It was the era of hyper-charged politics. A vague but horrifying threat loomed in the horizon. Armageddon was one button-push away. Ronald Reagan was seriously considering putting up satellites that would shoot down missiles in space using lasers. It was an absurd, but politically tumultuous time.
In this political climate, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created a 12-issue serialized comic densely packed with political and social commentary. With such rich source material, Zack Snyder, the director of Watchmen, had a bevy of choices to make when he decided to adapt the work to the silver screen.
"One of the interesting things about Watchmen is that it shows that super hero politics and superpower politics are similar," says Snyder. "What we learn from Watchmen is that the morality of policing your neighbours-- or the morality of being a vigilante in the case of superheroes-- is a slippery slope."
Fast-forward 15 years since the original publication of the comic in 1986: the unthinkable happened-- terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center. Before the attack on the WTC, an attack on American soil seemed, at best, absurd. The famous ending of the Watchmen, where part of New York was obliterated, seemed to be a little bit more realistic. Snyder wanted to help tie-in these worries into the film, altering the imagery to better suit his purpose.
"When the graphic novel was written, an attack on New York seemed like abstract and impossible," says Snyder. "We now know that the reality of what the graphic novel is getting at has a much deeper resonance with what we know. The World Trade Center stands as a symbol to that."
This is best seen in the film during Ozymandias' introduction. Standing in front of a massive window, the New York skyline jutting from the ground, the World Trade Center proudly stands above all other buildings. Snyder says these kinds of choices were definitely intentional.
"We were conscious of the World Trade Center constantly, of course," he says. "The irony of the ending in the book is that the World Trade Center is the only thing that isn't touched by what happened in New York."
For people who may be incensed with the decision to show the towers in the film, Snyder says that the choice is to make people aware of the event's role in shaping our society.
"You can't deny the impact of 9/11 on our culture," he explains. "You're aware of it all the time. If you look at the graphic novel, [the World Trade Center] does play a part. They roll in the skyline of New York City. They always have."
While the film's political and philosophical underpinnings are integral to its telling, Snyder felt that one of the lynchpin scenes of the ending needed to be re-focused. Instead of letting the scene play out as a battle between ideologies, Snyder chose to play the scene in a more affecting light.
"When Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach have their run-in at the end of the movie, I was so overwhelmed by philosophy when I originally read it that I didn't think of it as emotional," says Snyder. "That scene, for me anyway, is an emotional scene. When I see that go down, I see it as emotional. I see it as these characters coming to this emotional conclusion."
This may be the biggest difference between the book and the novel. While Snyder has included much of the fundamental political allegory and meaning in the graphic novel, he has also tried to re-focus the film to show the journey of the characters. While some may criticize this, he also believes the film should be a supplement to the comic and not a replacement.
"That scene is the fundamental difference between the movie and the novel," says Snyder. "It's not just two philosophies clashing together-- it's two characters, two experiences coming together that has a different emotional feeling to the graphic novel."
Of all the big questions that are being asked in the comic book, Snyder explains the one that he tried to bring out most in his version of the movie.
"Who polices the police; who watches the watchers, who governs the government; who Gods God?" he asks. "Those are the questions in Watchmen."