October 20th, 2019
Let’s start with the obvious. I, along with most of us, was unaware of the atrocity that took place in the Tulsa Riots of 1921. If you would like more background, the New York Times did a piece that gives more information. But it’s something I never learned in school. It’s something that, even to this day, is still not talked about. So in the way Watchmen follows a continuation of the Graphic Novel, it very much is rooted in what Zack Snyder accomplished back in 2009 as well. And this opening couldn’t be more of a prime example.
I noticed a lot of visual similarities and inversions of what was shown to us, just in the first episode. In the film version of the opening, we witness the murder of Edward Blake, the Comedian. It’s violent and is essentially what the entire film hinges on to bring the story full circle (pun intended). In the show, we are shown the violent Tulsa riots in plain view that doesn’t hold back. We see dead women and children (also an infant) while we watch a couple send their son out of the city. Without even seeing how the series is going to play out, we know that this 1921 incident will play a crucial role in how Watchmen moves forward.
The Alternate Universe
If you weren’t aware, Watchmen takes place in a different timeline than our current world. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan, most vehicles are electric, people are withOUT mobile phones, and police officers aren’t allowed to carry their guns unless they get a release. But since this is a continuation of the Graphic Novel (the film version changed the ending), we see a different interpretation of a story that has a foundation of what was there before. Replacing the Top-Knots gang is the new White Supremecy organization, The 7th Kalvary. Vietnam is a State of The United States and reparations were given from President Robert Ford.
Back in 1985, the Keen Act banned all masks. In 2019, because of an all-out attack 3 years ago, The White Night, cops now ONLY wear masks. Squids rain down on civilians. Dr. Manhattan is on Mars still, but I believe that actually ties more into how Zack ended his version. In the Graphic Novel, Adrian Veidt teleports a giant squid to New York to unite superpowers from going to war. There’s no reason for him to NEED to leave Earth or for us to be worried about his whereabouts. In the film, Veidt makes it plausible that Dr. Manhattan was responsible for attacks all over the world, which is why he leaves Earth. So without knowing how the series will handle Jon Osterman, we have to assume he’s on Mars and the world is watching him make sure he doesn’t attack us again. But that’s my own feelings.
My first Watchmen experience was in 2009 when Zack Snyder brought it to the screen. I had zero knowledge about any of the mythos or characters before that. And I remember walking out of the theater and was in awe of what I had just witnessed. I couldn’t explain it at that moment, but I knew I had never seen anything like it. So once I got home, I immediately did my due diligence. I researched and became a massive fan of not only the film but of the Graphic Novel as well. If you notice about the release of each medium, what Watchmen did to comics in 1986 is what Zack did to comic book movies in 2009.
Fast Forwarding to 2019 and we’re in an era of cinema becoming bland and beige with the dominance of Disney/Marvel films. And with shows like The Boys and now Watchmen, fans of adult content have something to enjoy again. What makes this even more intriguing is this take is completely fresh. We don’t know where the story will go or how much the original Graphic Novel will play into the story. Discovering Watchmen 10 years ago and getting an opportunity to learn more about the mythos is what I’m truly excited about.
American Hero Story
If it wasn’t obvious, Michael Wilkinson has designed some of the most recognizable Hero costumes for Zack’s films. So taking a new spin of the ‘Story within a Story’ subplot (Tales of the Black Freighter), we’re introduced to the American Hero Story: Minutemen about the Legacy Characters from the 1940s. During the show, we see a small advertisement with the Minutemen in their full regalia. The likeness and costume design is a direct replica of how Zack Snyder and Michael Wilkinson designed the characters.
Knowing the MAIN storyline follows a little more closely with the Graphic Novel, it’s nice seeing the story within a story possibly follow what Zack created. I’m curious to find out if we’ll actually see that story conclude or if we’ll be treated with inserts of the story like the Graphic Novel did with Black Freighter. I also want to see how this world treats Under The Hood which can be seen in a newly designed edition. With the new book being on the desk of Tulsa Chief, Judd Crawford, I wonder if that book will influence some of our main cast.
