By now, every sci-fi devotee and his grandmother has sounded off on Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s big-budget big-hoopla film version of the eponymous graphic novel. Love it or hate it (and most fans seemed to do one or the other) we can all admit that the movie remained faithful to the book, minus a few scenes and the absence of [spoiler alert] one giant alien squid.
We’ll leave the debates over the acting, direction, and overall adaptation to others (except to say that Jackie Earle Haley stole the show). But one aspect worthy of analysis is the story’s main conflict—the constant “looming” nuclear holocaust. Granted, we never actually see any evidence that the aforementioned holocaust is looming, save a few shots of Nixon upping Defcon levels—but we’ll address that later. When Alan Moore first published the book in 1986, the apocalypse on everyone’s mind was Cold War atomic bombs—which, as we’ve noted, no longer pack quite the same anxiety punch as, say, biological weapons. Today, gas masks and duct tape have replaced air raids and backyard shelters in the popular conscious, to the point where seeing mushroom clouds onscreen feels like you’re watching an ’80s homage.
Of course, none of this means that the nuclear threat is any smaller now than it was three decades ago: The danger of nuclear war is still present, and fear of missile attack still drives plenty of policy and military tech decisions worldwide. But, like Bird Flu, nukes seem to have a PR problem: Despite the fact that they could wipe us all out, the thought of them isn’t all that scary.