The main interface of the “Watchmen” iPhone application offers a horizontally-scrolling representation of the retired superhero Ozymandias and his genetically-engineered lynx Bubastis, watching a wall of TV screens. The screens move in parallax behind Ozymandias, but the figures of the man and his pet are flat, digital paintings rather than 3D models. The image of Ozymandias is based on the portrayal of actor Matthew Goode, and a scene in Zach Snyder’s movie Watchmen. This in turn is closely based on the original comic book of Watchmen, and on sequences written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, during which Ozymandias immerses himself in the world’s information through a bank of monitors.
My submission for this In Media Res involves multiple levels of mediation. It begins with a comic book drawing of a man watching a wall of television screens, with a reel-to-reel analogue recording device at his side. This image was then adapted faithfully into a live action image of Matthew Goode watching television screens, within a blockbuster movie. This image, in turn, was appropriated by the iPhone application, which presents a digital version of Matthew Goode (and his reel to reel tape recorder), watching a series of simulated “television screens”, which themselves, when scrolled over and tapped, offer clips from the film, behind-the-scenes movies, enlargements of publicity material and extracts from the “motion comic”, which animates and gives a voiceover to Moore and Gibbons’ original. You are watching a YouTube clip of all this, shot (shakily) with a handheld camera. Phone, PC, comic, film, television, CGI, tape-to-tape... this single image of Ozymandias straddles almost every conceivable media platform.
Snyder’s Watchmen was faithful to the original not just in its close adaptation of visual images and dialogue, but in its attempt to transfer the intertextual background documents of Moore’s comic book (pages from an autobiography, an academic journal, a magazine interview, a psychiatric report) into an equivalent, appropriate form. My clip includes snatches from this virally-released material, including pastiches of news reports and propaganda films; and finally, a fan work that cleverly enters into this alternate media universe, asking (entirely in the spirit of the original) “what if”: what if the Watchmen characters had been adapted into a Saturday morning cartoon serial?
We have become so used to the extension of texts through pastiche websites, fake news shows and fan-made parodies – the barriers between real/fake, parody/straight and fan/producer increasingly hard to identify – that Watchmen’s transmedia content may well seem impressive, interesting, but unsurprising. This level of cross-platform sophistication is now unremarkable. Overflow, worthy of academic articles at the start of the century, has become the industry standard.
Yet one aspect of Watchmen’s promotion still has the power to provoke. By transferring Ozymandias’ wall of screens onto the iPhone, the producers of this application neatly and wittily echo the standard iPhone layout, with its array of icons, and remind us that many of us regularly survey several channels at once, swooping between media and clicking instinctively between screens in what Ozymandias calls a modern version of Burroughs’ cut-up technique: “this jigsaw-fragment model of tomorrow” which allows “subliminal hints of the future to leak through.” Watching Watchmen on iPhone reminds us that we are now in a position – in possession of a powerful gaze over the mediated world – that was once the privilege of superhuman millionaires and criminal masterminds.