'Cloverfield' Release Will Be Test of Online Hype

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Decapitated Statue of Liberty in 'Cloverfield' i

A giant monster rips the head off the Statue of Liberty in Cloverfield, the highly anticipated movie by the creator of TV shows Alias and Lost. Paramount Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Paramount Pictures
Decapitated Statue of Liberty in 'Cloverfield'

A giant monster rips the head off the Statue of Liberty in Cloverfield, the highly anticipated movie by the creator of TV shows Alias and Lost.

Paramount Pictures

The new movie from J.J. Abrams — the man behind the TV shows Lost and Alias — will be in theaters in just seven days. His fans on the Internet are more than ready.

Even the movie's name was the subject of rampant Internet speculation. At first, it was called The Untitled J.J. Abrams Project. Fans thought Cloverfield was a fake name, designed to throw them off: Cloverfield is an oddly pastoral title for a movie in which a giant monster rips the head off the Statue of Liberty.

Cinema Verite Trailer Stokes Curiosity

Box office analyst Jeff Bock says the film's makers have been marketing it "brilliantly."

Cloverfield's first theatrical trailer last summer showed little more than a few dramatic minutes captured on a handheld camera.

"It was a really gutsy move to not even use a tag for the title. So the only thing you saw was this cinema verite video footage and, at the end, the numbers 1-18-08," Bock says.

Those numbers — the release date — were the only clue for curious fans like Dennis Acevedo.

"We took screenshots of every frame of the trailer and looked for clues inside the trailer," he says.

Fans Share Theories Online

The trailer starts innocently, showing a party. By the end, all of the guests are wandering the streets of New York in terror. Hundreds of YouTube videos obsessively analyze every minute, including two videos (part 1 and part 2) by Tom Simmons, a 19-year-old forestry student who lives with his parents in England.

Simmons has devoted himself to the arcania of the film characters' MySpace pages, and of Web sites planted by the studio online. He figures fellow fans might benefit from his research. His videos have gotten more than 10,000 views.

'Cloverfield' Is No 'Snakes on a Plane'

Some analysts compare the Cloverfield phenomenon to a recent box office disappointment, New Line's Snakes on a Plane.

What New Line got wrong, says Bock, the box office analyst, was that people were chatting about the film online — but they weren't intrigued by it, they were making fun of it.

Bock says an online campaign for the movie's star, Samuel L. Jackson, to utter one expletive-laden line about snakes and planes did not mean people actually wanted to pay $10 to see a mediocre action film. Cloverfield lured fans down a narrative rabbit hole by creating a whole universe online.

Will Publicity Sustain Interest?

Fan Acevedo's guide to that universe is called CloverfieldClues.com. It helped lead fans to studio-produced news reports about a monster attacking New York — including versions in Japanese, Spanish and Russian.

"You have all these theories about what's going to happen in the movie, and you start to see all these different videos come out, and it really builds up the excitement for the movie," Acevedo says.

When asked if he minded being co-opted into a marketing strategy, British forestry student Simmons says he had never really thought about it.

"At the end of the day, they are creating an incredible amount of interest without spending much money at all. But they deserve it, really. I don't mind it as long as the film's good," he says.

The movie doesn't come out in England until February. So Simmons is going to scrupulously avoid the fan sites until then. When he sees the movie, he says he wants it to be fresh.

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