A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, "Watchmen" is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the Doomsday Clock, which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union, moves closer to midnight.
When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the outlawed but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion, a disbanded group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers, Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future.
Their mission is to watch over humanity...but who is watching the Watchmen?
"Watchmen" is directed by Zack Snyder ("300") and produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Deborah Snyder. The screenplay is by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based upon the graphic novel co-created and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and published by DC Comics. Herbert W. Gains and Thomas Tull are the executive producers, with Wesley Coller serving as co-producer.
Playing the film's core group of "Masks," the adventurers at the center of the story, are Malin Akerman ("27 Dresses") as Laurie Jupiter, aka Silk Spectre II; Billy Crudup ("The Good Shepherd") as Jon Osterman, aka Dr. Manhattan; Matthew Goode ("Match Point") as Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias; Carla Gugino ("Night at the Museum") as Sally Jupiter, aka Silk Spectre; Oscar® nominee Jackie Earle Haley ("Little Children") as Walter Kovacs, aka Rorschach; Jeffrey Dean Morgan (TV's "Grey's Anatomy") as Edward Blake, aka The Comedian; and Patrick Wilson ("Little Children") as Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl II.
Joining Snyder behind the scenes were director of photography Larry Fong ("300"), production designer Alex McDowell ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), editor William Hoy ("300"), costume designer Michael Wilkinson ("300"), and visual effects supervisor John "DJ" DesJardin ("The Kingdom"). The music is by Tyler Bates ("300").
New York, 1985, a world darkened by fear and paranoia. Where regular human beings who once donned masks to fight crime now hide from their identities. Where the ultimate weapon--an all-powerful superbeing--has tilted the global balance of power, pushing the world implacably closer to nuclear midnight. Where desperate men conjure desperate measures in the stark face of Armageddon.
This is the world of "Watchmen," the big-screen adaptation of the most celebrated graphic novel of all time, brought to life for the first time by visionary director Zack Snyder.
Spray-painted across a wall in the shadows of a dark, gritty New York alley is a question that pervades "Watchmen": "Who watches the Watchmen?" Snyder offers, "Who has the right to say what's right and what's wrong? And who monitors those who decide what is right and what is wrong?"
Watchmen first appeared as a 12-issue limited comic book series. It was originally published by DC Comics from 1986 to 1987, then republished as the now-legendary graphic novel. The blood-stained "smiley face" on the cover, the image of a clock face advancing one minute closer to midnight, and the twelve-chapter structure are all emblematic of the richly complex work that has long been credited with elevating the graphic novel to a new art form: Watchmen is the only graphic novel to win the prestigious Hugo Award or to appear on Time magazine's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present." It also earned several Kirby and Eisner Awards.
When it was released, Watchmen resonated with a generation raised with the prospect of nuclear war, not as an abstraction but a palpable reality. It has been praised for giving voice to the anxiety and unease of the times, the fear and awe of power and its abuses, and the cloud of paranoia and impotence experienced every day by average people considered insignificant to the power brokers. In the decades since its publication, it has garnered a legion of diehard fans from all walks of life that continues to grow.
"In the '80s, there was a lot of paranoia about the Cold War, was it going to escalate and what would happen if it did--and how fragile our society was, how very little would have to be done to completely wipe out everything that we had," the graphic novel's co-creator and illustrator Dave Gibbons comments. "That was very real to me. And though it has receded a bit, there are new fears of mass destruction, so I think that paranoia is always going to be there."
Subverting and deconstructing the concept of superheroes, the story introduced a handful of characters that have been called "more human than super", real people who deal with ethical and personal issues, who struggle with neuroses and failings and who, aside from Dr. Manhattan, are without superpowers. The original team of heroes, the Minutemen, was comprised of The Silhouette, Silk Spectre, The Comedian, Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis, Nite Owl, Mothman and Dollar Bill. The next generation of masked adventurers, those at the heart of the graphic novel's mystery, are Silk Spectre II, Nite Owl II, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and The Comedian, who is the only holdover from the Minutemen. Each is a symbol of a different kind of power, obsession, and psychopathology. A different kind of superhero.
