Cultural References You Need to Know Before Experiencing Watchmen

Zack Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen will attempt to simulate the look and detailed feel of the graphic novel, but where did that look and feel originate? The multilayered original comic book by Alan Moore and collaborator Dave Gibbons is packed with references to everything from British scifi TV to Mayan death gods. And Snyder threw in some new references of his own when he made the film. We've put together the most important ones so you won't need footnotes when you dig into Watchmen.Moore has cited Ah Pook Is Here, the 1970 collaboration of Malcolm McNeill and William S. Burroughs, as a Watchmen primary source (you can see an image from it at right, above). Ah Pook Is Here never made it into the marketplace as a graphic novel, but the comic did appear as The Unspeakable Mr. Hart in Britain's Olympus magazine. The image of the Mayan Death God resembles a certainly godly figure in the Watchmen universe: Dr. Manhattan. The art and tone supplied a mythological depth for the creation of a God. Moore has referenced Burroughs' "idea of repeated symbols laden with meaning" as a feature he wished to embody.


The British psycho-scifi series The Prisoner gets a direct shout-out when Rorschach mutters "Be seeing you" - a recurring line on the show - as he leaves through a window. The production motif pops up in Nite Owl's Owlship, the Archimedes:

The Prisoner's coy tone and mysterious plot twists are found in the dark humor of the original comic - not an area that Snyder is particularly known for. So we may not be seeing much Prisoner in the film version of the movie.


Rorshach's interrogation by a psychologist in Issue 6 is told through the journal of his interrogator. Such a device might be too clunky for film, resulting in something like the opening scene of Blade Runner. The struggles of both interrogator and subject for identity are common themes here, and the lonely Owlship moving through the the city landscape also resonates with the Ridley Scott film. The second Nite Owl is played by Patrick Wilson in the film. His desperate post-hero plight recalls Travis Bickle's crazed loneliness in 1970s deathtrip classic Taxi Driver. The long pan across Bickle's sad phone call in the film's middle, as though the camera was ashamed to watch, recalls this depiction of Dan Dreiberg in Issue 1:


Snyder's has mentioned the seediness of Taxi Driver and David Fincher's Seven as inspirations for the gritty element of Watchmen, all the better to wear off the superhero gloss.

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