Doctor Manhattan splits into three different bodies in 2009's Watchmen

Doctor Manhattan’s Big Blue Package Is Still the Ultimate Litmus Test for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen

Zack Snyder’s adaptation of seminal DC Comics limited series Watchmen turns 15 this month, and it remains just as divisive as ever. There are plenty of reasons why, but if you’re looking for an easy entry into the debate, Doctor Manhattan’s big blue package is a great place to start.

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Anyone who remembers the hubbub around Manhattan’s trouser snake knows exactly what I’m talking about. Snyder’s decision to follow Watchmen creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ lead and have the good doctor let it all hang out was unsurprisingly a major talking point back in 2009. Not just because Snyder showed Manhattan’s package on-screen, either. Folks were (and if Reddit is any guide, still are) incredibly hung up on the size of said hog, too.

Moore and Gibbons depicted Doctor Manhattan with an “understated” member; inspired by classical sculptures, it’s a single line that, by design, doesn’t call attention to itself. By contrast, Snyder and the Watchmen VFX crew bolted a schlong onto Manhattan’s pelvis that is – and let’s set aside any awkward leg-crossing and nervous chuckles here – eye-catchingly big.

For some fans, this was a sign that Snyder didn’t “get” Watchmen. For others, it signified that the filmmaker understood perfectly the small (or not-so-small) tweaks needed to translate Moore and Gibbons’ story to the screen. And so, Doctor Manhattan’s gigantic junk quickly became the litmus test – the Rorschach blot, even – for people’s overall perception of Snyder’s Watchmen.

Doctor Manhattan’s Big Package Is Snyder’s Watchmen In Miniature

After all, the fervent discussion that surrounds Doctor Manhattan’s private parts to this day perfectly mirrors the ongoing back-and-forth about Watchmen‘s quality as an adaptation. The detractors and defenders of both each make some solid points. For example, advocates of Manhattan’s super-sized screen peen rightly praise Snyder for having the courage to make a staunchly non-mainstream superhero blockbuster. You don’t get more daring than dropping full-frontal dong in a cape-and-tights outing. If it was shocking in 2009, it’s downright refreshing in a cinematic landscape dominated by more sanitized Marvel Studios-type fare.

Paradoxically, you could also make the case that Snyder pumping up Manhattan’s member was a smart commercial decision. Think about it: how would the average viewer react if Watchmen‘s glowing, god-like figure wandered into frame with a more modestly-sized appendage? They’d probably laugh. Yes, it’s crass, and yes, it says more about what we, as a society, think about sex and body image than it does about Moore and Gibbons’ characterization of Manhattan. But none of that matters if the audience is too busy rolling in the aisles to appreciate what Manhattan’s nudity says about his increasing detachment from humanity.

Related: Watchmen’s Alan Moore Is Donating All His Screen Royalties to Black Lives Matter

Does a Big Doctor Manhattan Contradict the Watchmen Comics?

Snyder made other such commercially-minded decisions elsewhere in the movie. From beefing up Watchmen‘s fight scenes to slimming down its big payoff into something slightly more grounded, Snyder innately knew what would play well outside the comics’ fanbase. Is it a shame he was forced to make these changes? Sure. But given how faithfully the rest of the film follows its source material (to a fault, at times), more fights and fewer squid monsters seem like a fair trade-off.

That said, non-coverts to Snyder’s Watchmen will argue that a well-hung Doctor Manhattan (and other changes like it) is simply the director indulging his own outsized sensibilities. Part of Snyder’s appeal as a filmmaker is his bombastic approach. The scale is operatic, the action is dynamic (and violent), and yes, the wangs are girthy. But to a devotee of Moore and Gibbons’ original work, this is utterly at odds with Watchmen‘s restrained, often unflattering take on the superhero genre. To them, Snyder’s Watchmen is only superficially true to its core text and betrays this in its handling (if you’ll forgive the expression) of Manhattan’s package.

Moore and Gibbons’ Doctor Manhattan is completely unbothered by Earthly concerns like his penis’s proportions. It’s a by-product of his quasi-divinity and underscores his overall arc. So, has Snyder inadvertently weakened said arc by implicitly presenting his Manhattan as more size-conscious? Yes – if you’re a comics purist, at least. For everyone else, the former Jon Osterman’s descent into (and eventual ascent out of) apathy is still there on screen regardless of how big his Johnson is.

Related: Peacemaker Shows That James Gunn Has Always Understood Watchmen

The Subjectivity of Doctor Manhattan’s Swimsuit Area Is Eternal

Doctor Manhattan, Silk Spectre, and Rorschach in Watchmen

Again: neither side of this argument is right; it’s all subjective. Whoever argues most convincingly for or against Doctor Manhattan’s massive manhood in the Watchmen movie is the winner – until the next person comes along. It’s why this aspect of Snyder’s adaptation is so indicative of the wider Watchmen discourse: both sides strongly believe in their arguments, and have receipts to back it up. And that’s great; robust back and forth and passionate fandoms are what cinema is all about. We should argue about Watchmen, as much now as in 2009. Just so long as nobody involved behaves like a Manhattan-sized dick, that is.

Watchmen is currently streaming on Max.

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Leon Miller
Leon is a freelance contributor at The Escapist, covering movies, TV, video games, and comics. Active in the industry since 2016, Leon's previous by-lines include articles for Polygon, Popverse, Screen Rant, CBR, Dexerto, Cultured Vultures, PanelxPanel, Taste of Cinema, and more.