If you haven’t been watching Watchmen, HBO’s adaptation and continuation of the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, you’ve been doing yourself a tremendous disservice. Watchmen is a hell of a thing — a sweeping and big-budget story that treats its source material with reverence while jumping headlong into ideas that the original comic book never really touched. Every episode has been spellbinding. And a big part of that has been the score, from Trent Reznor and longtime collaborator Atticus Ross.
Reznor and Ross have done a lot of fascinating score work over the past few years, but what they’re doing on Watchmen might be their best score since they kicked off this new career with The Social Network. They’ve released two of three planned volumes of their Watchmen score, and those albums have been worth hearing even without the show attached. Sunday night’s episode, in an incredible flex, included a moving shoutout to David Bowie, Trent Reznor’s old friend and collaborator, that didn’t feel the tiniest bit forced.
In the Watchmen world, the single most important person might be Dr. Manhattan, a remote and godlike figure who is the only character to possess actual superpowers. In the comic, Dr. Manhattan, sick of humanity, leaves Earth for Mars. Much of HBO show is concerned with his absence and with what that means. Sunday night’s episode was the seventh of nine, and its score included a quiet, tinkly, thematically appropriate instrumental version of “Life On Mars?,” the 1971 song that could be considered Bowie’s greatest work.
Reznor and Bowie have a long history. They toured and recorded together in the ’90s, with Reznor introducing Bowie to a whole new audience. In the wake of Bowie’s 2016 death, Reznor wrote a moving eulogy and played a haunting live cover. The eerie, fragile music-box version of “Life On Mars?” is merely his latest tribute. Truly, this is the best “Life On Mars?” cover commissioned for an HBO show since Trey Songz did it for Vinyl in 2016. The Reznor/Ross version of “Life On Mars?” is now on YouTube, and you can hear it below.
The third volume of Reznor and Ross’ Watchmen score is out 12/16.