Neill Blomkamp: Redefining the Viral?

This video, directed by Neill Blomkamp – the man behind last year’s groundbreaking sci-fi film District 9 – was in a recent iPad edition of WIRED magazine. It’s just over a minute long, and features two seemingly normal guys stumbling across what looks like the corpse of an alien, or at the very least a mutated creature of some description

The above video – made by the man behind last year’s groundbreaking sci-fi film District 9 – was in a recent iPad edition of WIRED magazine. It’s just over a minute long, and features two seemingly normal guys stumbling across what looks like the corpse of an alien, or at the very least a mutated creature of some description. It’s more than a little strange, though at the same time it could be seen as clever viral marketing.

This isn’t entirely without basis. District 9 itself had a huge viral marketing campaign, ranging from murals with the words “NO NON-HUMANS” (and variations thereon) daubed next to forbidding images crossing out what appeared to be a silhouetted alien threat, to a series of websites both allied with and opposing the fictional company MNU (central to the story), all of which built up to the film’s eventual release. This would be a curious way to open a marketing campaign, but at the same time not out of the question.

Except, here’s the thing: Blomkamp’s next film, Elysium, has been described so far as completely different from District 9 – definitely not a sequel, even if some of the tone remains the same. It’s also set to take place primarily on another planet, and… well, those are the only real details to emerge so far. This is almost definitely unrelated to his next big film project, and as such if it is designed to drum up interest about a new film, it’s currently hopelessly obscure.

Viral marketing tends to be less oblique than this. The best comparison in the film industry is with the build-up to The Dark Knight. Beginning with a fictional political campaign website (called “I Believe In Harvey Dent”, after one of the principal characters of the movie), it slowly changed over time to reveal the first official image of the Joker, and another site that provoked a series of scavenger hunts that led first to the unlocking of the teaser trailer, and then the feature trailer. It, too, began as obscure to anyone without a cursory knowledge of the film – but, considering the vast numbers of comic book enthusiasts in the world, this was soon very few.

Of course, with The Dark Knight as an adaptation of an already-existing storyline, the surprises could only be there for so long. But this has come out of left-field. The only clue is in the stamp on the side of the creature, and the company it mentions, “AGM Heartland” – a name that has been trademarked in Beverly Hills to be related to “a fictional genetic engineering company that produces genetically engineered and altered organisms”. There’s very little to make of it all.

But perhaps this is a sign of a shift to more obscure advertising with a larger build-up; it’s perfectly possible that this short was produced to entice people into a film that’ll be made two or three years down the line. One would like to think so – there’s nothing like intrigue to lure people into seeing a film, and Blomkamp has certainly proved that he’s a director worth paying attention to – but on the other hand, it’s plausible that this is meant to be a standalone curiosity, in which case it begs the question: what’s the point?

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