Adding to the book's mystique, with its intricate, multi-layered storytelling and dialogue, symbolism and synchronicity, flashbacks and metafiction, Watchmen has long been considered both in a class of its own...and virtually unfilmable.
For over a decade, producers Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin held the faith that it wasn't the latter, nurturing the project and waiting for the right moment and the right filmmaker to bring the book to life in a manner worthy of the work itself. "I read Watchmen when it first came out," Levin relates. "I was a big comic book fan, but I had never read anything like it. It was the first time that I really connected with a graphic novel, just in the sense of feeling that it was my world, the world we all live in. It's a great piece of literature. The clockwork nature of the storytelling, how profoundly it deals with the human condition, the epic nature of the story--all of that makes it a very thrilling and provocative read."
The project fully came together when filmmaker Zack Snyder, while still in production on what would become the blockbuster "300," expressed to the producers his affinity for the graphic novel and desire to direct it. "With Watchmen, there has always been an element of serendipity, coincidence, and timing," says Gibbons. "It seemed to be that this was a good time for it to happen, and Zack was absolutely the right person to do it properly. But none of this would have ever come to pass without the patience and passion of Larry and Lloyd, who wouldn't do it until they could do it right."
Lawrence Gordon offers, "After having worked for over 15 years to get 'Watchmen' made, I couldn't be more thrilled. In every aspect of the production--from developing the screenplay to assembling our creative team, from directing the wonderful cast to realizing the film's look--Zack Snyder did an incredible job."
Snyder's goal was to bring Watchmen to life as it was, not updated to the present, not substantially altered, but to be as true to the work as possible with a motion picture. "Zack respected the source material so much that he knew the only way to adapt it was to hew as close to the source as possible," says the director's wife and producing partner, Deborah Snyder. "Changing the time period, or emphasizing any of the characters over the others, would never serve the story that's told in the graphic novel, which has always been more than the sum of its parts. There were aspects we knew we couldn't include entirely, like Under the Hood, which was Hollis Mason's chronicle of the Minutemen, the first masked adventurers from the 1930s, and Tales of the Black Freighter--but we knew we could do something with these ancillary bits on the DVD. For Zack, the key for doing this massive project was to always stay true to the graphic novel."
"People always said Watchmen was the unfilmable graphic novel," says Zack Snyder. "The story itself is a pretty straightforward mystery, but inside of that, there's this huge plot that has international intrigue and a super-villain and everything you want from a superhero story. There is a tonal quality to every bit of it, from the interaction of the characters to the design structure, whether it be a flashback or a flash forward, or a parallel story being told. It's at once very traditional and also unusual in the way that it's structured. It doesn't owe anything to any specific genre; it's just its own, true to itself and all of its characters."
The screenplay, adapted by David Hayter and Alex Tse, maintained the graphic novel's depiction of superheroes as very human characters subject to the same social and psychological pressures as anyone else. Snyder observes, "With all these characters, you feel that they are deeply loved by their creators, regardless of their flaws or how they're viewed in a real-life context, or what they point to in other icons of superhero mythology."
"Watchmen is more complex in that it doesn't just create an archetypal character; it goes through all the variations of why you would put a costume on, why you would want to fight crime," Gibbons states. "Are you slightly mad? Are you altruistic? And what would happen if you did get super powers and you couldn't care less?"
"Watchmen" unfolds in a world at the brink of war, in which costumed superheroes, called Masks, have been outlawed, driven underground by a society that once revered them but then grew to fear and despise them.
The uniqueness of the project attracted many talents. "We read a lot of actors for the movie," Levin affirms. "Ultimately the cast that emerged were, of course, talented, but also they absolutely believed in the words that they were saying and in the characters they were playing."
"'Watchmen' studies these characters' politics, their sexuality and their philosophy, their deviances and inadequacies," says Patrick Wilson, who plays Nite Owl II. "That's something you haven't seen before in this genre."
