I’ll be honest with you right from the start here. Movies about viruses scare the living crap out of me. I yawn at chainsaws and claws and most everything else that populates horror films, but make a movie about killer flu or something and I am, quite frankly, creeped the hell out.
So while I Am Legend certainly seems interesting it’s premise makes my insides clench a bit. Will Smith plays Robert Neville, seemingly the only immune survivor of a man-made virus that’s killed most of the world’s population. The handful that lived are infected, with the virus turning them into vampiric, cannibalistic mutants. Neville is a virologist, and is working to find a cure for those infected survivors using his own immune blood as an antidote.
The movie is based on the book of the same name by Richard Matheson and this is actually the third adaptation. The first, called The Last Man on Earth, starred Vincent Price as Neville. The second was The Omega Man, the tremendously cheesy movie with Charlton Heston in the lead role. Each one, including this one, updates the story a bit to take place in its own time period or, in the case of the new movie, the not-too-distant future.
Warner Bros. created two posters for the movie but in reality their variations on the same theme. The teaser shows Smith walking with his dog, gun in hand, toward the viewer in fairly small scale. The only copy on the poster aside from the title treatment is the same text that would be used elsewhere in the campaign, “The last man on Earth…is not alone.”
It does a good job of setting up, mainly with that copy, the basic outline of the movie. The small figure of Smith that’s on it, even though he’s just set against a more or less blank backdrop, creates a nice sense of the sheer scale of solitude he’s dealing with.
The second, theatrical poster takes away the generic cityscape and instead sets Smith against a ruined, abandoned New York City where vegetation has begun to creep into the urban dwellings. Like the teaser poster, it’s main goal is to graphically explain to the viewer that he is very much alone in the world and does that by dwarfing him compared to the city around him.
In the background we see the George Washington Bridge, seemingly collapsed in the middle and no longer connecting the city to itself. But we know it didn’t on its own because of neglect because the bridge also features prominently in…
Again, there are two trailers created for domestic consumption.
The teaser trailer just went for basic setup of the movie’s story. I don’t even know that I’d fully call it a teaser since it didn’t really tease so much as provide an initially, incomplete picture of the movie. There wasn’t much teasing going on since we see the panic of the population as the infection spreads, the solitude of Robert Neville as he struggles for survival and then a bit of his battle against the infected survivors.
A full third – actually almost the first half – of this first trailer is devoted to showing Smith, in military uniform, struggle to get his wife and daughter to safety. It’s then that we see the bridge fall, seemingly after a squadron of military jets fire missiles at it. So, going back to the poster momentarily, we get a nice cross-pollination of a single plot element into multiple facets of the marketing campaign. That’s a cool idea since that makes each component a bit more engaging for the audience since they say to themselves, “Oh, that’s the bridge that’s destroyed in the trailer.”
The second trailer took the surprising tact, I felt, of positioning the movie as more thriller than action flick. We get plenty of scenes of how the world got into this situation, but then most of the running time is devoted to showing Neville hunt and gather for his food, showing him struggling for a cure to the virus and eventually outrunning the mutated ghouls who want him dead.
It’s a tight, tense trailer that ups the drama but also shows there’s at least a few action sequences, something I thought they’d accentuate more strongly. I’m not complaining about it or saying this an ineffective strategy, just that it’s surprising there isn’t more action in the trailer. Maybe this is how the movie really is and WB didn’t want to sell the movie in a misleading fashion.
Stop laughing – that might actually be true.
The movie’s official website is among the slickest I’ve seen lately. There’s some good content that’s wrapped inside very slick packaging that’s very brand-consistent.
When you first pull up the site you’re presented with one of the ruined New York scenes like the ones that grace the poster and the trailers. The second trailer auto-plays, so be careful not to have your computer speakers on too loud if you’re at work. Once you stop that you’ll notice off to the left by where it says “Navigation” there’s a little pie-chart looking graphic that prompts you to “Rotate View.” If you do that you’re swung around to a different part of New York that’s giving way to vegetation and ruin. That’s a nice tough to more fully immerse the visitor in the movie’s world and provide something more than a static background.
Before diving into other areas, there’s a sidebar of information that’s shown off to the left of the screen that has some interesting stuff. There’s a feed of news items about the movie (more on that later), an interactive map of locations in New York City that play into the movie’s plot and a Daylight Meter.
Clicking on one of the locations pinpointed on the map will take you to that part of the city and show you a picture of how that spot appears now and how it appears in the post-apocolyptic future of the movie. Nice feature that makes the movie’s setting seem a little more real by putting it in the context of the present day. The really interesting touch is that if you visited the site during nighttime hours you saw shadowy figures peaking out from behind lamp posts, out of windows and other hidden places.
The Daylight Meter is something that again tries to immerse you in the movie’s world. First of, it should be noted that the background image on the site appears with the amount of daylight occurring in real time. So if you visit the site at 4 PM Eastern time, you’ll see a picture with the sort of daylight that happens at 4PM Eastern time. That’s a nice touch. Someone was obviously paying attention and thought that would be a cool feature. They were right.
So the Daylight Meter shows how much time is left until sundown. Since Neville has to be back in the safety of his apartment before the sun goes down and the ghouls come out this is an important plot point. You can also click to get an Enhanced Daylight Meter, which is basically a widget you can take with you elsewhere on the web, thus extending the movie’s marketing campaign at the same time.
Hitting that “Navigation” button takes you into the site’s full content.
“Downloads” contains a number of Wallpapers, Screensavers, Buddy Icons and both of the movie’s Posters you can save to your hard drive. “Photo Gallery” contains a paltry seven stills. Really. Just seven.
