“Cloverfield,” or Untitled JJ Abrams Project or EthanHaasWasRight.com — could this be the work of Cthulhu?

Dunno if this is marketing genius, or if the guys down in branding just got shit-faced and lazy, and couldn’t come up with a decent title for the movie in time to make it on the trailer reels, but…

I went to see Transformers – it was surprisingly good.  And I say this as a confirmed Michael Bay-disdainer.  After suffering through way, way too many movies of his that looked like slick AT&T commercials with tooth-grindingly bad dialogue, I had sworn off paying hard-earned coin just to see him shit all over what could have been a great premise (see: The Island).  And yet … and yet … Transformers actually took the time to build interest in the characters, so that by the end of the movie, you still cared about whether they lived or died. 

Well, that and a lot of stuff blew up in slo-mo.  And there were all these hero shots of men in uniforms marching across airfields, stern expressions on their faces.  Can someone please do a mind-erase on Bay and get that damn shot from The Right Stuff out of his head?  It’s like a goddamn stuck, skipping record in there, and its pretty much on the runout groovel…

Back to the subject of the title of this post:

The most intriguing trailer was the one for what is now called “The Untitled JJ Abrams Project.” It starts out with jumpy, grainy DV footage of a goodbye party for a 20something guy in NYC.  It looks like it might be another one of these low-budget “relationship” films about a struggling young blah blah who leaves to go pursue his dream, only he meets the girl/gets sick and realizes his life is empty/has to care for his failing parents/adopts a toddler, etc. etc.

And then about 1/2 through the trailer, everything goes bad. Big noises, impact tremors. The partygoers run to the roof to see distant explosions.  The camera fuzzes out as the cameraman tumbles down the stairs to street level.  People are screaming and them a massive object bounces off a skyscrapers, shattering the brick, coming to a rest at the feet of the terrified partygoers. 

It’s the face off the Statue of Liberty.

And then – no name. No sententious v/o by Cousin Don.  Just “Bad Robot Productions.”


Talk about counting on the undersell and a viral marketing campaign to sell the movie for you.

It’s worked in my case.  I was motivated to look it up on IMDB,

A giant monster movie (currently referred to internally as Cloverfield; the monster itself is referred to as “The Parasite”, not to be confused with the film project The Parasyte) that is shot using home video cameras from the point of view of people who are experiencing an attack on New York City.

and also on Wikipedia:

As Transformers
showing high tracking numbers before its release, Paramount decided to
release a teaser for “Cloverfield” before the film to build hype. The
teaser footage is shot with a hand-held camera to emulate a home-movie
style, and did not reveal the name of the film, but showed a release
date of January 18, 2008 for the film. It is not known if the film will carry the same style. The teaser was leaked onto YouTube by people who recorded it with camcorders, but Paramount invoked its copyright claim to have the links removed.[1] Paramount eventually made the teaser trailer available to the public at Apple.com. Following the teaser’s release, USA Today reported the hype among moviegoers regarding the lack of title in its screening and the background of the film itself.[2]

Paramount was also reported to have published puzzle websites such as EthanHaasWasRight.com in a viral marketing campaign to promote the film.[2] Based on the sites, the film was speculated to be about Cthulhu, due to the puzzles possessing Lovecraftian themes.[3] Other reported speculation included a Voltron film adaptation, a new Godzilla film or a Lost TV spin-off.[2] J.J. Abrams sent a letter to Ain’t It Cool News
declaring www.1-18-08.com is an official site, and implied there are
more to be found. He also stated that the Ethan Haas sites have nothing
to do with the film.[4]

And the Hollywood Reporter said
that the movie has only a modest $30 million budget – which means that the publicity that it’s gotten from this campaign has probably already ensured that the movie is going to make its budget back.

Interesting, indeed.  At the 1-18-08 site, there is nothing other than a few still shots that cycle back and forth as you click on them. It looks a little bit like the site that was constructed for Memento that way… and if the movie is any bit as good as Memento was, then it is going to be a barnburner.

Still, at some point, as I quoted in my book from Hunter Thompson, you have to produce the pig. JJ Abrams has something of an uneven reputation on this point – he’s great at the outset, as Seasons 1 of both Alias and Lost prove … but he tends to founder a bit after that.  As Season 2 et al. of those shows also prove.  However, he’s been back in a big way with the last season of Lost, so maybe he’s regained his stride.

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