Carla Gugino, the film's Sally Jupiter, notes that the prospect of embodying the characters of what she calls "the 'Citizen Kane' of graphic novels" was both daunting and exhilarating. "There was a great amount of responsibility to do it justice," she says. "There was not one person who felt the need to shine more than anybody else. It was a wonderful true ensemble."
Cast as Rorschach, Jackie Earle Haley was struck by the opportunity to portray "the humanity behind the mask," adding, "It explores what the world might be like if people really did dress up in costumes and went into the vigilante business. What are their weaknesses, their morality, the beliefs driving their behavior?"
They also quickly found that Snyder's enthusiasm was infectious. "I've never seen someone more passionate about a project in my life," says Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays The Comedian. "How passionate he is about this novel and making this movie true to it was a sight to behold and it invigorated everybody."
Even before Snyder selected the cast, fans were trying to select it for him. "About three years ago," recalls Haley, "people on the 'Net were suggesting me for the role of Rorschach. At the time I didn't know the novel. I looked it up and was fascinated by it. So when I heard the film was going ahead, I was very pumped and fought like hell to win the part."
The only Mask to openly defy the Keene Act, which outlawed costumed heroes, Rorschach remains vigilant, continuing to haunt the gutters of New York, hunting society's "vermin"...his mask the last thing they see before he metes out his judgment. Rorschach's moral compass has only two directions: right and wrong.
"We live in a complex world of shades of gray, but for Rorschach, the world is black and white," says Haley. "For him, complexity makes no sense. Complexity simply justifies the victimization of himself and everybody who is made to suffer from someone else's special interest."
Rorschach's psychology and sense of honor alike are reflected in the mask he wears, with shifting, mirror image patterns of black and white, like the inkblots of a Rorschach test. "Rorschach has this noirish quality about him," says Snyder. "He is the detective of the story, but at the same time, he is almost psychopathic in his uncompromising pursuit of justice. He's a very fascinating character. He comes from a broken family and grew up on the mean streets, and then gradually, through events both in and out of the mask, he became Rorschach."
The mystery unfolds following Rorschach's discovery that Edward Blake, also known as The Comedian, has been murdered, thrown from his 30th-floor apartment window. A disenchanted killing machine who has spent his years doing unsavory jobs for the government in both war and peacetime, The Comedian sees the world as a dark place where small acts of brutality or heroism alike make little to no difference.
"The Comedian is as American as can be, but he is also the dark side of what America has the potential to be," remarks the director. "He rides that edge; he's always doing some dark job for the government, but he's doing it as a superhero would do it."
To Rorschach, he's nothing short of a super-patriot, an American hero who died in service to his country.
Tonight, a Comedian died in New York, Rorschach writes in his journal. Somebody knows why.
Rorschach believes someone is picking off costumed heroes, of which The Comedian is only the first. He sets out to warn the members of the interconnected group that in past years fought by his side--six souls tied together by fate and the desire to make their own brand of justice. His first visit is to Dan Dreiberg, who, as Nite Owl II, was his partner in the glory days of the Masks.
"Dan was probably the closest friend that Rorschach has ever had on the planet," says Haley. "The police don't like Rorschach. The citizens don't like him. None of the other Masks like him. When he stumbles upon this murder, he is going to pursue it all the way to the end. But I also think there's a little piece of him that sees the murder as a reason the guys should get back together."
Unlike Rorschach, however, Dan has moved on. Prior to assuming the identity of Nite Owl, Dreiberg had been "rich and bored, with this romantic fantasy of fighting crime, being a superhero, of saving and getting the girl," says Patrick Wilson. "He has an old-fashioned sense of values. He sees the good in people. When he went out and fought crime, it was about justice and helping people."
Dan now lives a quiet life and makes weekly visits to his predecessor, the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie), to reminisce over a beer. "Dan has gotten soft physically, politically, sexually..." Wilson notes. "Without the costume on, he doesn't have an identity. He has no place in society and feels impotent in the face of its problems. He's terrified to put the suit on, but you also get the sense he can't live without being Nite Owl."