Both of the trailers described above as well as the four TV Spots for the movie can be found under “Video.” I’m always glad when the official site contains all the TV spots as well as the trailers. These are just as important – if not more so – to the campaign as the trailer since the potential audience of these spots is just as big as that of the trailers.
“Synopsis” just has a single paragraph of text that actually describes the movie and then two grafs talking about the director, producer and other behind-the-camera talent. Why can’t this just be purely about the movie’s story again?
The site’s “iPhone” section contains a batch of iPhone-specific wallpapers. That’s just one portion of the movie’s playing to the iPhone audience, though. Warner Bros. created a whole version of the site that was specially formatted to iPhone users. I’ll get into why I think this is a big deal later on.
Next is yet another way to access the “Enhanced Daylight Meter” I mentioned earlier. “Partners and Promotions” is basically a list of outside movie sites that ran Legend-related contests and such. “Production Notes” is actually not anything on the site itself. Clicking that link opens up a PDF you can save that contains the production notes and credits, about 30+ pages worth. That’s neat and all, but it’s common web courtesy to warn someone when they’re about to open a PDF, something that occasionally causes people problems.
Also on the site is a preview of “Awakening,” the tie-in series of short comic stories that tell the story of the world as it awakes (natch) to the threat of the virus. Some of the stories are shown in total, others seem to be just sneaked. The whole thing can be downloaded as a PDF, which is very cool and a great promotional tactic designed to whet people’s appetites to go out and buy the whole thing.
A few of hose Awakening stories were also teased with animated videos that use the comic artwork, but sort of roughly put them in motion and with voices and sound effects added. Great idea to lure people in online and get them to seek out the book.
The release of those videos – as well as other announcements of new trailers, posters and other news – was all pushed to the RSS feed you can find under the “News Feed” part of the site. Subscribe to that either from the site proper or from the stand-alone I Am Legend blog Warner Bros. setup and you’ll get automatically notified of updates.
Also online the studio created a MySpace page for the movie but, unlike some executions, actually did something with it. For one thing it acted as one of the distribution outlets for the second, theatrical trailer. Along with that, Warner Bros. created sponsored video slideshows people could put on their own profiles that create a scrolling menu of videos on a profile instead of forcing people to point visitors to the “Videos” section of their pages.
Warner Bros. obviously dropped some serious kwan on advertising this movie. Not only were there a batch of TV spots that ran in heavy rotation but there were have been bus ads in downtown Chicago for a long while now. They also bought the inside of some Netflix envelopes.
I wanted to break the games that were created for this movie into their own category since they were so in-depth and fully thought-out, not just cheap toss-off online games.
The first is the I Am Legend Survival Game. An execution within the virtual world of Second Life, the Survival Game allowed people to enter the game’s playing area and take on the role of either a survivor or a Dark Seeker, the ghoulish bad guys. The game’s story is actually set within the year leading up to the story told in the movie, meaning at least a little bit of the story of the missing three years in the movie gets fleshed out. Different areas of New York City were created and specific challenges were set for teams. There was even a separate blog setup just for news about the game.
The second game is the I-AM-IMMUNE challenge. Adam from Hollywood Chicago was all over this one. Essentially, people registered on the site and received a patient bracelet in the mail containing an access code. Once logged into the site as a player, participants were given street challenges to perform in order to prove they weren’t infected and prizes were awarded. A very nice effort that was just as interactive in the real world as the Survival Game was in the virtual one.
Finally there’s God Still Loves Us. When I first saw the site, which encourages people to share stories of how God hasn’t forsaken the human race just yet, my initial thought was that it might be part of the I Am Legend campaign but ultimately couldn’t draw a direct line to the movie so didn’t mention it. In another sign that I have smart friends, Kirk has a great post he just put up does draw that line and goes into why it’s such an interesting effort so I’ll turn you over to his able hands.
This is a first for MMM. I was invited to see the movie at its New York City premiere the Tuesday before it opened so I’m actually able to offer a mini review of the movie and tell you how it compares to the campaign. You can read my co-worker Allison’s recap of the evening here.
First off, the movie is very cool. It’s a tight, action-packed movie that is one of the most genuinely thrilling – meaning it actually caused me to jolt in my seat more than once – that I’ve seen in a long time. This is possibly Smith’s best role to date and he creates a compelling portrait of someone who is carrying the weight of the world, or at least the world’s fate, on his shoulders, a burden he has no one to help with save his loyal dog. The movie works more or less from beginning to end, with a strong script that doesn’t fall back on cliche too often
After seeing the final product I have to say the campaign is pretty darn accurate. There’s no misleading element to the campaign that I can pinpoint, no attempt to play up something that receives only minor mention in the movie or anything like that.
Instead the campaign strives to extend the movie’s universe to the viewer and does so very accurately. If you have experienced the campaign then you’re completely prepped for the movie and will find its setting instantly familiar. By immersing the audience in the world Smith lives in through the campaign, Warner Bros. has actually added to the audience’s enjoyment of the movie, something that’s quite hard to pull off.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll find it not surprising that I like this campaign and think it’s a very strong effort. Good trailers, good posters and absolutely excellent online and gaming executions make this a great push for a movie that lots of people are saying might be the blockbuster hit Hollywood needs this winter.
The main theme of the campaign is one of technology, a theme that’s repeated not only in what we see about the campaign – with lots of computers and such shown to the viewer – but also in the platforms used for the campaign’s distribution. Second Life, iPhones and other tools are all used to lend the movie’s brand an instant association in the audience’s mind with being on the forefront of technology.