Reality and popular culture in Watchmen
Not only is Moore’s novel an important element of popular culture, the film adaptation by Zack Snyder, in addition, abounds with fine detail of the latter, that are not even present within the comics themselves that much. But that kind of approach in directing adds a special charm to the movie in such a way that it can basically be understood as a tribute and a regard to popular culture itself, to which the film, like its source material, now belongs. Let’s examine some of the examples.
Starting from the opening credits – a part of the movie that is basically composed entirely of references to popular culture and the culture and history of the second half of the 20th century in general, through a series of scenes we can clearly see a chronological sequence of events taking place in the mentioned period of our (alternate) history. Adjusted to the story of Watchmen, the sequence shows us how it is exactly that our superheroes contributed to our world. The whole scene is magnificently composed, with a slight presence of slow motion, while in the background we can hear a great pop-cultural example, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Bob Dylan.
Events in the scene start from the ‘40s, when the first group of superheroes, the Minutemen, was formed.
The first thing that catches the eye is “Enola Gay” – the first plane in history to have dropped the atomic bomb, back in 1945. But instead of “Enola Gay”, the words “Miss Jupiter” are written on the side of the plane and above the letters, clearly depicted, is a woman holding an American flag. That woman is Sally Jupiter a.k.a. Silk Spectre, a member of Minutemen.
Furthermore, we see a newspaper article about the victory over Japan – obviously, it is the end of World War II and along that scene, taking place in New York’s Times Square, a member of Minutemen, Silhouette, kisses her “girlfriend” dressed as a nurse – an event that is a reference to the famous photograph “V-J Day in Times Square” where an American sailor is kissing a nurse, during the celebration of the end of the War.
Later, we see Leonid Brezhnev and Fidel Castro combine forces at the Kremlin, followed by a scene of hippie peace protests during the Vietnam War, where a girl puts a flower in a rifle barrel of a National Guard soldier – a recreated version of the well known photograph.
One of the last scenes includes Andy Warhol during an exhibition (interestingly enough, instead of Marilyn Monroe in varied colors, Warhol’s well-known work includes portraits of Nite Owl, of course, one of the Crimebusters).
After that comes one of my favorites – the Moon landing. During the scene, we can see Dr. Manhattan in the reflection of Armstrong’s helmet, while Armstrong pronounces the famous sentence, still considered to be an urban legend – “Good luck, Mr. Gorsky.”
In the last scene of the sequence, Zack Snyder tries to explain the concept behind the phrase “Watchmen”. We see Nixon on TV through a shop window – he has been elected President of the United States for the third time. Next to the shop window, a man is drawing graffiti on the wall that says “Who watches the Watchmen”. A massive riot is taking place on the streets…
Throughout the whole movie, there are various further references to events from our culture, but besides the obvious facts and scenes depicted in the movie, there is another element with which the movie shows its loyalty to popular culture and that is the way “Watchmen” is presented as an audiovisual product.
Since technology has progressed tremendously, movies today look simply incredible. Zack Snyder takes full advantage of the benefits of this technology, in his movie “300”, as well as in “Watchmen”. The visual effects in this movie are tremendous. The palettes are strong and colorful and the characters and environments often look almost as if they were drawn, although they are alive (not to mention the frequently used slow motion effects that additionally highlight the surreal representation of it all).
In addition, music is a key factor in completing the impression. Many movies put contemporary music to great use, but in “Watchmen” this is honed to perfection. The tune “Flight of the Valkyries” in a Vietnam War scene is a great reference to popular culture, and the song “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel perfectly fits the scene of the funeral of one of the main characters.
Bearing all this in mind, the movie gives rise to a different meaning and deflects from the comic books. It deflects exactly in terms of popular culture.
Through all the numerous pop-cultural references and the stylized visual representation, the movie kind of loses something that was in the core of its source material, the comic book. The grey area of this world Alan Moore tried to convey in his work, actually “fades” away in the movie by giving much more significance to the mentioned references and the stylized representation to the point that it has pop-art screaming out of it.
Ultimately, the movie manages to deliver the message of the brutal reality, although with lots of colorful effects, thanks to Zack Snyder’s vision in which body parts need to be ripped apart because it’s what makes the world go round.