This week, District 9 will finally be released after weeks of mysterious marketing, massive hype, and documentary-style clips. District 9 promises a new look at the alien genre, using only a modest budget to deliver massive action. District 9 is produced by a major director, who along with a lesser known director, has used a major viral marketing campaign to get everyone talking. Helped by stunning trailers that came out of nowhere this summer, District 9 is poised to be a major hit during a month that doesn’t usually have big movies like this.
If this setup for District 9 sounds familiar, it is because it will sound familiar to those who went through the hype for Cloverfield in January 2008. But District 9 is out to deliver on that hype more than Cloverfield ultimately did.
The process of District 9 hype began with a surprising trailer early in the summer, featuring the bare bones of the plot. Few had heard of District 9 before the trailer, but with the glimpses they got of aliens landing, and being segregated into District 9 despite wanting to go home, they wanted more. Over the next few months, special viral marketing for District 9 kept the buzz going, with ads that reference the film’s anti-alien signs and warnings, and with additional trailers that show more of the movie’s action.
In late 2007 and early 2008, Cloverfield was going through the exact same pattern. An out-of-nowhere trailer for Cloverfield became an even bigger hit than some of that summer’s movies. Then over the next few months, Cloverfield used viral marketing and online games to drum up further anticipation. Since Cloverfield was produced/presented by J.J. Abrams, there was a lot of puzzle solving and guessing as to what the monster destroying New York looked like.
Both Cloverfield and District 9 were mainly made because of their A-list producers – J.J. Abrams and Peter Jackson, respectively. Both Cloverfield and District 9 promised documentary-style action to add realism to the typical alien/monster movie genre. However, the main difference between the two may come in the end game. For all of Cloverfield’s initial hype, it died down after everyone actually saw it. For District 9, the hype may only begin after people see it and likely rave about it.
In the case of Cloverfield, it finally arrived to mixed reviews, and a sense of disappointment for some. The mysteries and marketing games had jumped the shark by the time Cloverfield finally came out, and many were left fatigued by the overlong setup, the shaky camera work, and action that reminded viewers too much about 9/11. Behind the games and mystery, Cloverfield let down a lot of people when they finally pulled back the curtain.
For District 9, things may turn out a lot differently, according to early reviews. Not only does District 9 have its viral marketing campaign, it also has great reviews to back up the hype. Raves are coming in that praise the movie as a new sci-fi classic, a powerful parable of intolerance and xenophobia, and as a rollicking action film with gory thrills. Due to having political overtones and originality, and for being a sci-fi movie that may not be a guilty pleasure, District 9 may get people in theaters and make them come back for a few more viewings.
All the marketing tricks and teases in the world don’t mean that much if the movie itself isn’t good – usually. If the raves keep coming in, District 9 will be called the anti-Cloverfield, as a movie that paid off after all the viral hype. But perhaps that is too much of a slight against Cloverfield, since it had far different ambitions than District 9. Cloverfield was mostly out to reinvent the monster film through the eyes of J.J. Abrams, while District 9 is putting more major issues on its plate.
The verdict seems to be coming in already on District 9’s quality, which is outpacing the response to Cloverfield. The last straw will come at the box office, where Cloverfield tapered off after its large opening weekend. Cloverfield opened with $46 million and ended up with $80 million in America. District 9 may need that extra word-of-mouth to top that opening weekend, and can use it to maintain staying power in the usually weak final days of summer.
Critics are already set to say that District 9 lived up to the hype better than Cloverfield. A bigger run at the box office may just clinch that victory.
NY Mag- “Will District 9 Be The Next Cloverfield?” nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2009/05/district_9_trailer_mix.html
Empire Movies- “District 9” www.empiremovies.com/movie/district-9/21491/review/01