Next Big Viral: Neill Blomkamp's District 9 - For Humans Only
by Alex Billington
July 30, 2008
Late last year we announced that Peter Jackson's protege Neill Blomkamp had finally been given his first feature film, a mysterious sci-fi movie called District 9. Since then, we've heard nothing about this project, not even any casting or shooting details. At Comic-Con, I noticed giant "For Humans Only" banners and signs located throughout the convention center and placed at the entrance to every last bathroom, but I brushed them off as something related to a video game or TV show and nothing I needed to be concerned with. However, my sci-fi side of me was itching to know more, because it seemed like a strategic bit of viral marketing and alas, that's how I discovered that all of that was part of a much bigger viral marketing campaign for Blomkamp's District 9. Those banners were just the tip of the iceberg!
All of the banners and signs, including the ones placed at every restroom, all point to D-9.com. That site features an extensive application presented by some company called Multi-National United that allows you to either enter the human side or non-human side. After choosing one of the sides, users are shown an aerial map of a city with various colored zones and other information. The system is labeled as a "Local Alert System" for Johannesburg, ZAF (South Africa, which is also where they're filming). Beyond that, there are countless other features including a news feeds, behavior recommendations, and other rules and regulations. I really don't know what to do or where to go, but this website is host to a wealth of information that seems to only be the beginning of an extensive viral campaign.
To jump back to the film and the connection with it, since the announcement last year, no official plot synopsis has ever been revealed. Sony, who picked up the rights earlier this year, said that "we believe District 9 can be a true event tentpole on our release slate." Obviously we can expect something huge with this film, especially considering that Sony is launching this viral marketing a good 12 months before its release on August 14th, 2009. Everything so far points to this being a full length version of the short that Blomkamp made titled Alive In Joburg. That short is about a fictional world where aliens have become refugees in South Africa. You can see the aliens have the same tentacles and are asking for electricity - which further solidifies speculation that District 9 is a full length version of Alive In Joburg.
Additional websites related to the viral have also popped up including: multinationalunited.com, which has a countdown timer to the release of the movie; mnuspreadslies.com, a blog being run by the aliens complaining about MNU; mathsfromouterspace.com, some funky educational site related to MNU.
This reminds me a lot of the viral campaign for Cloverfield, surrounding a major corporation (Multi-National United / Tagruato Corp.) that has some dark secrets and a hidden agenda that is being uncovered by rogue people (or aliens) on the internet. We'll try and follow this as best we can with any updates we hear about over the next few months. With the huge success of The Dark Knight's viral marketing campaign, we expect other major studios are going to experiment with viral marketing as well. And I'm amazed that Sony has launched something this big at Comic-Con so far in advance of the actual release of the film. I guess they're expecting something quite epic come next August?
As for District 9, I'm pretty damn sure that Jackson and Blomkamp are using it as "proof" for a Halo movie. They're hoping to show the world that they can create an awesome sci-fi movie with a big budget so that Blomkamp has one succesful film under his belt. That way studios won't be so concerned about Blomkamp's experience and ability to handle a huge budget. If you haven't seen them already, make sure you check out Blomkamp's Halo shorts that he made around the time of release last year. Interested?