Writer/Director Damon Lindelof was put in an interesting position being charged bringing the HBO series Watchmen to our screens.
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On one hand he is a huge fan of the original story and truly reveres it’s creator Alan Moore, so he is compelled to honour the source material. On the other, creating this show goes completely against Moore’s wishes of doing anything with the story other than leaving it in its original form.
Moore’s stance is that Watchmen is a comic book and should remain one. It is designed to be read a certain way, not made into a film and definitely not a TV show.
In approaching the TV series, fans of the comic, and of Mr Moore would experience the same dilemma that Lindelof suffered. Do you, as a fan, respect the creator’s wishes and boycott the thing entirely, or surrender to your curiosity? This is made more complicated by the fact that Watchman artist, Dave Gibbons is all in on the TV series, working as a consultant and credited as a co-creator, Alan Moore’s name is nowhere to be found.
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To be fair, Alan Moore has refused to be associated with any adaptations of his work that he has no control over, and gave up the fight to regain his rights to Watchmen a long time ago. Back in 1986 he signed a contract that said ownership of the story would revert back to himself and Dave Gibbons, once it went out of print. Guess what? Watchman has never been out of print! It is still owned by DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner Bros, who just so happen to also own HBO.
Before we get too high and mighty about how hard done by Alan Moore has been by the big bad money hungry studio end of town let’s not forget the he himself has written stories that have adapted characters that were not his own, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a prime example of that along with Batman and Superman.
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That seems to be how Lindelof and a lot of fans have been able to reconcile any conflict they may have in approaching this series. The series itself is very, very good and does a great job of honouring the source material as well as extending the narrative of what is one the greatest graphic novels of all time into the modern age.
This is not a retelling of the comic book, nor is it a sequel to the Zack Snyder film from 2009.
The series picks up about 30 years after the events of the comic book. If you’ve not read it before you see the series you are going to find yourself quite confused as to why certain things happen the way they do. The most confusing being tiny squid falling from the sky like rain. There’s also the fact that it is based in a alternate reality where masked vigilantes have become ingrained into American culture, the USA won the Vietnam war with the help of a superhuman named Dr Manhattan and made Vietnam the 51st state and a whole bunch more stuff.
Seriously, read the comic.
The story opens with the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot and over the course of the series the audience gets to see the effect that event has on the alternate reality of 2019 Tulsa Oklahoma. It is in the present that sadly, the words from Rorschach’s journal have inspired white supremacist group called the Seventh Kavalry to take up arms against minorities and law enforcement. Previously in 2016 there was an event called ‘The White Night’ where the Kavalry attacked 40 of Tulsa’s police officers in their homes. The police force had to be rebuilt and a law was passed requiring the cops to wear masks to protect their identities, which gave some of them license to become their own kind of costumed hero.
At the centre of the story is detective Angela Abar who goes under her crimefighting persona of Sister Night. She’s out to break the Seventh Cavalry while trying to come to grips with the trauma of the White Night and other events from her past. Meanwhile Dr Manhattan is still somewhere off the planet, Ozymandias is missing presumed dead and we get to meet a whole host of new characters.
It’s unfair to give anymore than that away, because there is so much delight to be had for fans with all the easter eggs that pop up during the show.
The cast are excellent. Jeremy Irons is fantastic as Adrian Veidt. Don Johnson is super cool as chief Judd Crawford. Jean Smart is awesome as Federal Agent Blake and Tim Blake Nelson is great as the interrogator, Looking Glass. It’s really cool to see Lou Gossett Jr back on the screen as Will Reeves and Regina King is electrifying as Angela. Again, it’s unfair to give much more information about the cast because it risks spoiling the series.
The cinematography is packed with vibrant colour and some transitions that are a clear nod to the style of the Zack Snyder film, although at first it’s kind of jarring making the leap from the comic book to the screen especially with a spotty set so far ahead of the events from the comic. As soon as audience hear the soundtrack they will know that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are responsible and their distinctive style of electronic production really goes well with the alternate reality being presented in the series, in fact the soundtrack itself almost seems to work as a concept album in the style of Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Nine Inch Nails Year Zero..
Watchmen, with all its quirky alternate reality tropes, tackles some really contentious and political issues. Some fans think that there has been too much focus on identity politics and social justice, but this is what makes the show shine. While masked heroes have always been the focus of the story in the comics, even Alan Moore would attest to his story having an undercurrent of power and politics. It becomes more confronting with the TV series because the politics are driven by racism, domestic terrorism and police brutality. Pretty timely given current conversations taking place all over the world.
At this stage there are no plans for a series two and that is just fine, it’s a great story that stands on its own. However the same could be argued about the original comic. While it doesn’t feel absolutely necessary as far as being any kind of companion to the original story, Lindelof has done it very, very well.
You really should be watching Watchmen.