What’s the song in HBO’s Watchmen trailer? Released at San Diego Comic-Con 2019, the official Watchmen trailer hypes Damon Lindelof’s new superhero series, with a 1971 glam rock classic teasing the arrival of a popular comic character.
Based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen graphic novel, HBO's Watchmen is more of a continuation rather than an adaptation. The story takes place in a parallel American universe where superheroes are punished for being too violent. Incidentally, a subsequent uprising leads to a full-on revolution. Watchmen’s main cast consists of Regina King (Angela Abraham), Don Johnson (Chief Judd Crawford), Tim Blake Nelson (Looking Glass), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Cal Abraham), Jean Smart (Agent Laurie Blake), and Jeremy Irons (Adrian Veidt). Original Watchmen comic characters like Ozymandias, Doctor Manhattan, Silk Spectre, and Hooded Justice will be part of HBO’s series as well.
The Watchmen trailer features David Bowie’s single "Life on Mars". In the teaser trailer, the first half establishes conflict between masked police, vigilantes, and the general public. Later in the Watchmen trailer, Smart’s Agent Laurie Blake reminds King’s Angela Abraham just how difficult it is to distinguish cops from revolutionaries. Suddenly, “Life on Mars” is heard while Louis Gossett Jr.’s Old Man suggests that there’s “a vast and insidious conspiracy at play.” He then implies that maybe he’s Doctor Manhattan, who is still living on Mars, at least according to King’s character. And so, that’s how Bowie’s glam rock hit connects to the Watchmen trailer.
Furthermore, in HBO’s Watchmen trailer, “Life on Mars” sets up the arrival of an iconic character, and also complements themes associated with American culture and the chaos depicted. Bowie's hit plays all the way until the end when a mysterious figure, presumably Doctor Manhattan, picks up a blue mask on the street. As the song goes, “Oh man, wonder if he'll ever know / He's in the best selling show / Is there life on Mars?”
“Life on Mars” isn’t quite an original musical selection, though. From 2006 to 2007, the BBC aired a time travel show called Life on Mars, and Bowie’s song of the same name was naturally used to promote the series, along with the subsequent American adaptation. In American Horror Story: Freak Show, Jessica Lange sang a version of “Life on Mars.” It’s also on the soundtrack for Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. In pop culture, “Life on Mars” been incorporated into numerous entertainment projects since the '70s, primarily because of its existential lyrics and Bowie’s unique vocal delivery and musical arrangement. It's just that it has a more literal meaning in HBO's Watchmen trailer.