BEVERLY HILLS, California — Setting aside the end result, reviews and box-office performance, what is the gutsiest film ever made? Was it Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot remake of "Psycho"? George Lucas' decision to risk the legacy of his "Star Wars" movies by making prequels? Mel Gibson courting religious controversy to film an incredibly graphic, subtitled film about Jesus Christ?
Or is it Zack Snyder's "Watchmen"?
"As far as cojones go, it ranks right up there," Matthew Goode said of his director.
"I'm thoroughly impressed by the ba--s that he had to take this project on," Billy Crudup agreed. "It's a pretty substantial undertaking, even if it weren't the most revered graphic novel of all time."
On Friday, you can finally go see "Watchmen" and decide for yourself whether Snyder's blockbuster bet paid off. But before you do, here are the top 10 reasons why it might just be the riskiest mainstream movie ever made by a filmmaker:
10. It Remakes a Sacred Text
On the holy mountain of graphic novels, few would disagree that "Watchmen" sits at the very top. In 2005, Time listed it among the greatest English-language novels of all time, alongside such other unfilmable classics as "The Catcher in the Rye" and "On the Road." Since its publication in 1986, "Watchmen" has been ripped off countless times, most recently by "Heroes" — and, inevitably, younger audiences will assume that "Watchmen" is the derivative work.
9. It Kills a Living Person
Chew on this for a moment: Soon, a very-alive person will be able to buy a ticket, get a bucket of popcorn and watch himself being murdered 24 years ago — in IMAX, no less. In the entire history of film, it is simply unprecedented.
8. It Has No Stars
In the years leading up to the "Watchmen" movie, names like Keanu Reeves, Jude Law, Tom Cruise, Kate Winslet and even Jonah Hill were tossed around. Instead, Snyder went for the likes of Goode, Crudup, Malin Akerman and Patrick Wilson — not exactly newcomers, but hardly household names. In a town driven by star power, credit the director for casting appropriate names instead of marquee ones.
7. It Repeatedly Shows Crudup's Li'l Billy
In Hollywood, full-frontal male nudity is few and far between: "Bad Lieutenant," "The Color of Night," "Teeth," etc. As Jon Osterman becomes more God-like, he is less concerned with mortal matters like covering himself up — and, thankfully, the film stays true to Dr. Manhattan's free-wheeling ways, MPAA be damned.
6. It Boldly Goes Where Geniuses Have Failed
Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass are three of the best filmmakers of the past few decades. They also each took turns holding hands with "Watchmen," only to walk away confused and unloved. It is often said that those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it — yet, somehow, Snyder has succeeded where those three Oscar-worthy filmmakers failed.
5. It Is Super-Violent
In one scene, a man pleads for forgiveness as Rorschach plunges a meat clever into his -head — again and again and again. In another, a man's arms are sliced off his body with a buzzsaw, simply because he's in the way. During our recent "Spoilers" taping, Snyder was asked if he would ever make another horror movie — but in several key moments, "Watchmen" is horrific enough to make "Saw" look like "Bride Wars."
4. It Angers Alan Moore
Ever since the day he took the gig, Snyder knew he wouldn't have the one blessing he needed most: The writer of the "Watchmen" graphic novel. Moore has gone on record, on many occasions, saying the movie shouldn't be made and that he wants nothing to do with it. In a world where Hollywood films often give authors cute cameos to show their approval, Moore's disapproval has been a huge obstacle for Snyder to overcome.
3. It Is Such a Massive Story
Terry Gilliam once said that he'd need at least five hours to properly tell Moore's labyrinthine story. At various times, people have insisted that the only way to properly do "Watchmen" is with a miniseries or in multiple films. "Watchmen: The Complete Motion Picture Comic" was recently released on iTunes and DVD and clocks in at 325 minutes. Yet, Snyder chose to pack his film so tightly with Easter eggs and in-jokes that his 163-minute theatrical cut packs in an amazing amount of information — even without "Under the Hood" and "Tales of the Black Freighter," which will be somewhat restored for his upcoming director's cut.
2. It Was Made for Fans Who Want to Hate It
"If they don't do 'Watchmen' right, there would be riots in the street," Shane Coleman, one of the head geeks at Los Angeles' world famous Golden Apple Comics, warned in 2007. "There would seriously be fanboys throwing trash cans." Quite simply, "Watchmen" fans have spent decades arguing that there is nothing better than "Watchmen." Now, the hate has already begun to pour in for the movie, and the good reviews are being viewed skeptically. Can the fanbase keep an open mind and view the "Watchmen" movie on its own merits?
1. It's Smart
In a world where $30 million worth of people decided that "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is worth seeing on opening weekend, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" crosses the $100 million mark and the highest-paid thespian on television is the star of "Two and a Half Men," stupidity sells. "Watchmen" is a story that paints its characters not in black-and-white, but gray. It tackles mythology, philosophy and theology. It doesn't attempt to answer questions like "Is the death of some a worthy price for the saving of many?," but instead urges you to debate it. So, is the world ready for a smart, complicated, R-rated adaptation of "Watchmen"? Zack Snyder is making the gutsy bet that we are.
Check out everything we've got on "Watchmen."
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