“Watchmen” Goes Full Frontal

Who watches the Watchmen? Plenty of people, at least according to preliminary weekend box office estimates that indicate that the new movie about a group of flawed superheroes grossed a solid, if underwhelming $55.7 million over the weekend.

But it’s a good bet that many of those viewers had their eyes on one Watchman in particular: Dr. Manhattan, an otherworldly blue being who spends much of the movie completely naked, and whose genitals are often clearly visible.

The character’s nudity, and his ample endowment, are already the subject of plenty of online chatter and TV jokes.

“Someone asked me how much of Dr. Manhattan is you,” said Billy Crudup, the actor who was the basis for the primarily computer-generated character, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Crudup then held up his thumb and forefinger several inches apart, and added, “About that much.”

The superhero’s matter-of-fact nudity is a perfect expression of character: Dr. Manhattan was once human, but became a being of energy after an accident in an “Intrinsic Field Separator.” His new state of being allows him to experience time in a non-linear fashion, and also to understand the universe on a quantum level. Being privy to such wisdom, he has grown gradually indifferent to many human concerns – concerns such as clothing.

Bill Crudup, Dr. Manhattan

What is unusual was the director’s choice to feature the nudity so openly. Even today, few American movies feature frontal male nudity, and this is a major studio release with a mega-budget estimated to be about $130 million.

The Silver Surfer, a similar character from the Fantastic Four movie Rise of the Silver Surfer, is similarly naked, though not nearly as anatomically correct.

The rules are different for female nudity in American films, of course; women are frequently naked – even the few women in superhero movies. Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique showed something pretty close to full frontal female nudity in the X-Men movies.

Still, perhaps it’s not surprising that Watchmen is pushing the limits of what we’ve seen before in terms of male nudity in big budget movies. It’s a pointedly different kind of superhero movie – much grittier, much more explicit, both in its violence and sexuality. In the United States, the film is rated R: “Restricted—Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.”

Another male Watchmen superhero, a non-computer generated one played by Patrick Wilson, is also seen frontally naked, in a silhouette and in profile, though that shot isn’t nearly as explicit as the scenes of Dr. Manhattan.

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