Watchmen | 2009
As ever, writer Alan Moore distances himself from the film of his graphic novel, though director Zack Snyder adheres closely to the images and sickly colour palette of Dave Gibbons’ illustrated panels. The only major change is the ending, though it seems only diehard fans missed the appearance of a giant tentacled alien.
The film is set in ‘New York’, but all those glimpses of the Twin Towers, the Chrysler and the Empire State Buildings are added digitally – this alternative 1985 Big Apple under Richard Nixon’s Third Term was filmed around Vancouver, British Columbia.
In order to recreate accurately the visuals of the comic book, most of the settings are purpose-built – though the claim of two hundred sets being built sounds suspiciously like press pack hyperbole.
Three intersecting ‘New York’ streets were were built on what became the Canadian Motion Picture Park Studios ‘backlot’, formerly a vast lumber yard at the southeast corner of Marine Way and Byrne Road in Burnaby, immediately east of Vancouver.
‘Blake Street’ naturally housed the high-rise apartment building of Edward Blake, aka the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). This street was subsequently redressed as the stretch of road on which the Owl Ship lands to quell a riot.
These two streets were connected by the exotically dubbed ‘Porno Street’ – based on Manhattan’s 43rd street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Here are the ‘Gunga Diner’, where Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) meets up with Dan; the home of Moloch (Matt Frewer); and even the ‘Vietnamese’ bar where the Comedian shows his ruthless side by gunning down a pregnant woman.
These streets also provide the exterior of New York’s legendary ‘Studio 54’ where Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) is greeted by David Bowie, Mick Jagger and the Village People (do you feel we’re being given a little hint about Adrian Veidt’s sexual orientation?), as well as the office of ‘Frontiersman Publishing’.
The set has gone on to prove pretty useful – you might have seen it more recently revamped as ‘Chinatown’ for the 2014 version of Godzilla.
Apartment interiors, along with the old subway tunnel converted into Dreiberg’s subterranean Owl Chamber, were built in the CMPP Studios.
Many of the practical locations are used in fairly brief – or barely glimpsed – scenes, particularly during the credits montage, which provides a quick catch-up of the parallel history.
The bank outside which a cigar-chomping Comedian captures the stripy-jumpered, masked robber is the Marine Building, 355 Burrard Street, downtown Vancouver. The 1930 art deco skyscraper also provided the doorway in which Dollar Bill meets his end when his cumbersome cape becomes trapped in the revolving door. The Marine Building was previously featured as the ‘Baxter Building’ in 2005’s Fantastic Four, and was seen in the Jean-Claude Van Damme 1994 action flick Timecop.
The Beatty Gate Building, 564 Beatty Street, also downtown, was transformed into Andy Warhol’s Factory, where the artist shows off silk screen prints of Nite Owl to writer Truman Capote at a very 1970s party. The same building had previously been used for 2004 Daredevil-spinoff Elektra, with Jennifer Garner.
There’s just the briefest glimpse of the turf of the Nat Bailey Stadium, 4601 Ontario Street, though once the President’s DC home has been digitally added, even the most avid fan of the Vancouver Canadians would be hard pressed to recognise it as the ‘White House’ lawn where JFK meets Dr Manhattan.
Similarly, the East Lawn Building of the disused Riverview Hospital, 2601 Lougheed Highway, in Coquitlam, puts in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as the campus where the National Guard faces off against students and the hippie girl makes the archetypal Sixties gesture of popping a flower into a rifle barrel.
The same hospital’s Crease Clinic is later used as the military base in which Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) materialises as the glowing blue Dr Manhattan after his little accident in the ‘Intrinsic Field Laboratory’. Built in the Thirties, the buildings of the Riverview complex are now used almost exclusively as TV and film locations, for the likes of Happy Gilmore, Romeo Must Die, Halloween: Resurrection, Final Destination 2 and The Butterfly Effect.
And so onto the film proper. After his brutal murder, the funeral of Edward Blake is held at St Peter’s Cemetery, 100 Richmond Street in New Westminster, where the eastern entrance, just south of Alberta Street, was fancied up with some stone pillars and a wrought iron gate. As Moloch leaves and walks north up Richmond Street, the maskless Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), carrying his ‘End is Nigh’ banner, watches silently.
Dan Dreiberg visits Hollis Mason in retirement at ‘Mason Auto Repair’ (‘Obsolete Models a Speciality’), which in reality is Tanex Industries, 1068 Auckland Street, also in New Westminster.
On Annacis Island in the south arm of the Fraser River, southeast of Vancouver, the old Domtar Paper Mill, 1010 Derwent Way, was transformed into the prison in which Walter Kovacs/Rorschach is incarcerated alongside a frightening number of his old foes. The huge abandoned plant also served as Dr Manhattan’s lab.
Sprung from the glum facility during a riot, Rorschach takes off with Nite Owl to pump the patrons of a local lowlife bar for information about ‘Pyramid Transnational’. The Terminal Pub, 115 12th Street, New Westminster, has since been given a substantial and stylish makeover and is now barely recognisable as the dive where Rorschach uses a little physical persuasion to get answers.
Dr Manhattan helps Laurie recall an odd meeting with the Comedian in front of the grand 1925 Beaux Arts mansion Shannon Mews, 7101 Granville Street at West 57th Avenue, on a ten-acre estate in South Vancouver, and she finally realises just who Blake is. The same mansion is also seen briefly as the backdrop to the Unforgettable TV ad the Comedian is watching at the start of the film.
Shannon Mews has also been seen on screen as the mansion of Dr Lanning (James Cromwell) in 2004 sci-fi I, Robot, with Will Smith, and in Mike Nichols’s brilliant 1971 Carnal Knowledge, with Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen and Art Garfunkel.