"It's only when he is confronted with this mystery that's unfolding--his colleagues being murdered--that he begins to see the potential of putting on the old costume," adds Snyder. "Once he gets the costume back on, he realizes that that's who he really is. He's this sort of Everyman who is lost until he rediscovers his purpose."
Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, has already established a new purpose beyond his previous life as a Mask. The world's smartest man and now one of its richest, Veidt retired before the Keene Act and made his fortune exploiting the masked vigilante era in the form of action figures, cartoons, perfumes, books and movies. Nevertheless, he believes he has a higher calling. Obsessed with the exploits of Alexander the Great and the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II (Ozymandias is the Greek name for Rameses II), Veidt seeks to perfect the human condition.
Where Rorschach seeks to punish the guilty, Veidt considers those efforts pointless when everything they know could be obliterated at any minute. "Adrian has a bit of a god complex," explains Matthew Goode, who plays the gilded magnate. "He has this idea that the world needs to be fixed because humanity seems to be broken. We are constantly warring with each other and he believes that no price is too high to get the world to unite in brotherhood."
"That philosophy is in many ways the spine of the movie," Snyder asserts. "How do you reshape humanity and make it peaceful? Can anyone really have that kind of control?"
"They're all just fundamentalists, in a way," says Billy Crudup, who plays Dr. Manhattan, the only Mask with true superpowers. "They see a threatening world where their only recourse is to take matters into their own hands, and their desire to order a disordered world overcomes morality. But Jon believed in the goodness of his country, in following the designs of his leaders."
Before the accident in a nuclear lab that forever altered his life, Dr. Manhattan was Jon Osterman, the son of a watchmaker, a brilliant physicist and "a quintessential '50s male," says Crudup, the actor behind the blue light that emanates from Manhattan's body.
Though Manhattan chose to join the informal group of Masks, the others are, by comparison, "people who play dress up," Crudup states. "They are vigilantes. They don't believe in the stability of the government. They don't believe in the community's capacity to take care of itself. Osterman was the exact opposite: someone who was by the book, believed in the stability of his country and the morality of his government. He did whatever they wanted. And initially after he becomes Dr. Manhattan, he continues to do it."
The accident transformed Jon Osterman into a superbeing, who experiences past, present and future at once and has the power to control matter itself. "He didn't put himself back together as mortal; he put himself back together as a deity," says Crudup.
Comparing Dr. Manhattan to the existence of a nuclear bomb, Snyder remarks, "It became a force in itself in that its existence changed the way we looked at everything. I think in some ways that's what Manhattan represents--this ability to save us or destroy us at the same moment. The implications of this new power are tremendous: Is he truly on our side? What if that power goes away or turns on us? How do you relate to that as a person? He brings into question so many things about our own way of thinking."
As Manhattan moves further into the limitless dimensions of time and matter, he commences a gradual disconnection from humanity and ambivalence about its existence. "He has apathy for almost everything, except for the inner workings of the atom," attests Crudup. "He sees the way the universe works. Humanity has a variable that physics doesn't seem to have. Physics is an ordered world to be discovered. And human interaction is a chaotic world to be taught through harsh experience. It becomes frustrating and burdensome to the point that I think he just doesn't care anymore."
"He longs for a relationship in a sense, but at the same time he's outside of his ability to connect to humans," describes Snyder. "He can see your subatomic particles; therefore you become an abstraction to him and it's hard to relate to that abstraction.
"What would that do to you as a person?" Snyder asks. "What does that do to your relationships with other people, with humanity?"
The one human being with a genuine connection to Dr. Manhattan is Laurie Jupiter, aka Silk Spectre II, who fell in love with Manhattan as a teenager. Laurie is played by Malin Akerman, who offers, "Laurie was head over heels in love with him, but as he grows more and more distant, there's nothing left for her in the relationship. His work comes before her in her eyes. She feels him falling out of love with her and the more he drifts away, the more she loses her identity."
After the murder of The Comedian, Laurie reconnects with Dan Dreiberg, who shares her inchoate sense of loss. "Reconnecting with Dan gives Laurie back her sense of being a woman," Akerman affirms. "Someone is looking at her, for the first time in God knows how many years, as one human being to another. That reconnection reignites the fire that used to be there as Silk Spectre, the need for the adrenaline rush."
