HBO’s Watchmen mini-series is a cold, strange affair. Opening (quite curiously) during the peak of the Tulsa Race Riots that decimated what was colloquially known as the Black Wall Street (a wealthy, predominantly black district in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1900s), we’re thrown into a world that had already boiled over into restless violence. It was a curious way to start the series a series which — at least for now — seems to be a sequel to the graphic novel, not the 2009 movie. Thankfully…
Following decades after Adrian Veidt’s (Jeremy Irons) release of the psychic squid-alien, decimation of millions of New Yorkers, subsequent seeming exile and legal death, the world seems primed for another explosion of vigilante violence. Curiously, American police forces — hindered by bureaucracy to the point of being unable to even draw a weapon without remote authorization — are predisposed to wearing masks and utilizing alter egos.
One of these erstaz cops, Angela Abar/Sister Night (Regina King) is on the trail of a right wing military group, the Seventh Kavalry, a broad-reaching militia targeting cops, and inspired by the fascistic ramblings of Rorschach. After a fellow officer is gunned down, she works in tandem with Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) to uncover what a paramilitary group would want with tons of old batteries (the old kind, when they still were made with lithium).
References to President Robert Redford –and the racially-motivated “Redfordrations”, reparations for victims of racially charged violence– make this a more thematically interesting series, one whose finger is directly under our fraught socio-political pulse; thus, Watchmen likewise ties into both the opening scene, and the main setting.
Little details abound and make a rich world– if not a very straightforward one. Airships float in the sky; police forces (or at least one) have retrofitted Nite Owl’s Owlship; smiley face motifs abound; the references to the proliferation of new elements (a residual effect of the exiled Doctor Manhattan’s existence); hell, it even rains squids (no doubt a residual effect of the transdimensional gateway that ended Watchmen‘s original plot) are thrown at the viewer with little to no point of reference or explanation.
And I, for one, love that aspect. This isn’t a series slowing down to spoon feed anything to its audience; and its use of race and racial enmity is proving interesting. And, for good reason: the original roster of Watchmen main characters is as white as mayonnaise and Swiss on white bread. Untoasted. No crust, please.
Due to both the setting and the main cast –and the aforementioned socio-political underpinnings– I appreciate the attempt (at least) to not merely retread old ground, or to retell the same story Zack Snyder told (to varying degrees of success) a decade ago. If this truly is a “remix”, of sorts, as showrunner/producer/writer Damon Lindelof initially proclaimed, it was a wise choice.
But Lindelof has a bit of baggage to carry. He is certainly one for promising big payoffs to little effect, but what this pilot shows is promising. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is fantastic, invoking a darker, more brooding soundtrack evocative of early Philip Glass. The cinematography by Andrij Parekh, and direction by Nicole Kassell, are considerably more successful in translating the grit, grime, uncertainty, and gloom of the original comic series. This was sorely missed in Snyder’s adaptation. Say what you will, but his film was much too flashy, glossy, and “clean” to invoke the tone of the comic successfully. For that alone, I applaud this adaptation.
But…it isn’t for people unfamiliar with the comic. It doesn’t stop for a moment to catch anyone up. I had to summarize the entire comic series to my fiance once the credits rolled….(but she was invested in the story). For an adaptation (or “remix”, or whatever this might be), we’ll see where this goes. There are a bunch of overarching questions here, and we’ll see how they pay off…but for whatever this is, I’m game.
I’m just not sure whether anyone else might be…understandably so. 3/5 Raining Squids.