Anybody who’s seen the Watchmen film no doubt has strong feelings about the elaborate musical sequences. They stand out, they’re meticulously structured, and (for better or for worse) they give the film a great deal of its personality. While certain reviewers might disagree with a song choice during one particular moment or another, it’s always very clear that director Zack Snyder’s choices were respectably deliberate.
Two collections of music from the film are available now on compact disc (the original score and the songs from the film), and they are both worth owning for different reasons.
The first, the original score, is the one more likely to be overlooked. While it’s true that the ‘bigger’ musical moments of the film existed to spotlight pre-existing compositions, the original materia – while very easy to miss – is quite strong in its own right.
Certain tracks ape specific time periods (the mid-1980s wah-wah of You Quit, or I Love You for example) or cookie-cutter emotional moments we recognize from other films (Don’t Get Too Misty Eyed), but it’s not exactly parody that composer Tyler Bates is after, at least not directly. It’s instead a sort of self-conscious mimicry that intends to discover a beating heart at the core of banality.
There is no ground that this film’s score covers that hasn’t been covered hundreds of times before, and yet the personality is there; an unforeseen richness is discovered within the familiar. (How appropriate for a film such as this one…) There’s something eerily synthetic about these compositions, and yet they’re not quite false enough to be written off so easily. Every track is predictable in its own way, and yet comfortable enough with its familiarity to make you question it.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, which includes most (but not all) of the popular music used in the film, is guaranteed to sell more, and it’s the one that will have the wider, more immediate appeal.
Due to the largely dialogue-free musical segments of the film, it will be impossible to listen to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ or Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence without replaying these visual moments in your head. And that’s a good thing; that’s a brand new work of art being married to a classic song, coming together to produce a strong and memorable experience.
And unlike many other soundtracks I could name, hearing these songs out of context (or now that they’ve had their original contexts rewritten, I should say) will actually enhance your response to them. K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s I’m Your Boogie Man, for example. You won’t really be able to hear such a simple, funky dance song the same way again. Even without The Comedian beating and blasting his way through a mob of protesters, the song remains vaguely sinister. (How the ghost of you still clings…) Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece Hallelujah undergoes a similar metamorphosis, but for entirely different reasons.
Two tracks (the opening and closing ones, incidentally) have the dishonor of jarring the experience slightly. The first one is My Chemical Romance performing a cover of Dylan’s Desolation Row, and while it is featured in the film over the credits, it feels at least slightly incongruous. It didn’t really fit the mood of the film and it doesn’t fit the (albeit eclectic) mood of the album. It doesn’t help matters that My Chemical Romance seems to have missed the entire point of the original song, either, but, hey, they can’t all be winners.
The closing track is Pirate Jenny, which is a long and far-from-catchy recitative from Nina Simone. Even for a jazz fan like myself this is a bit grating to listen to, but as it centers on a Black Freighter story of its own, it’s nice that they went through the effort to include it.
Missing is Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, which featured prominently in the film, and the muzak version of Everybody Wants To Rule The World that we heard in Veidt’s office. Two unfortunate omissions (particularly the latter) but otherwise there’s not much you’ll notice missing.
After you’ve seen the film you’ll know whether or not the soundtrack appeals to you; you’ll have made your decision to buy or not to buy. The best I can do is recommend the score as well – it may surprise you.