June 2007

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

An Open Letter to Zack Snyder

DEAR ZACK,

When I was a wee young thing, just starting out in this crazy Hollywood scene, I did book and script coverage for a tiny little production company that never ended up making a single movie. I read a lot of crap, because that's what readers do, but every once in a while something fun would end up in my pile. And that's how I got to read Frank Miller's 300 for the first time.

I read it. I liked it. And then I passed on it.

Why? Well, here were my thoughts at the time: "Although the material isn't developed enough for a feature, and the subject matter isn't very distinctive from any other war epic, it's compellingly written, with surprisingly strong characters for such a minimalist telling. The art is vivid and visual as well -- overall, an interesting approach. Consider some of the writer's other work."

For me, this was a very half-hearted sort of pass, the kind where the material just doesn't click, even when the reader recognizes that there's something compelling in it. (It's also not very good at all -- six years later, I'm happy to say that my ability to reject is a good deal more refined.)

This coverage is dated 9/24/01, and at the time I was feeling a little exhausted by war stories. But even without the extenuating circumstances, it was hard to feel gripped by this small band of men fighting a much larger war. Perhaps this is because Miller's take on the Battle of Thermopylae isn't exactly an underdog story -- it's thumping drums and blood spraying out into the air, a glorification of the brutality of battle. I was a tremendous fan of Miller's work at the time, and was thrilled to see him attract Hollywood's attention. But this wasn't the project I wanted to see make it.

Me passing on 300 worked out well for you, Zack, because my boss didn't pursue it, and if he had, who knows if you'd have ended up helming this spring's biggest hit. Sure, it wasn't your first time at the rodeo (I hear really good things about your Dawn of the Dead remake). But you still got your chance to play Spartan, and faithfully recreate Miller's hyper-masculine world view. You got to wow the world, and thus I feel like you and I have a bond. I feel like you owe me, just a little.

So do me a solid, Zack, and listen carefully when I ask you, oh so politely:

TAKE ONE BIG STEP BACKWARDS. ONE BIG STEP BACK FROM WATCHMEN. And then keep walking away.

Thanks. Appreciate it.

Sure, from most everything I've read, you seem to have actually read the comic -- to the point where some of your comments (like "I'm doing Watchmen next for sure. That's what we're focusing all our attention on. It's the shit, as they say! [laughs] It's the best thing out there. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but I feel like Watchmen is the coolest thing ever and I have to do it.") come off as over-Red-Bulled fanboy. And going to bat for preserving the 1985 time setting -- previous scripts have updated the story for a post-9/11 world -- speaks highly of your commitment. Hell, you even want to keep the pirates in! Sure, you'll never, ever be Paul Greengrass (who was attached to the failed 2006 attempt). But you seem up for the challenges the material presents... despite one major flaw in your thinking. Which is thinking that adapting Watchmen into a feature film is at all a good idea.

Let me ask you this, completely honestly: who really wants this movie to be made, aside from the people poised to profit from it? Are there truly people, in this day and age, who believe it'll end up being any good at all?

I hate to be this person, because I keep an open mind towards adaptations. But what it comes down to is the very nature of Moore's work, and the very nature of comics in general. Watchmen is the classic definition of episodic, each issue bringing the reader one step closer to Doomsday. When I read it for the first time, I read a chapter every night, right before bed, my dreams growing increasingly strange and terrifying, the tension building as the clock ticked closer to midnight. It was an incredible twelve days.

I don't know anyone who read Watchmen in one gulp. Did you? I bet you didn't. I bet you took breaks between chapters, took your time parsing the interstitial essays, unearthing new clues and mysteries. I bet you thought about it. I bet you savored it. I bet you didn't ever want it to end.

Some stories need longer than two and a half hours to be told. Some stories deserve that. And Moore's sprawling alternate 20th century, warped by superheroes into something strange and alien and yet alarmingly real, definitely falls into this category.

I freely admit that I enjoyed 300 more on screen than on the page. Blood is more interesting, after all, when you can really see it spray. So if there was some value in bringing Watchmen to screen, some action-heavy set piece aching to be dramatized, maybe I'd be more down. But Watchmen isn't an action movie -- it's a murder mystery on a massive scale. Zack, I honestly don't care about how much green screen you plan to use, or how perfect Jude Law would be as Ozymandius. I care about whether or not you understand that.

Last year, V for Vendetta was the first known example of a watchable Moore adaptation, and it still fails to live up to the source material. But at least those behind V were interested in the ideas behind Moore's work, and adapting them to inspire a much larger audience that would never otherwise be exposed to the material. The existence of your adaptation of Watchmen bugs me much much more -- mostly because of your comments about how 300 is meant to be free of political context. Because if you're afraid to stand behind any of the ideas behind your work -- if you're afraid to make a point -- then what the hell are you doing here? You're a fine director of action, Zack. But if you wanna play around with Alan Moore's ideas, then you best borrow your daddy's shoes. Because this here is a man's game.

No matter what, at the end of the whole messy expensive process, you'll end up with a movie that everyone knows will pale in comparison to the comic. There's nothing that really needs to be fixed, nothing that could be improved upon (except maybe for some of Sally Jupiter's more extreme 80s hairdos). Watchmen is great. It's great as it is. The world doesn't need your take on it. Especially since you don't really seem to have one.

So if you want to pay me back for passing on 300 all those years ago, you could buy me a nice pair of shoes -- or you could explore some other projects. Maybe something fresh and original. Maybe something that was your own idea. Because if you take on Watchmen and fail, you won't just owe me. You'll owe us all.

And that's a whole lotta Manolos.

Hugs,
The Hollywood Madam