Written by Old Bluffer 17th Mar 2009
Jon Osterman is the son of a watchmaker, and was a child when Hiroshima was bombed. His father realises that events are moving too fast, and urges him to ignore the family trade and go into nuclear physics, so that he may in some way shape the new atomic age.
He duly becomes an atomic scientist working in an era of tense arms one-upmanship between the US and USSR.
One fateful day, he is performing routine maintenance when he makes a colossal, fatal, and presumably completely rookie error. He becomes trapped inside the lab's Intrinsic Field Subtractor, just before it is scheduled to do something Dangerous.
We're not really sure what an intrinsic field is, but from the reactions of Osterman's appalled colleagues we soon realise that you don't really want to be subtracted by one.
Janey Slater, Osterman's sweetheart, can't bear it and immediately flees the scene, leaving her lover understandably bitter. Surely she could have hung around for the last few moments of his life!
It is left to research assistant Wally Weaver to provide what little human comfort he can for the doomed scientist.
Aghast, he looks on in horrified sympathy as Osterman is disassembled, molecule by molecule, leaving not even a single atom for the resulting forensics investigation.
...and work continues at the lab as normal.
However - there have been some unusual sightings, such as a ghostly, disembodied form haunting the facility. These sightings soon get more anatomically specific, such as a fully functioning nervous system appearing briefly.
Finally, in the work canteen, an energy manifestation coalesces in front of Janey Slater, revealing the form of an impossibly buffed and sculpted man, with glowing eyes and blue skin. His whole body emits an electric glow, and I really do mean his whole body - he is completely naked and has an impressive blue penis which Janey somehow seems to recognise.
The blue superhuman is of course Jon Osterman, who has managed to reconstruct his physical form in a new and improved form.
His powers are soon revealed to be more than body augmentation - far, far more. The American government take charge, and put his new abilities through their tests. They start him off small - armoured tanks are dismantled piece by piece in mid air and then transformed into a twisted mass of steel. Within a short space of time they realise that he posesses a total mastery of energy and matter at the sub-atomic scale.
The triumphant Americans dub their new super-citizen Dr Manhattan in a propaganda-rich ceremony, during which Osterman brands his own forehead with the symbol of a hydrogen atom. The symbology is not lost to the Russians, and America begin to use him as the ultimate nuclear deterrent. His energy output is off the charts, and it soon becomes apparent that the world arms race is now dangerously unbalanced. The soviets begin stockpiling nukes at an unprecedented rate, making World War III ever more likely.
Osterman increasingly struggles to come to terms with all this responsibility. He resumes his relationship with Janey, but even though she decides she loves him (or his new body!) he can't see that they will stay together. And he's in a position to know - as his powers now enable him to see time at a quantum level. Put simply, the future is no more a mystery to him than the past.
Struggling with his humanity, Dr Manhattan joins The Watchmen (known as the Crimebusters in the graphic novel), a band of costumed vigilantes, where he meets the young Silk Spectre and falls for her. Janey finds out and promptly leaves, never forgiving him, but the relationship with Silk Spectre last many years.
The US continues to dehumanise him ever further - using him to blast Vietnam into submission within a week and a half. He witnesses atrocity after atrocity (many committed by The Comedian of course!) and finds it harder to appear in society. Instead, he retreats to the Rockefeller Military Research Center, where he concentrates on looking for ways for his powers to help mankind. He is aided in this goal by Adrian Veidt, formerly known as Ozymandius when he was in the Watchmen. Veidt is considered to be "The world's smartest man" and is filthy, stinking rich. With Veidt's funds and ambition, and Manhattan's atomic powers, they should be able to create an energy rich utopia for the masses.
Silk Spectre moves in with him, but lives a lonely existence, as by this point Osterman is all but gone - and the almost alien Dr Manhattan is all that remains. On the plus side, this does mean she gets an amazing sex life, as Doc just clones himself any time he feels she could do with a "cuddle", allowing him to carry on working uninterrupted! However, for some reason, she doesn't seem to think this is acceptable, and leaves him. He knew this was going to happen of course, and doesn't care in the slightest.
Shortly afterwards, during a rare live TV interview, he is unexpectedly confronted with the news that many of the people in his life have died from or have contracted cancer. His response shows how his altered perceptions have changed him:
"A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there's no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?"
All his feelings are not entirely lost though, and when a cancer-riddled Janey Slater appears, he begins to lose his cold composure, and the conflict in his emotions causes him to instantly teleport from Earth and live on Mars instead. This is critical, as once his almost omnipotent powers and influence are removed from the world, the movie's plot can really start to move on...
Old Bluffer's Thoughts
I am really just very proud that I've avoided making any puns about Osterman's Blue Balls in this review!
Doc Manhattan is obviously one of the pivotal characters in Watchmen and possesses a Deus ex machina quality that seems incongruous with a "superhero" story - especially when he is the only hero with super powers in the world.
However, nothing about Watchmen is normal, and his presence in the movie adds myriad levels to an already complex tale. He makes the other Watchmen even more superfluous that they already are, and is an allegory for Weapons of Mass Destruction, God and more. More crucially, he offers almost limitless potential for CGI excesses, which I am pleased to say aren't overused.
I have to say that Billy Crudup wasn't one of my favourite actors in the film, but I'm hoping to see some more subtle nuances from him when I get the disc to watch at home. As a memorable CGI creation though, Dr Manhattan was portrayed superbly.