Watchmen First Look

It's been a mighty fine week for SFX. As though Tuesday's sneak-peek of the rebooted Star Trek movie – hosted by JJ Abrams and made even more delectable by the addition of some Starfleet-insignia-d cupcakes – wasn't enough, Friday saw Zack Snyder stand before a room of journos in a West End cinema to present almost 30 minutes of footage from Watchmen. Oh, and this time there were little smiley-face cupcakes. We could get used to this...

Despite seeming a little nervous, once Snyder started talking it was hard to see an end in sight as he enthused about the "big fat comic book" he agreed to film simply because he didn't want anybody else to cock it up. "At least if I filmed it and it was bad, it'd be my fault," he observed wryly. From the footage we saw, it looks as though he's got nothing to worry about.

[SPOILERS AHEAD!]

The first ten minutes of the movie (which will run to just over two-and-a-half hours, according to Snyder, with longer versions following on DVD) open with Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in front of the TV in his apartment. The show he's watching is a handy way to clue us in that Richard Nixon is President, America and Russia are almost at war and there's some kind of super-powered hero working for the Yanks. Then somebody batters down Blake's door and all hell breaks loose – the kind of visceral, thumping, half-slo-mo fight Snyder proved he could handle so well in 300. After Blake meets a sticky end (to the tune of 'Unforgettable' by Nat King Cole, and it truly is), along come the film's opening credits, an absolutely glorious sequence of shots setting up a world in which superheroes are real and their antics span the course of the 20th century.

As Bob Dylan whines 'The Times They Are A-Changing' we see everything from John F Kennedy shaking Doctor Manhattan's hand on the lawn of the White House, to the bloody end of several costumed superheroes, to Ozymandias entering Studio 54 with David Bowie. Of course, you're not supposed to know who these people are yet, but the sequence sets the tone and feel of the film perfectly, mixing the familiar with the strange.

The next clip – still not quite finished – shows Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup) on Mars as he reflects upon both his creation and the women in his life. Watch him take a tank apart with the power of his mind! See him kiss Silk Spectre! Gasp as he explodes two bad guys into gloopy, bloody pieces that hang disgustingly from the ceiling! This sequence was great (and Crudup's weird CGI blueness grows on you), although it does make us wonder if this is going to be the kind of movie in which the flow of the action keeps getting interrupted as we examine the lead characters' backstories. It works in the book, but will it on film?

The final, and shortest, clip stars Silk Spectre (Malin Ackerman) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) as they break Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach out of prison. Again we get Snyder's trademark slo-mo fighting, although this time Ackerman's skin-tight outfit seems to be providing most of the thrills.

Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons joined Snyder for a quick Q&A after the screening, in which, inevitably, the subject of Alan Moore's reluctance to be associated with the film popped up. "I'm having a good experience with this and I'm sad he's not experiencing it," said Gibbons.

Talk then turned to the changes made to the comic (there's no giant squid, or "fifth-dimensional cephalopod" as Gibbons corrected the audience) and, finally, Snyder revealed that he had to battle a few months back to keep the film's probable R-certificate in place. "You can't blur Doctor Manhattan's penis," he pointed out, quite rightly. And we can testify to the fact, too: it's certainly there. It's big. And blue.

We wouldn't have fancied that on a cupcake.

Preview contributed by Jayne Nelson. The new Watchmen trailer was released yesterday.