Another Blair Witch movie! Who would have thought? Cash-in! we cry. Not another ‘fake presented as real’ malarkey! we holler. Nothing original these days, we sniff. While that may be true, let’s think about the original for a second.
The Blair Witch Project was a game-changer. Not necessarily in its format – ‘found footage’ narratives have been floating around since the 70s, with Cannibal Holocaust and all the other video nasties. However, what set the film apart from its predecessors was how it created a mythical hype at a time when easy access to information was starting to boom.
When I saw the original film, I was only fourteen years old. Back then, the internet was still finding its feet. All I knew about the movie was contained in a little promotional booklet full of clippings that detailed the film’s legend. ‘Googling’ wasn’t a thing, and nor was jumping over to IMDB to get all your answers. Come to think of it, at that time we didn’t even have an internet connection at home. Dial up, anyone?
The ambiguity was a huge part of the appeal. I was also impressionable enough to think/hope there was some truth to it. While a little bit of common sense told me that in all likelihood the actors were not dead, there was still a twinge of doubt. Did these events happen on some level, but were exaggerated for the movie? Was the Blair Witch folklore itself actually known in its locality?
Of course, it wasn’t. The success of The Blair Witch Project was mainly due to its ambiguous marketing – the tie-in website was not presented as a movie website at all, but rather a collection of anecdotes, evidence, and spooky stills from the silent woods. Big deal, we might say. That’s nothing new. Yes – but remember, back in 1999, the internet was still experimenting. It was new.
Given how big a role the internet plays in our lives today, it’s strange to know that it hasn’t always been there. There was a time when if we wanted to learn more, we had to buy magazines, listen to radio and watch TV interviews. We really had to work for our information. Now we have RottenTomatoes, Wikipedia, IMDB, blog posts, podcasts, and fansites everywhere. With everything available in a few clicks, the excitement just isn’t the same.
Creating myth as reality for promotional purposes is ubiquitous today. One recent example? The Jurassic World website. Look at the detail. Look at how much effort has gone into creating the illusion that yes, we can go to a dinosaur theme park. Look at the park cams, and the map detailing the restaurants. We can even view the restaurant menus. We can check how crowded the rides are, or read up on the company’s investors. Hell, we can even apply for a job with them.
Presenting illusion as fact is now a given in movie marketing. But let’s not forget its pioneers.