Okay, I’m ready to be run out of town for this, but before I go, I’ll explain myself. For obvious reasons, read no further if you don’t want to know how the movie ends. This is all spoilers, baby.
So, let’s jump right into it. In the book? Veidt creates world peace by tricking the world into believing in aliens. The introduction of this “other” creates an new sense to togetherness that puts all differences aside.
In the movie? Veidt creates world peace by tricking the world into believing in GOD. An old testament kind of God. The watching, wrathful, Sodom and Gomorrah destroying type of God.
Of course, Veidt does that through making everyone believe Dr. Manhattan is that God. And there is a trail in Moore’s plot that makes this a really smart move. One of my favorite lines from the book was “God exists and he’s American.” The movie takes that line and has Veidt wonder…what if God stopped being American? What if everyone felt they had to live right and appease that God to escape further wrath? Nite Owl II sums it up well at the end of the movie by basically saying “we’ll all be fine as long as people think Dr. Manhattan is watching us.”
So there was the precedent in the book of Dr. M being a God figure. Also in the book, it was never really declared what Dr. M was working on in his lab (I may be wrong on this, but I don’t remember what he was working on). So, deciding to make it be him working with Veidt on a new form of power did two smart things:
1. it explained what Dr. M was working on so obsessively
2. it explains how Veidt could trick Dr. M to revealing his energy signature so Veidt could replicate it.
Now, on to what I imagine will be controversial. Why is this BETTER than the book’s ending? Here are my four reasons:
1. The book’s ending planted a dead “alien” in New York. You could imagine that alien body would eventually be taken by scientists, poked, prodded, and possibly proved a fraud. In the book Veidt dropped a specimen in New York, and who knows if it could stay “real.” Now, the idea that Dr. Manhattan bugged out to Mars, is a bit off his rocker, then struck the Earth out of displeasure is scary because there is no way to know where he’s striking from, or if and when he’ll stop watching Earth. Veidt may need to do one of these fake alien attacks every decade or so to keep people on their toes, but the unseen overseeing wrath-filled God that everyone now believes in goes a lot longer. In the movie, Nixon closes his televised address not with “God bless America” but with “God bless us all”…that summed up the global shift in thinking in a fantastic and subtle way.
2. Less mess. This was in a way a more graceful ending from a plot perspective. Sure, in a way the “squid” really took the book to yet another level of strangeness that is actually quite remarkable, but the movie succeeds is creating an ending that is centered more around the characters already in play. In other words, instead of something coming in at the ending from left field, this is coming from the psychology of a world dealing with an entity like Dr. Manhattan. Dr. Manhattan…er…GOD is watching…behave.
3. How many different explanations of the squid do Watchmen fans give? If you really quiz some fans, you realize quite a lot can’t really re-explain how the “alien” actually killed the people in New York. For as much as people love the ending of the book, I don’t think many can explain it very well. A good example of this is a slashfilm.com audio review I heard in which Kevin Smith asks three others on the review to explain specifically how the “alien” killed so many people. No one on the review got it right. There are some great things about Moore’s ending, but that was a good illustration on how confusing it is.
4. It’s all in the journal. I would argue the “alien” trick in the book could be proved a fake two ways: by people closely inspecting the dead “alien” and by Rorschach’s journal. And in the movie ending, with people believing Big Brother Dr. Manhattan is watching from who knows where, it really comes down to Rorschach’s journal alone to reveal the truth.
And in contrast, how simple it is to sum up the ending of the movie: Everyone agreed to have world peace because everyone got tricked into believing in a God with an old testament temperament. In my mind? That’s better. Well, there you go. Now you can kick me out of town.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey