Watchmen (2009)

Analysis of the Book

Alan Moore’s Watchmen was a graphic novel released in 1986 that chronicles a group of masked vigilantes who have been outlawed.Moore presents an alternate history of America, where in the 1980s Nixon is still president and the threat of nuclear war with Russia looms over everyone. Moore writes a work that explores several issues including metaphysics, nuclear war, American politics, and corporate corruption. Moore also seems to criticize the comic book industry through his characters, who each have their own set of deep flaws that one would not associate with a typical super hero story. Each character explores a different facet of human nature (The Comedian as the money hungry nihilist for hire, Ozymandias as a power seeking egomaniac with a God complex, Dr. Manhattan as a repetent tool of war, etc.) Moore has three story lines going on in this graphic novel, one of which is self-reflexive. He provides the story of the Watchmen (their history, disbandment, and reunion) who are trying to save the world from one of their own and that of the comic within the comic, The Black Freighter. Dave Gibbons illustrates a dark smoggy city under conflict that excellently reflects the story line and the sometimes grey morality that the story handles. His inclusion of the doomsday clock graphic at the beginning of each chapter helps build suspense for the ending as readers get to see how as the chapters progress, the clock moved closer and closer to midnight or nuclear annihilation for America.

Analysis of the Film

Although Moore intended to make this graphic novel unfilmable it was adapted in 2009 by director Zach Snyder. Like Moore’s graphic novel, it is not the typical super hero story that movie goers have gotten used to in recent years like Spider Man, Superman, and Batman series which are considered to be softer, feel good, family movies. It is much darker and handles more heavy subjects such as rape, murder, sex, and exploitation. Snyder leaves his signature on the film with his slow motion action shots, hyper-violence, and excessive blood and gore. Perhaps it was this along with Snyder’s alteration of the plot that caused the movie to financially and critically when it was released.

Analysis of the Adaptation

In trying to adapt Moore’s graphic novel, there were several aspects that Snyder had to leave out of the film. The Black Freighter comic was not included in the movie but as an extra for the DVD. He had to exclude it because it wouldn’t make sense in the film medium as it’s supposed to be self-reflexive for comic readers and would only make sense if you read in that context. Snyder also altered the ending of the film making Dr. Manhattan the enemy that Ozymandias chooses for the world instead of an alien squid monster. The adoption of this ending maybe made more sense for the film as it was a plot device that would have kept continuity within the film more manageable unlike in the novel where it is part of a sub-plot alluded to. The changed ending makes much more sense for continuity within the film because introducing the subplot seen in the comic would have made the movie much longer and would seem a little far fetched and strange, which is in the typical style of Moore. Snyder also left out bits and pieces of the characters’ backstories that helped readers understand the characters and their motivations a way better than what Snyder presented movie goers. This lack of deep characterization and major plot changes gets at Moore’s negative attitude towards Hollywood taking on the comic world.

Online Research

  • An article that explores Alan Moore’s reaction to the adaptation of Watchmen.

  • An article on that shows how Moore’s graphic novel made helped the genre to be taken seriously as an artistic medium.

  • An interview with Watchmen director Zach Snyder providing some insight to how he thinks the graphic novel comments on pop culture.

Critical Analysis

What do you think of the music soundtrack in Watchmen? Does it faithfully represent the themes of the film? How about the themes of the book?

I believe the sound track fits the themes and events in the film very well. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” captures the shift of masked vigilantes being revered heros to outlawed has-beens and the ushering in of a new era in American politics and life at the time. Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” speaks to the Silk Spectres (both mother and daughter) difficulty with finding love with men, Laurie’s issues lie with Night Owl and Dr. Manhattan while her mother had to deal with The Comedian, her rapist, who she ultimately forgives because she got Laurie out of it. These songs are all hits from the 50s, 60s, and 70s so it is appropriate with the time line of the novel and can capture the feelings of the real America. They speak directly to the feeling and emotion of the scenes they are dubbed over and is actually one of the aspects of the adaptation of the graphic novel that I (as a slight Watchmen fangirl) did not take issue with. They all speak to deeply personal human conflict, societal change, carnal desire and a yearning for the past, key emotions within Moore’s graphic novel.


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