Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a truly awful piece of filmmaking, opened with a 60 million dollar day. That single day beat the entire opening weekend of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen, a film that I found to be pretty much brilliant. What the fuck is happening out there? Why did a movie with a pedigree and quality like Watchmen find itself underperforming at the box office?

‘I don’t know,’ Snyder told me yesterday while talking about the Watchmen Blu-Ray Director’s Cut. ‘Not to be snobby or anything, but I think the movie
doesn’t have the kind of… it asks a lot of the viewer. It’s not “entertaining” in the classic sense of the word. That’s just a fact.
It’s not an action film, it’s not a comedy. Dramas are not hot right
now, and no one wants to see a dramatic superhero movie. It’s inherent
in the material. I was kind of surprised by how excited everyone was
getting at the time of release, because I always knew the movie was
particular. I knew there were [only] certain people who would say “This
is awesome.”‘

While he didn’t come out and say it, it seems that Snyder is also unhappy with the perception of the film when it was released. ‘Is it the case that everyone was looking at Watchmen and said, “Terminator is coming out, Transformers is coming out” – Watchmen just
gets in line. If you compare it to these other summer movies, it is a real movie.’

The problem, he feels, with the public seeing Watchmen as a blockbuster of the type they’re accustomed to is that the film was always much less commercial than the big dumb blow ‘em spectacles that get released every year. ‘It is R-rated and it’s almost three hours long. There’s no version of a
three hour long R-rated movie about troubled superheroes that is a
summer blockbuster. I don’t see that happening.’

In the end what bothers him the most is how the opening weekend was received by the press. A 55 million dollar opening three day for Transformers might have been a disaster, but what about that opening for a dark, difficult movie based on a very serious, very niche property? ‘We made 55 million dollars on our opening weekend and everybody was
like, “Oh that’s too bad.” And then
Night at the Museum made 58 and
everyone was like “Hey, it’s a box office bonanza!” I was like, “Really? REALLY? A PG-13 movie about some kids in a frickin’ museum and
they make a few million more than us and that’s awesome?” Maybe it’s
just sour grapes, but I felt like it was a little bit personal.’

I don’t know that it was personal, but I do think it was unfair. The problem seems to be that the press never fully understood what this movie was. A superhero film from the director of 300 sounds like something that Watchmen most assuredly wasn’t, and the fact that this kind of a movie did what it did may be a minor miracle in itself. We’re not living in an age when thoughtful storytelling is rewarded. Here, at the end of cinema, we’re seeing audiences turn away from complexity and from character-driven stories and from moral subtlety. We’re seeing audiences turn away from everything that Watchmen was trying to be.