A few days ago mega-producer and Dimension Films head Bob Weinstein claimed that the much-buzzed-about lunar "found footage" movie Apollo 18 film was 100% real. Is he crazy? Or does he just think we'll believe anything?
Either way, we're tired of being lied to by Hollywood.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Weinstein was discussing the success of the newly released trailer for Apollo 18, a film that claims to be made of found footage from a lost lunar mission. Then he came out with this whopper about the movie's authenticity:
People intrinsically know there are secrets being held from us. Look at WikiLeaks: There are secrets that are really true to the world. It's not bogus. We didn't shoot anything, we found it. Found baby!
Mind you this wasn't something he told a crowd or fans at a convention — this statement was released to the press, as actual fact. Does anyone even believe this stuff any more? Enough is enough, it's time to retire the "It's real, we swear!" school of movie campaigning. This marketing practice is old and tired, and we're not willing play the patsy anymore.
If you're unfamiliar with Apollo 18, it's a film about a lost space mission to the moon. The clever tagline for the film — "There's a reason why we never went back to the Moon" — says it all. Something horrible happened on the Moon. But sadly, they couldn't just let it stop there. The recent statements to the press seem to push forward the viral campaign's attempt to give some sort of credibility to the fictional film. Hey, we love a fun viral promotion as much as the next Dark Knight fan, but we don't need to be jerked around, about a subject that is clearly so fake.
Then there's the matter of backlash. Let us not forget the disaster that was The Fourth Kind. After force feeding the audience "facts" about the high rates of missing persons in Nome, Alaska (glossing over police reports that attributed these disappearances to excessive alcohol consumption and deadly weather) the film then insisted that aliens MUST be sucking up all of Alaska's inhabitants. How can you deny it? People are missing, it must be aliens. To back up these claims, The Fourth Kind attacked the audience with laughably distorted footage of real alien possession and an owl — you know, facts.
The aggressive stance the movie took on its "authentic" alien-possession sessions only seemed to provoke the audience to enter the theater with one eyebrow raised, ready to debunk. When their skepticism was met with crappy filtered footage, the backlash was brutal.
We're not saying "found footage" marketing that plays with the "Is it real?" question is all bad. In 1999, we all saw the heights that fakery could take a film to, with The Blair Witch. It may not have been the first, but it was certainly the most successful —Blair Witch totaled about $248 million worldwide. And it was fun. I remember quite clearly overhearing audience members vigilantly defend Blair Witch's authenticity at a first screening. Sure they were being duped, but it least the lie was plausible. I could easily be convinced that a crazy person murdered three kids on a camping trip. But you will never convince me that the tapes from a lost lunar mission were discovered by Dimension Films. Never.
Plus that marketing trick was a success over 10 years ago! The only person that's been able to revive the found footage gag is J.J. Abrams and his Cloverfield viral opus. The team behind Cloverfield took faux realism to a whole new level. They created an alternate reality with corporations, government conspiracies and slushies. Instead of demanding that people believe their lie, they dreamt up a world people were desperate to be a part of. This is the model we wish more found footage films would take.
To be fair, we're not bashing Apollo 18. We enjoyed the trailer and even oohed over the space madness moments. But our enjoyment didn't come from the fact that we believed this film was made up of real space footage. We were excited because this film has the potential to bring back the moribund genre of science fiction horror. Hollywood hasn't delivered good space horror since Sunshine. Paranormal Activity is another great example of a mockumentary that didn't market itself as fact, it marketed itself on the basis that it scared the hell out of people because it felt real. It lulled the audience into slowly buying into the act, without having to lie. Let this be a warning to future found footage flicks like Area 51.
We're also not saying that mockumentary films should be banned. Or viral marketing, for that matter — Apollo 18 has a fairly great Russian cosmonaut viral happening right now. And we're sluts for a good internet puzzle. We just don't need the head of a studio to try and convince us that they found mysterious alien footage on the Moon.