Thursday, July 12, 2007

The movie with no name generates early buzz

The most interesting thing about director Michael Bay’s “Transformers” isn’t the movie itself. If you want a movie about giant robots who moonlight as cars and airplanes, the 1986 animated version, “Transformers: The Movie,” is a better deal.

No, the most interesting thing is the mysterious teaser trailer screening before “Transformers” — a teaser for a movie that doesn’t yet have a title.

The Internet Movie Database refers to the film as the “Untitled J.J. Abrams Project.” But rumors have floated around the Internet for weeks, usually citing the working title “Cloverfield.” Probably no bogus movie name has generated so much buzz since George Lucas began work on a film called “Blue Harvest” — better known as “Return of the Jedi.”

For now, “Cloverfield” will have to do. Executive producer J.J. Abrams (“Alias,” “Lost”) isn’t giving up many hints. On Monday, Ain’t It Cool News posted a letter from Abrams in which he denied any connection to two Web sites that seem to be part of a viral marketing campaign for the film: and

Whoever “Ethan Haas” is, the Ethan Haas Was Right site, which invites visitors to solve puzzles in order to uncover Haas’ prophecies of impending doom, looks pretty professional not to be part of some elaborate marketing scheme.

So far, Abrams said, fans have discovered only one legitimate “Cloverfield” Web site,, named for the film’s scheduled Jan. 18 release date.

The trailer itself is doing a good job of generating interest. At first, it appears to be home-video footage of a party. Maybe the movie is a comedy? Then things take a slightly darker tone, and you think, “A drama? Maybe a thriller?”

Then the explosions start, and the person holding the camera, along with the other partygoers, heads outside just in time to catch a blast lighting up the night sky, followed by what sounds like a roar.

When I saw the trailer in the theater, people in the audience were, at this point, asking each other, “Is that Godzilla?”

Godzilla doesn’t appear. But the next thing you see are buildings crumbling and cars flying across the city. Then something crashes in the street below.

It’s the severed head of the Statue of Liberty.

We’re in New York City, and Really Bad Things are happening.

Then the trailer ends with that date: 1-18-08. So, whatever is happening, you’ll have to wait seven months to find out.

That’s brilliant marketing.

Judging from just the trailer, the film currently known as “Cloverfield” looks like “Godzilla” meets “The Blair Witch Project” — a monster movie told from the point of view of amateur video. Probably not coincidentally, “The Blair Witch Project” is another film that took full advantage of an unorthodox marketing campaign, which had a lot of moviegoers convinced the film was a legitimate documentary rather than a clever work of fiction.

All we know about “Cloverfield” is Abrams is producing it, “Felicity” creator Matt Reeves is directing it, Drew Goddard (“Alias,” “Lost”) is writing its screenplay and it stars a cast of unknowns, who reportedly weren’t even allowed to see the script before they signed on.

For now, we’re left to guess. Is the entire film going to be “home movie” footage, or was that just a trick to throw us off. Is there really a giant, Godzilla-like monster? And what is up with all of this Ethan Haas stuff, which makes the movie look like some sort of cosmic doomsday out of the pages of an H.P. Lovecraft story?

That ought to keep people talking until January.

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