WARNING: The following contains minor spoilers for HBO's Watchmen, which airs Sundays.
We’re a little more than halfway through the first season of HBO's Watchmen, and it's easy to say the series has showcased some of the best world-building on television.
Not only has each episode expanded the universe from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' revered comic in a way that makes sense with today's world, but the official HBO website has also found a very clever way to give viewers another optical into the universe. The website links viewers to Peteypedia, an in-universe collection of documents ccurated by the fictional Dale Petey, an FBI agent who's an elite resource on the history of the Minutemen.
For those who haven’t seen Snyder's version (which was met with polarizing reviews when first released and certainly hasn’t grown in reputation since), the film more or less attempted to adapt the comic book panel-for-panel, while condensing its storyline into a 163-minute run time. The film received flak for having a rushed narrative and tonal inconsistencies, but perhaps of even more disdain was that many reviewers simply found the film gratuitous. The rape scene that Petey refers to in this week's Peteypedia article is indeed featured in the Watchmen film, and the way he describes the scene in American Hero Story does feel similar to how it was presented in the film.
"The violence is extreme and fetishistic. The filmmaking toggles between frenetic cuts, widescreen framing and zooming close-ups on blood gushes and ripped clothing," Petey writes. He also criticizes the camera work, which observes the action through a reflection in Moloch's Solar Weapon, as he feels such flashy filmmaking choices undermine the horrible ordeal that we're watching. While Petey's description isn't exactly how Snyder shot his scene, it feels just as rough and lacking in nuance.
These words certainly conjure up the issues that some people had with Snyder's directorial choices for his Watchmen film, as he shot the scene almost as if it were an action set piece from 300, with brash violence and little concern for how harrowing the ordeal was. This is particularly evident now, what with Damon Lindelof's TV series featuring a different storyline than Moore's, but its more reserved diction easily makes it more tonally aligned with Moore and Gibbons book than the "visually faithful" movie.
It's an interesting parallel to draw, but is it really a shot at a 10-year-old movie? Well, it very well could be! While series creator Damon Lindelof has been fairly generous toward the movie, as he is an acquaintance Snyder's, this Peteypedia entry is likely receiving little more than insight from him. It's likely this article's writer is trying to call into question the lurid nature of Snyder's film. Also, a decade after that film's release, its content is even more questionable in the post-#MeToo society we're in.
We live in a world where our eyes are more open to the fact that powerful men often perform (and get away with) sexual assault, which is absolutely nothing that should be sensationalized. Snyder's scene seemed to have little to no concern about how devastating the ordeal is, and its results can be, and instead saw the material as just another excuse to depict costumed heroes fighting (albeit with his penchant for brutality). Many people that watched this film back in 2009 likely haven't done so again since, but almost anyone that's seen the movie will be reminded of this scene through the words of this Peteypedia inclusion. The recalled images are certainly ugly, but at this point, it's also important to consider how another director could have handled this material through more empathetic methods.
All in all, this is a very transgressive case of expanded-universe material being used in a highly provocative way. In fan culture, such material is usually included solely to engage geeky interest in the property, as well as aid the escapism appeal. In this case, however, it's a dismissal of an earlier and less successful take on the Watchmen banner, as well as a chance to make us think of how much the world has changed in this past decade.
Watchmen has always been a title that asked its readers to see the world from new perspectives (possibly without allegiances), and if it an adaptation of it can communicate this in even its supplementary material, then the property has even more longevity than we thought.
Developed by Damon Lindelof, HBO's Watchmen stars Jeremy Irons, Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tom Mison, James Wolk, Adelaide Clemens, Andrew Howard, Frances Fisher, Jacob Ming-Trent, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Lily Rose Smith and Adelynn Spoon. The series airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
KEEP READING: HBO's Watchmen: All The References You Missed (So Far)