Watching the Watchmen Trailer: A Detailed Analysis

Weekly Ketchup's (and Watchmen fan) Greg Dean Schmitz walks us through the teaser trailer.

by | July 24, 2008 | Comments

Last week saw the release of the first Watchmen trailer, whetting the appetites of fans of the highly-acclaimed graphic novel. A film version of Watchmen has been in and out of development for almost 10 years, but the long wait will finally be over next March.

However, there are plenty of people out there who may not be very familiar with what Watchmen is all about. So Weekly Ketchup columnist (and huge Watchmen fan) Greg Dean Schmitz has put together a detailed analysis of what’s happening in the teaser trailer, based on his extensive knowledge of the original graphic novel. If you want to watch the trailer first, click here, then check Greg’s notes on watching the Watchmen.



Watchmen

The Legendary Pictures logo follows the Warner Bros and Paramount logos. Throughout its long history, the Watchmen movie adaptation started at Warner Bros (corporate cousin to DC Comics) and then spent some time at Paramount until budget concerns caused them to put it in turnaround. Legendary Pictures is on a hot streak, with their past projects including 300, Superman Returns and the two Christopher Nolan Batman movies, and their future slate includes the World of Warcraft movie and the remake of Clash of the Titans.



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There is irony in the DC Comics logo here. First, Watchmen is the only movie scheduled for 2009 based upon a comic book published by the company, even though it is not in fact set in their proprietary “DC Universe”, home to characters like Batman and Superman, and there is a rocky history between Watchmen creator Alan Moore and the company.



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The man on our side of that door is Dr. Jonathan Osterman. Very soon, he’ll be getting a very big surprise. And a name change.



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The woman whose face we can see in the left reflection is most likely Janey Slater, Dr. Osterman’s coworker and budding girlfriend. Her watch recently broke, and Jon offered to fix it. However, as an experiment is about to begin, he dashed back in here to get the watch… and then the door closed. Oops. That makes Dr. Osterman a real “Watch Man” of sorts.



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Watchmen will be released in 2009, but the setting is actually an alternate reality version of 1985, with several flashbacks to previous decades, starting with the 1940s, when Dr. Osterman’s current predicament is set.



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At first glance, you might think Dr. Osterman is shocked to see the hairs on his arm standing up, and they are, but probably more “shocking” to him is that we can also see electric arcs (more obvious in video).



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One way the Watchmen budget was kept relatively low was by avoiding big-name stars. Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Jesus’ Son) is probably the closest the movie’s main characters get to being played by a fairly well-known movie actor (not counting Jeffrey Dean Morgan from TV’s Supernatural or Carla Gugino, whose role is smaller, though important). Billy Crudup will be co-starring with Johnny Depp and Christian Bale next summer as J. Edgar Hoover.



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The trailer is heavy with “watch” imagery, such as the gears that are pounding away behind this subtitle, but really, the first five letters of Watchmen refer more to the use of the word as a verb than as a noun.



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And, there’s that watch he was looking for. But, perhaps that isn’t his biggest concern right now.

I wish I could give you some sort of brilliant insight on the other detail in this shot, the pattern on his tie, but all I can think of is that it sort of looks like a fractal pattern, something which I would think Dr. Manhattan would LOVE. That might not be what it is intended to resemble, but I think it’s a strong guess.



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Yeah, that’s going to leave a mark. A huge blue one.



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This is the first of several images in the trailer that pays direct visual homage to one of Dave Gibbons’ iconic comic book panels from the graphic novel. Also note the way that Jon’s body is exploding in rays at specific angles, because it draws a parallel to the last scene seen in this trailer, awesomely.



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Comic book movies are very big on telling the story of one hero, but Watchmen is very definitely an ensemble piece. So, after seeing a shortened version of the Dr. Manhattan origin story, we next see Nite Owl’s airship, which uses technology created by Dr. Manhattan that sort of sidesteps the way aviation progressed in our own reality. In the world of Watchmen, it’s blimps that are the mainstream. You can see one heading in to dock at the top of the Empire State Building in the background of this shot. I also should note that the way the airship bursts out of the water is pretty much a direct homage of a panel from the comic book.

Something else happens during this shot, which is that this is where we realize that the music that’s been propelling the trailer is actually a song by Smashing Pumpkins, “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning”, which was the B-side of a similarly titled song (“The End is the Beginning is the End”) that the band recorded for (of all movies), Batman and Robin. Oh, sweet irony, that the B-side of a song for one of the worst superhero movies ever ends up being the trailer song for one of the most promising superhero movies ever. Anyway, the sound editors do a great job of using very select lyrics from the song (and out of order). The lyric for this scene is “Send a hearbeat to, the void that cries through you.”



