Shot by Shot with HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ Trailer

The Doomsday Clock never stops…
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By  · Published on May 9th, 2019

We can all relax. We now have an understanding of the direction Damon Lindelof will take Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ iconic comic book series Watchmen. Few storylines have held such a stranglehold on a particular sect of pop culture, and the dread sparked online by the very notion of an HBO sequel sent me into cold sweats.

I get it. The comic was a major force, revolutionizing the industry and redeeming the medium in the eyes of some. But folks, the book came out 34 years ago. Since then we’ve seen prequel stories, Zack Snyder’s theatrical adaptation, his director’s cut, and his ultimate cut. Currently, DC Comics is slowly publishing its own sequel where the Watchmen characters are being squished alongside Superman and Batman. We’re ready for an even more liberal interpretation of this universe.

Wow. Ok. While Lindelof is absolutely riffing on the narrative and imagery of the comic book, he appears to be formulating something utterly unique. There is a lot to scrounge through here with many more new characters than old. That’s exciting in its own right. So, let’s hit this trailer shot by shot.

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A yellow HBO logo fades as the first shot focuses on a masked individual grimly speaking into the camera, “We are no one. We are everyone.” The man counters his blah plaid collared shirt with a very distinctive imitation of the classic Rorschach stocking. In the graphic novel, Dave Gibbons often altered the vigilante’s pattern from scene to scene. Zack Snyder’s adaptation expressed this through an unexplainable technology that allowed the inkblots to shift across the face continuously. Lindelof’s idol worshippers don’t have the money for such fanciful affectations.

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As the camera pulls back on the first Rorschach, we meet an entire goon squad. Their spokesman resumes, “And we are invisible.” The first issue of Watchmen was published in 1986 and takes place in some alternate version of that decade where Richard Nixon remained in office, and masked individuals waged wars in the streets. At that story’s climax, we learned that businessman and one-time superhero Adrian Veidt falsified an alien invasion to bring world leaders together against a common enemy. However, global peace based on a lie did not sit well with the anti-hero Rorschach, and when he threatened to expose the truth to the public, the god-being known as Dr. Manhattan vaporized him. The final panels reveal that Rorschach recorded his thoughts in a journal and it has arrived in the mailbox of the right-wing newspaper The New Frontiersman. Based on the gathering here we can assume that a few eyes at least received Rorschach’s journal, and his rage endures in these men.

Behind them, we see a crucifixion tilted almost like the hand of a clock just past midnight. Above that, we read the words of Psalm 65, “Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion.” The basic gist being that the faithful are eager to sing the praise of their God and sever His/Her purpose. In this case, Rorschach and the other “heroes” who fell in attempting to bring truth to the people. We hear the first tick of a clock, and we cut to –

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– a pocket watch with the hands reading nine minutes to midnight. In Watchmen mythology, midnight on the clock represents doomsday or the threat of total nuclear annihilation as a result of the Cold War boiling between the United States and the Soviet Union. Throughout the series, watches hold tremendous significance forever warning an end to all things. Before he was Dr. Manhattan, Jon Osterman was the son of a watchmaker. He planned to follow his father into the profession, but after the atomic detonation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Osterman threw himself into scientific study. His experiments with the government would eventually grant him control over matter, remove his sense of humanity, and grant him a kind of omnipotence.

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While the Rorschach leader whispers “tick-tock” on repeat, we cut to a gathering of police officers sporting their own camouflage. Is this a matter of “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality? Despite having survived the events of Watchmen, characters like Dr. Manahattan, Nite-Owl, and Silk Spectre are absent from this trailer; suggesting that the O.G. crimefighters have gone into hiding. They may have sparked the imagination of the public consciousness, and as a result, government agencies adopt their fashion choices.

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Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) states that “We convinced ourselves that they were gone, but they were just hibernating.” The Rorschach army is a threat to everything polite society built in the wake of the unifying alien invasion. Crawford’s officers have suffered a loss. The best defense is a strong offense. The “tick-tock” chanting continues. War begins.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)