'Watchmen' feeding off '300' spoils

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"Who watches the Watchmen?" was the tagline of the seminal 1986 Alan Moore miniseries about a group of heroes investigating the murder of one of their own. In 2007, in the warm glow of "300's" blockbuster opening, the answer could be "everybody."

Zack Snyder, the director of Warner Bros. Pictures' "300," has been developing "Watchmen" at Warners since June, and during the recent press tour for the Spartan epic, he has openly said he is aiming for a summer shoot for "Watchmen."

Snyder's enthusiasm for the project spilled out online late last week when a Snyder-created image of one of the "Watchmen" characters was discovered embedded in a DVD trailer distributed by marketing street teams and was posted all over the Web.

Street Wise Marketing was charged with running a campaign using tactics from a community Web site to handing out Spartan condoms ("Prepare for glory," read the packaging) and a DVD of the "300" trailer that was a sensation at last year's Comic-Con International in San Diego. Inserted at the 1:52 mark is an image of Rorschach, the hero with an inkblot mask, a trench coat and hat, with a gray city behind him. According to sources, the shot is a test image of what that character might look like. At this point, the movie is not greenlighted, nor is it cast.

Street Wise knew of the insert but was asked not to disclose it. The trailer was in the hands of viewers for about a week before someone noticed it and posted it on YouTube.

Adapting "Watchmen" has stymied such filmmakers as Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass and such studios as Universal and Paramount. The scope and density of the source material — the only graphic novel Time Magazine listed among the 100 best novels since 1923 — is vast and budgetary concerns were among the reasons the project was put into turnaround by Paramount in early 2005.

"To do it right, you need a huge budget," an insider said.

Sources said Snyder's vision for the movie would have the project in the $150 million range. The studio, on the other hand, wants to keep it less than $100 million. Snyder's "300," based on another award-winning comic book, cost about $65 million to make and grossed $70 million during the weekend, breaking records and surprising many at the studio.
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