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Crashing down through a burning roof is Laurie Juspeczyk, who inherited her mother’s superhero name of Silk Spectre. Silk Spectre II is played by a relative newcomer to movie audiences, Swedish-Canadian actress Malin Akerman. Jumping to a completely different segment of the original Smashing Pumpkins song (without missing a beat to suggest the song has skipped), the lyric here is appropriately, “The pale princess of a…”



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This is our first glimpse of Dan Dreiberg, AKA Nite Owl, who like Silk Spectre, is actually the second person to use that name, so he’s more appropriately referred to as Nite Owl II. He’s looking very spry in this shot, but in the graphic novel, he frequently comes across more as chubby and out of shape. That particular aspect of Dan Dreiberg is one of the (few) nitpicks that Watchmen fans have about the movie version. Of course, we don’t know how hard it might have been for Daniel to get into that costume. Nite Owl II is played by Patrick Wilson, another actor not really that known to most movie goers (yet). The song continues here, “…palace…”, which is ironic considering this shot is set in a prison.



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We meet Eddie Blake, AKA The Comedian, in this trailer in a fashion very similar to how he’s introduced in the first issue of the graphic novel: as an imminent corpse. Since it starts the movie off, it’s not really a spoiler to say that it is Blake’s death, implied here, that sets off the course for the rest of the movie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural) therefore spends nearly the entire movie in flashback. Now, to say who that shadowy figure on the left is… THAT would be a spoiler. And, as Eddie goes through the window, the Smashing Pumpkin line concludes with “…cracked…”, referring to what just happened to the both the glass, and most likely, Eddie’s spine.



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The other major nitpick Watchmen fans (though I should note, they seem mostly really, really happy with what they have seen over the last several months) is who/what you see right here: Ozymandias, as played by British actor Matthew Goode, who will be costarring in the new movie version of Brideshead Revisited next year. First, Goode is perceived as being too young, and secondly, the Ozymandias costume just seems very “Schumachy”, as in the Joel Schumacher-directed Batman movies. Specifically: nipples.

In the background, that is Richard Nixon, still enjoying the office of president more than 10 years after he resigned in disgrace in our reality. You’ll see a big part of how he was able to keep his job later in this trailer. If you didn’t get that the actor is supposed to be Nixon, his name appears in the second top TV from the left.

The Smashing Pumpkins lyric here (slightly muddled with the previous shot) is “And now the kingdom comes”, which is both a Biblical reference, and also (I think) a sly suggestion of what epic DC superhero graphic novel should get this sort of big movie love next.



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Here’s our friend, Dr. Osterman, again. He’s still having some minor problems. We’ll see (a lot) more of him later.



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We see here Dr. Osterman trying to put his body back together. The graphic novel is a bit more… graphic, but they might have just been trying to keep the various internal organs out of the trailer to avoid grossing people out.



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This is another shot of Nite Owl’s airship, from the same fire rescue scene that our earlier introduction to Silk Spectre was from. More notable, however, is the way the fire is used to cut into our next shot. The Smashing Pumpkins lyric kicks back in with “The world is lost…”



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Meet Rorschach. He’s crazy. Really, there’s no other way to introduce him. The lyric continues from the previous shot with “…and blown”, which is sort of a reference (I think) to the fiery gas about to come from his hairspray can.



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As the camera peels back, we get a better look at Rorschach’s mask, which is made of a material that shimmies across his face like a fluid, creating an ever-changing pattern that looks like the Rorschach tests from which he gets his crime fighter name (that fluidity is better seen in a later shot). Rorschach is played by Jackie Earle Haley, who got his start as a teen actor, costarring in Breaking Away and the original 1970s Bad News Bears movies. It’s an understatement to say Rorschach is quite a departure from those roots. Interestingly, this shot leaves out what we can see in the graphic novel scene, which are the people that Rorschach is attacking with that impromptu flamethrower of his.



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Silk Spectre II again, in what can best be described as a super chick glamor shot. Girl, you better work. In the first X-Men movie, Cyclops and Wolverine joked about yellow spandex, but Silk Spectre wears hers with pride. The Smashing Pumpkins lyric here is (sexily) “…and we are flesh and blood…”



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Again (and like the graphic novel), the trailer mixes images in transition, and here is Silk Spectre II mooshed together with Dr. Manhattan, AKA our friend Dr. Osterman. Right around here, as we see Dr. Manhattan come into view, the lyric line concludes with “…disintegrate.”



