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Book Review: Watchmen: The Film Companion by Peter Aperlo

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When all is said and done, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen will be the most-anticipated film of 2009 and could well have the most written about it when everything is tallied up. Of course, it has had an unfair advantage over its competitors as there have been decades of speculation and discussions about the merits of a potential adaptation derived from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel, particularly when directors Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, and Paul Greengrass were mentioned being involved.

The reaction has covered the spectrum, from over-the-top adulation to utter disappointment, yet one thing in common with almost all viewers, except those who have no idea all the work that goes into making a film, is that there was certainly a great deal of creativity and effort put into the production. Peter Aperlo’s Film Companion is a testament to the crew as he takes the reader behind the scenes revealing their work and thought processes through sketches, photographs, and interviews.

“Pre-Production” actually begins before that aspect commenced as the reader learns how Snyder got the job. Then, he began work on crafting his vision for the project. He had screenwriter Alex Tse restore the alternate-1985 setting that had been removed from previous screenplay drafts. Snyder met with production designer Alex McDowall to realize his vision. Michael Williamson and McDowall discussed their ideas about costumes and the sets, respectively.

Mainly through pictures, “World of Watchmen” sets up some of the film’s backstory that is covered in the title sequence and flashbacks. An amazing level of detail by McDowall’s team can be seen on every page.

“The Characters” runs through the major and minor ones, including some who only appear briefly and have no lines. The main cast discusses their takes on the characters and what informed they performance. This section understandably reveals a lot about the plot, so those looking to avoid spoilers should skip reading it.

“Production” gives the reader a brief visit to the set where Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach can be seen before his mask was inserted in post. There is also a blog report from co-creator Gibbons who enjoyed his visit.

“Post-Production” follows up on the creation of Rorschach’s mask. Sound editor Scott Hecker and composer Tyler Bates, who have previously worked with Snyder, expound on their work. The most intensive piece of post-production, the creation of Dr. Manhattan, deservedly gets its own chapter. Billy Crudup had to act in a suit and skullcap covered in tiny blue lights, looking as if he was in the film Tron.  Although it could have been created artificially, the feint blue glow Manhattan gives off helps ground the character in reality.

While Aperlo’s commentary gets a little too reverential at times, it is to be expected since the book was made in conjunction with the film. People who enjoy learning about how movies are made should find this peak behind the curtain informative, even those who are disappointed with the Watchmen film.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS