South Africa: Neill Blomkamp's new video leads fans on a digital treasure hunt
When South African film-maker Neill Blomkamp's strange new short went viral (in Oct 2010) it prompted many questions: is this a clue to Blomkamp's mooted District 9 sequel? Or his forthcoming new sci-fi project Elysium? It said as much about contemporary movie marketing as it did about the director's creativity.
Social networking encourages a see-and-then-share habit for moviegoers, and it's taken a step further this year – just observe the excitement and commercial reward generated by this year's viral campaigns for Inception and Tron. Yet despite the commercial motivation, most fans appear to be enjoying the shift. Viral movie marketing encourages engagement with cinema, wider conversation and expands the worlds of movies people love. In the case of Blomkamp's new video, far from merely being a trailer for a forthcoming project, the short might be seen as a starting point for a digital egg hunt.
If you've managed to come out unscathed after sitting through the video's impressively tense minute-long running time, you'll notice that the creature in Blomkamp's video is stamped AMG Heartland. Cue film fans doing some digging and discovering this is a phrase trademarked to communications company Sable, which suggests more videos will follow over the coming months.
Most movie fans enjoy the way things are now, but there's some who really enjoy it – in fact, there's a growing subculture of movie fans for whom this hunt for information is as exciting as the films themselves. Over at Movieviral.com, there's a website full of people picking through the detritus of the web and correlating clues with existing release schedules – asking themselves and each other, what does it all mean? Their forum asks if this website provides clues to Battle: Los Angeles, or is just the musings of a UFO enthusiast. It doesn't really matter which – what's most important is getting excited about the movie.
Yet some of the website's subscribers have certainly found more to enjoy in movies than mere speculation – it was Movieviral.com forum users who first cracked the code to ijustwanttobeperfect.com, the website for Darren Aronofsky's forthcoming psychological horror Black Swan, discovering, after a tipoff from the lead character's @theswanqueen twitter account, that if you typed the name of the film's villain Rothbart on the site, you were rewarded with access to view unseen footage from the movie.
Sci-fi and horror are the perfect subject matter for this kind of fan engagement – after all, what's scarier than what you don't know? – and when they're not trying to deduce whether a strange alien autopsy video entitled Apollo 20 has any relation to the forthcoming Apollo 18 movie, they're trying to crack the DOS-style setup of thescariestthingieversaw.com, a website reporting to provide access to the home computer of D Morris, a character from JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg's forthcoming Super 8. That film's not out until June 2011, they've got plenty of time.
But what is perhaps most exciting to this community is that the internet provides more clues about forthcoming movies than the release schedules. Nobody really knows what theclearpill.com means, other than suggesting that a Bradley Cooper movie about a wonder drug called Limitless appears to be in the works. Likewise the potential resurrection of the Mortal Kombat franchise when a video entitled Mortal Kombat Rebirth was put on YouTube this summer. Fans weren't given any explanation as to whether this was a new shonky beat 'em up video game, or another shonky movie based on the shonky beat 'em up game – but three million users debating which one it is can't be bad for business.
Of course, there is a school of thought that wishes things remained as they always were, that digging around and hunting for clues spoils the magic of cinema, like asking a magician to reveal the secrets of his tricks. Another thinks fans should know better than to fall for smart marketing, that they're just feeding the machine and wasting their lives searching for information that will be revealed to them in due course.
Both schools are entitled to their views, yet as they sit down to watch their summer blockbusters next year, inquisitive fans such as myself will be even more exited, knowing we've been part of the conversation for longer.
As an aside, Deadline reports that Jodie Foster has just joined Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley in Neill Blomkamp's 'District 9' follow up, 'Elysium'.