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Remember when I said we’d see a lot more of Dr. Osterman, AKA Dr. Manhattan? First off, in this scene, he shows off his ability to create multiple copies of himself, but to make this scene even more creepy, and erotic, is to point out that this is a bedroom scene, as can be detected by the fact that all three Dr. Manhattans are nude (most obvious on the Dr. on the right). That pattern on Dr. Manhattan’s forehead(s) is the chemical sign for hydrogen, which he chose since it is the simplest of the elements.



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Nite Owl gets a big hero pose in this shot, jumping down, and then landing in a cool crouch. The song kicks in pretty strong here, but the lyric really applies to the next shot.



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This is another image that is a direct homage to one of the panels from the graphic novel. Perfectly done. This image of a funeral is set to the lyric, “And in your darkest hour…”



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The use of the flag for the funeral of this particular person is undoubtedly a tongue-in-cheek political statement. Whoever it is… he or she was either not a particularly sterling example of good old fashioned American values, or a perfect example, depending upon your perspective, no doubt.



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Of course, I have no idea who I’m talking about in that previous shot. Oh, look, it’s our friend, Eddie Blake, this time in his 1960s-era costume as the Comedian. What’s he doing with that flamethrower? Ouch.



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The Comedian looks way too happy, having just roasted that hapless soldier alive. Appropriately, the lyric here is “…I hold secrets flame.” Please note the smiley face pin. That’s kind of important.



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Here, the trailer teases a bit. With that fedora and trenchcoat, you’d think that is Rorschach throwing that molotov cocktail into that window, but it’s not, according to director Zack Snyder. What we are seeing is an example of the mass rioting that led to the outlawing of masked vigilantes in the world of Watchmen, as well as a glimpse of the story’s signature graffiti, “Who watches the Watchmen?”

Also, although most of the protestors are wearing what could be described as fairly era-appropriate 1970s garb (think Taxi Driver), the look of the lady in the red jacket on the right is also very much an homage to the fashion style that Dave Gibbons created, imagining how superheroes might have changed the way people dressed over the years. The lyric for this sequence is “We can watch the world, devoured in its pain.” This is also the last Smashing Pumpkins lyric. From now on, the only voices heard will be character voiceovers.



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Even more amazing than how beautifully the CGI people capture the look of Dr. Manhattan is that a trailer with full frontal nudity is being shown in front of a PG-13 rated movie that has broken so many box office records. I tastefully chose a frame where a spoon is floating in front of Manhattan’s junk, because the theme of Dr. Manhattan making items float in the air in swirling patterns is something that comes up very much so in other parts of Watchmen (see also: the last shot in the trailer). There is no lyric for this shot, but right before it, while the screen is black, following the molotov cocktail scene, there is a voice saying “God help us all.” I don’t recall that line being in the book, but it sounds like Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian to me (and it also makes sense, though it’s spoilery).



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Zack Snyder has, as far as I can tell, quite possibly knocked Watchmen out of the park, but audiences don’t need this tagline to know that he’s the director. All those slo-mo shots give it away. The thing is, slow motion is indeed a very good way (Snyder is showing us) to replicate artwork from comic books. By slowing the action down, the eye very easily makes the connection. Having said that, it can also come across as very gimmicky.



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This is such a beautiful shot, which I think for the first time ever in live action, nicely captures what it might be like to actually be intimate with a god-like being like Dr. Manhattan (a charge I’d say the Superman movies never really got right in all of their Lois Lane romance storylines). Please note that Silk Spectre II’s mole is exactly where it should be.



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“Most Celebrated” is probably an understatement, as Watchmen has received accolades from both within and outside the comic book industry over the last 20+ years that are matched by pretty no other title. I suppose “celebrated” covers both awards and regular fan adulation.



Watchmen

We return to our friend, Eddie Blake, whose penthouse is filled with easter egg stuff, but I can only confirm two things from this shot. First up, there’s a copy of Hustler in the foreground. Eddie’s not the kind of guy who sees any reason to hide his porn, apparently. On a similar tip, as Eddie punches the wall, behind him, there is a sexy vintage poster from the 1940s of the original Silk Spectre (Laurie’s mom), played by Carla Gugino. It’s very telling that Eddie would have that in his living room. Finally, I should address the way Eddie punches the wall, which one might interpret as meaning that he has super strength. He doesn’t, so I think it’s more of a matter that he is so full of emotion (and possibly not the one you think), that he’s willing to probably break his hand with that swing.