When we’re introduced to Adrian Veidt, it’s first through a newspaper headline informing us he’s dead. Then we see him riding to his isolated castle and living his lifestyle in the nude (an ode to Dr. Manhattan possibly). This is one of the most interesting aspects of the show because of his mysterious nature. He lives alone but has two servants who seem to be more than just servants. They gift him presents and celebrate anniversaries while he shows his appreciation by including them to perform his new play.
Knowing what Veidt did, it’s clear that he would be in isolation now. With Rorshachs journal exposing him as the reason behind the 1985 attack, it’s an inversion of him being one of only two Heros to identify themselves to the world. And we also know that he’s a lover of the ancient world. While building Karnak, he poisoned all of his scientists so they would be buried with his secrets. I have a feeling that he’ll continue that tradition with his newest servants he’s acquired.
The Visual Motifs Of Watchmen
The introduction of the title and exposition letters were obvious. They were shown in a similar fashion to how the film opens. The show does even more. Among the visual motifs are several instances of circles being somehow be infused with the ‘Doomsday Clock’ motif. When Angela Bar is discussing egg whites and yolk, we see her create a smiley face with a little red breaking the walls just like the comedian button. During a dinner scene, we’re shown an above frame where Judd appears to be exactly at the ‘5 til Midnight’ position. He even throws his towel down in the exact same way. Given that during this dinner scene we hear a rendition of “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole and we should have known Judds fate then.
If the opening of the show wasn’t evident enough, racial injustice will play a heavy role in the socio-political aspects of Watchmen. The show ends with the hanging of a caucasian male character. Judd Crawford to be exact. And in the last shot, before it ends, we see his Tulsa Sherrif badge below him on the ground. Blood splatters in almost the exact same way as it does when the Comedian is murdered in Zack’s opening of his film. If I was a gamblin’ man, I would say THIS murder will play a crucial role in the narrative of Watchmen this season.
The Action Of Watchmen
While the Graphic Novel displayed each Hero in Watchmen having normal human level fighting abilities, Zack’s film did not. It’s actually one of the things I really enjoy about his filmography. If these ‘masked avengers’ needed to do what the law couldn’t, they would need to be stronger than the law. I don’t believe Zack went overboard in how he structured the fight scenes because I prefer to have a stylized action set-piece.
So seeing Angela Abar (Sister Night) fight some of the 7th Kalvary members was a little underwhelming. If I had to nitpick the show some, the fighting would be it. I understand what makes Watchmen great. It’s the realism of regular people wearing masks. But in this area, I think they could improve it some. Just give me some slow-motion fist punches and throwdowns and I’ll take back what I said.
One of the most interesting aspects of the entire series, for me, is what Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross would compose musically for the show. From the opening piano piece to the Hip-Hop inspired transition of the modern world, to the Blade Runner sounding synths, they excelled. They provided an other-worldly experience while also paying homage to the film and book. I’m excited to hear how the rest of the series will play out and if we’ll be given themes.
At times, it felt like I was listening to a Westworld track or a Stranger Things synth track. At others, it sounded similar to their ‘Nine Inch Nails’ days of producing music. They incorporated pop-culture tracks that didn’t feel out of place. And they also gave us their own unique sound. Whether we get individual themes for characters or just motifs, based off the first episode, they’re a great addition to the show.
Without knowing how the series will go, Watchmen has its own unique style. Yes, it’s following the book more closely in terms of the ending, and that’s fair. Zack had creative freedom in his own story and went a different route to, in my opinion, improve on an already great story. Damon Lindelof, showrunner, was one of the first people to view Zacks cut of Watchmen back in 2008 before it ever came out. So seeing as many visual homages to the work Zack put in is spectacular. It’s also great that Watchmen maintains its own visual style for the show as well.
This first episode feels like a continuation of the Universe (cinematically) Zack created and at the same time, is something new. I can view the similarities without being confused as to which story it’s being adapted from. The acting is superb, the dialogue is amazing, and the cinematography is beautiful. Now, if we could get some ‘Comedian thrown through the glass in slow-motion’ visuals, this would be the perfect show. We have 8 more episodes to see if they give us that. And if you’re a fan of Watchmen, then I’d advise you watch this immediately if you haven’t. Until then, it’s like you always say. “We’re society’s only protection.”