A closer look at Prometheus’ marketing campaign

News Ryan Lambie 14 Mar 2012 - 15:34

With the next trailer for Prometheus only a few days away, Ryan takes a closer look at how Ridley Scott’s anticipated return to sci-fi has been sold so far…

Over the past few days, much has been written about the marketing drive that built up to the release of John Carter. How the earliest trailer, released last July, didn’t have enough impact. How the name change confused people. How the posters failed to truly give a flavour of what the film was about.

I’m certainly not going to rake over all that again here, but the whole debate over the way John Carter has been packaged and sold so far has left me thinking quite a lot about the marketing campaign behind Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Prometheus. By comparison, the marketing of Scott’s ‘definitely not an alien prequel’ has been quite brilliant.

This isn’t to say that marketing has anything very much to do with the quality of either film. I was left utterly cold by John Carter’s posters and trailers, but thoroughly enjoyed the finished product. It’s possible, therefore, that Prometheus could prove to be the opposite: well-edited trailers and engaging posters used to flog an absolute pup of a movie. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case, but let’s face it, this sort of thing goes on all the time – do you remember how excited everybody was after they saw the first trailer for The Phantom Menace?

Irrespective of how Scott’s movie turns out, the marketing for it has, so far, been handled with a sense of sure-handed confidence. It helps, of course, that Prometheus has a big, easy-to-sell handle on it: Ridley Scott’s return to the sci-fi genre. A quick glance down the movie’s cast list reveals a solid roster of respected actors rather than A-list stars, but that hardly matters: here, Scott’s the star.

The director may be keen to distance his latest film from Alien, but movie buffs are unlikely to be dissuaded. And say what you will about Scott’s lesser films (and there are plenty of those, such as GI Jane and White Squall), his two sci-fi movies, Alien and Blade Runner, are among the most influential genre pictures ever made.

Safe in the knowledge that Scott’s project would get plenty of word-of-mouth publicity from Alien fans (its ‘Untitled Alien Prequel’ IMDb entry would ensure that on its own), little was seen or heard of the movie once its campaign officially kicked in last July. Twitter profiles and Facebook pages were hoisted under the project’s new banner, Prometheus, but little more was known, other than odd rumours or enigmatic statements from Scott about “Alien DNA” and gods from space.

The first official image to appear, which began circulating online in the wake of the 20111 San Diego Comic-Con, was almost anti-climactic: the vague outline of an astronaut, apparently suspended in space with what looked like the blurry after-images of a million bees buzzing around it.

Meanwhile, those lucky enough to actually be in attendance at the Comic-Con were treated to some preview footage. This proved to be another masterstroke: over the days that followed, genre fans everywhere were sharing their memories of what they’d seen. Charlize Theron doing press-ups in her birthday suit. Space ships. Some sort of weird green space gas.

What’s worth noting at this point is how successful Fox have been in crushing any attempts to divulge Prometheus’ secrets. Given just how easy it is to take still- or video-footage on a mobile phone these days, and how quickly things can be spoiled on the net, it’s surprising just how little has really leaked out. Sure, there’s the odd candid snap and (possibly fake) synopsis out there if you want to find them, but compare Prometheus’ production with, say, The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan’s final Batman movie may be the most anticipated film of 2012, but even with that in mind, the amount of leaked photos and trailers has been quite staggering.

In more recent months, Prometheus’ promo drive has begun in earnest. This kicked off with some tantalising images first published in Entertainment Weekly last November. These were, it has to be said, deceptively well chosen; hand picked to evoke an air of mystery rather than divulge anything tangible. Far from satisfying curiosity, they piqued it. Are those strange urns an early form of alien egg? If the three human explorers depicted in the images can breathe without a space helmet on, where exactly are they? And most pressingly, just what is that monolithic humanoid face in the background?

The posters released since have been no less enigmatic, offering up no more than a silhouette (presumably of Noomi Rapace's character) and the shadowy space face. So far, Prometheus has been a film being sold entirely on arresting images.

In December, the first official trailer arrived. The 30-second teasers that prefaced it in earlier weeks may have incited grumbles from some quarters, but there’s no denying that the trailer itself was a great one: eerie, tantalising, and packed with enough snapshots of odd, exciting things to get geeks like us excitedly reaching for the pause button every few seconds.

Last month, the Prometheus sales mission entered a new phase: a bit of viral marketing. A Weyland-Yutani website went live, which talks in blandly corporate terms about “building better worlds”. Best of all was the TED Talk video from corporation founder Sir Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce, mimicking the plumy tones of John Hurt), apparently beamed back in time from the year 2023. Weyland ominously relates the Greek myth of Prometheus, the titan who stole fire from the gods, and suffered for the act, before concluding, “We are the gods now.”

Once again, the viral marketing – whether it’s Weyland’s speech, or an intriguing high-res image that appeared a few weeks ago, apparently depicting a star map – tells us next to nothing about the finished film. And this, in these times of spoiler-filled trailers that appear to show us everything but the dying minutes of a movie, is quite unusual.

The only film I can think of that’s been bound in as much secrecy in recent years is Inception – and that movie was an original work, and not based in a pre-existing universe. Prometheus is keenly awaited by a fair number of sci-fi enthusiasts, and yet those involved in the film – Scott, the suits at Fox, and its marketing team – have resisted the temptation to plainly show too much.

The question, though, is whether Prometheus’ marketing has done enough to hook in those who are either indifferent to the Alien franchise, or are more casual towards their cinema going in general. Will Prometheus have the crossover appeal to make it a true summer blockbuster? At this juncture, it’s difficult to say.

It’s possible, too, that the next trailer, due to hit on Saturday, may completely reverse everything I’ve just written, and prove to be just as spoiler-filled and demystifying as so many other trailers we’ve seen in recent years. I suspect, however – and certainly hope – that it will not.

Because whether Prometheus proves to be an acclaimed hit or not, it feels like a film that’s being marketed by people who have a passion and understanding of what they’re selling – and their eagerness to keep so much under wraps merely makes us want to see the finished film all the more.

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