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This shot reveals a very cool little casting maneuver that serves to pay homage to a TV show and character very much in step with the setting and tone of Watchmen. That’s Moloch, a retired magician turned villain, that Rorschach is hassling, and he is played by Matt Frewer, whose biggest claim to fame is that he was Max Headroom back in the 1980s.



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We don’t really see him that clearly in this shot, but this scene brings us back to Ozymandias, which is an opportunity to discuss him a bit more. Like all other characters in Watchmen except Dr. Manhattan, Adrian Veidt doesn’t have any actual super powers, but he has honed his body to a degree that he is able to accomplish at least one extraordinary thing, but to say what that is would be a spoiler. For those familiar with the book who know what I mean, check out the way his left hand seems to be holding something (though that might just be his fist).



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Another Veidt/Ozymandias shot, another chance to explain him a bit more. When the government made being a superhero illegal, Ozymandias was the guy who was smart enough to take the good things of super heroism, and… make a lot of money out of them. For example, his company makes action figures for both Ozymandias, but also other super heroes like Nite Owl. The official site ran a YouTube contest for commercials for Veidt Enterprises, and one of the better finalists is for those action figures. Anyway, another thing to spot in this shot is the Egyptian imagery on the door in the background (there’s a similar eye on his belt).



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This image of Nite Owl is probably the hardest to place in the trailer, because there is no scene in the graphic novel in which he screams like this. However, I think I can spot just a tiny trace of frost or ice, which means that this is probably from a scene towards the end of the movie. Much more than *that*, I’m not going to divulge or spoil!



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Remember how Nixon is still president in 1985? Well, the next few images address, right here in the trailer, how exactly that could be. Basically, Nixon used Dr. Manhattan as a walking nuclear bomb in an assault on Vietnam in 1971, ending the war handily in two months, to the degree that by the time Watchmen starts, Vietnam has become the 51st state! This Viet Cong soldier won’t see that happen, because there is a giant blue man behind him.



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Simply put, events like this are why all those people were protesting super heroes.



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Amidst the horror of what he is doing for his country, this image of Dr. Manhattan is still a beautiful stunner, recalling (strangely) Apocalypse Now while also being remarkably close to the original Dave Gibbons art. There is a painterly grace to the CGI work being done on Dr. Manhattan, especially in this shot. For just a second, you might almost doubt that this is even a live action movie (in a good way).



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More protesting, in another shot that is intended to send the message to all the die hard Watchmen fans that Snyder is striving to NAIL the classic imagery of the graphic novel. Here, we see The Comedian and Nite Owl in his airship, hovering over an angry mob that is about to have a serious hurt put down upon it. The only noticeable change is that in the comic, The Comedian is wearing a different (scarier) mask. Another voiceover plays over this scene, but this time it’s clearly Rorschach, because he’s saying a very famous line from the comic book, although it’s changed a bit, to “The world will look up and shout, ‘Save us!'” In the comic, instead of “world” he says “politicians and whores,” which better conveys the type of paranoid freak that Rorschach is, but… I can see how the more generic “world” works, as well.



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Here we see Rorschach, lording over the people who he despises, and yet still “protects.” Rorschach’s voiceover from the previous scene continues here with “…and I will whisper, “No.”



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This is the moment in the trailer when we actually see the liquid in Rorschach’s mask move across his face. Pay special attention to the right side (his left) if you missed it the first time.



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Here, we see Dr. Manhattan showing off his clockwork castle on the surface of Mars to Silk Spectre II. Both characters are obviously CGI, but somehow, I’m totally okay with that. I’d rather get my eye candy straight up, than have “reality” get all mixed up in there, sometimes.



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As we pull back to see Manhattan’s clockwork castle float above the Martian surface, with the sun’s rays piercing through, I think it’s very interesting to note that the shape resembles not just a clock, but specifically a (W)atch. Another thing to think about is that one could (and I have) draw a parallel between the spikes in this structure, and the way Dr. Manhattan’s body exploded, back in the beginning of the trailer.



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One last trip through those floating clockworks that we saw throughout, and we get the title of the movie, using the same color and font as the comic book.



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Here you have the obligatory website mention, followed by…



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…the release date, with its unique date that brilliantly calls to mind the three corners of the clock (3, 6 and 9) that lead up to the end of the hour, except we’re not just there yet, as the smear on the happy face reminds us.