"Their common bond is that they have the same memories of fighting crime," adds Wilson. "They've since become regular human beings just trying to muddle through life without any special powers, moral certainty or superhuman brilliance. Laurie opens Dan up to putting the suit on again. It's the thing that he's most terrified of and the thing he wants more than anything. He just needed somebody to look him in the eye and say, 'Let's do it.'"
Laurie had been pushed into the role of superhero as an adolescent by her mother, Sally Jupiter, who had been the first Silk Spectre. "As Silk Spectre II, Laurie learned to fight like a man," says Akerman. "She was this strong, powerful woman and, in spite of her reluctance to be a Mask, somewhere inside she loved it."
The vampy Sally Jupiter now lives in a retirement community in California and spends her time reminiscing about the limelight she once enjoyed as a rare female crime fighter. "Sally is from the old school of superheroes, the same as The Comedian," says Snyder. "She represents to me the golden age of superheroes. They were almost like movie stars then. So, in a lot of ways, she's like a faded movie star who was never able to recapture that same glory and spotlight that she had in her heyday."
Carla Gugino describes her character as someone who "likes to think of herself as a little more polished than she really is. Sally definitely wanted to fight crime but she also wanted the attention. As she aged she foisted that upon her daughter. Sally's a very complex character who has been through a lot, but much of the drama was self-induced. This is a woman who in her heart of hearts is in love with The Comedian, even though they were never really able to be together."
Sally and Edward Blake, aka The Comedian, were intensely attracted to each other during the golden years of the Minutemen, the original group of superheroes. But their relationship was irreparably marred by an encounter that changed both their lives. "That was the moment that everything changed for Edward Blake," asserts Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays the role. "That's when the true lone wolf came about. He realized he didn't have the skills to convey his feelings; instead, he hurt the woman he's in love with. After that, his whole life is spent virtually alone. I don't know what kind of existence that would be for somebody. I think there's something incredibly sad about The Comedian. I think he wants so much more than he's been able to have in his life. He's a lost soul. The only time he isn't alone is in the midst of a war, with his buddies behind him. He laughs through the worst of it because the little things don't matter for him. Even death doesn't matter to him - until that moment when he realizes what's really going on."
Morgan provided at once the charisma and the brutality of his character. "There's duality in every role, but particularly in The Comedian," says Deborah Snyder. "When he's firing on a mob during riots, it makes you wonder, 'Who's better, the angry mob or The Comedian?' The way Jeffrey plays him, you shouldn't really like this guy and yet you do."
From New York to Mars, plots and conspiracies are unfolding with the fate of all life on earth suspended in the hands of a few. As the Doomsday Clock moves to near-midnight and humanity falls into its shadow, these masked heroes--lonely or megalomaniacal, compassionate or disturbed, loving or outcast, human or superhuman--must decide if they can make a difference, if the world is theirs to make or if, in the end, their fate is to simply find comfort in their mission or each other as the pieces of history fall into place around them.
"Who makes the world?" muses Dave Gibbons. "I guess it's the people in it. It's planning, because people do nothing if not plan. But, at the end of the day, I believe plain luck and happenstance are much more important factors than any of us thinks; they're woven throughout the fabric of reality. No matter how carefully you plan or however many people want something, it still doesn't mean it's going to happen. I think in the end, you have to bow to the greater power of the universe."
See Also: Watchmen - UK River Event - 4th March 2009 / Watchmen - From Panels To Frames / This Week Clips From Watchmen Will Be Popping Up All Over / Watchmen - World Premiere - Photo Gallery / Watchmen - Malin Akerman As Silk Spectre II / Watchmen - Rorschach's Transforming Mask / Exclusive Watchman Footage Available On iTunes / Wizard Magazine Announces Their Best Of 2008 Winners / Warner Bros - Comic Con Preview - Watchmen And More! / Warner Bros - Comic Con 2008 Sneak Previews