Warning: There be comic-book spoilers here.
IGN.com has posted the newest video journal for Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — and around the 1:49 mark, there is a brief glimpse of a theatre that is showing The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
This detail happens to come from the graphic novel itself, but I had forgotten it was in there, so my initial reaction to this part of the video was one of amusement, since the film version of Watchmen was shot in Vancouver around the same time that Scott Derrickson was filming his remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Not only that, but Keanu Reeves was initially offered the part of a godlike superhero in Watchmen, and he ended up playing the Christlike alien Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still instead — but since the two films were being made in such close proximity to each other, Reeves made a point of visiting the Watchmen set while they were both in town. So this could almost be a sort of in-joke between Snyder and Reeves. Almost.
However, as I mentioned, this detail is actually there in the original graphic novel as well, so it’s more of a coincidence than an in-joke. If I’m not mistaken, it first appears in Chapter 11 (out of 12), in the background to a sequence in which a psychiatrist suffering an existential crisis bumps into his wife on the sidewalk in Manhattan. Here’s a sample panel from that sequence:
The marquee with the movie title appears again, later in that same chapter, in one of several images that depict this intersection mere moments before it is hit by a sudden catastrophe:
And then, in Chapter 12, after the catastrophe takes place — a catastrophe that many will go on to believe was part of an alien invasion — we get an even better look at the theatre, and the bodies of those who died on its doorstep; and if you look closely, you can even see pictures of Gort and Klaatu on the wall:
And what is the significance of The Day the Earth Stood Still to Watchmen? Well, for starters, both stories feature a character who wants to bring an end to war on Earth, and who uses the threat of an alien attack to try to get us to stop fighting each other. But where Klaatu only threatens to do us harm, thus giving us time to discover and reveal our better natures, Ozymandius actually launches an attack, thus tricking the governments of the world into thinking that they must prepare for an even bigger battle down the road against an even deadlier common enemy.
The interesting question here is whether Ozymandius is meant to be the polar opposite of Klaatu, or Klaatu’s darker self.