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