Thursday, 19 April 2012

Disturbing viral marketing for Prometheus: Happy birthday David, from Weyland Industries.

Previously: The Costumes of Alien, Part 2: Space suits, retrofuturism, and Prometheus.

I'm not having the vapours over Prometheus the way I currently am about The Avengers' pre-movie shenanigans, which is probably just as well as Prometheus doesn't come out until June. I am, however, quietly impressed by the direction their viral marketing is taking. These days most sci-fi/geek-oriented movies use viral videos and ARG sites alongside traditional marketing, but quality varies.
In the case of Prometheus, Guy Pearce's 2023 TED Talk (in character as the CEO of Weyland Industries, an early precurser to the Weyland-Yutani corporation of the Alien Quadrilogy) was an intriguing turn, especially since Prometheus takes place decades after 2023. Likewise, the new David8 robot ad from Weyland Industries features one of Prometheus' main stars, but doesn't seem like it's going to appear in the movie itself.

Not gonna lie: I'm kind of fixating on this video. Watch it and you may understand why. Michael Fassbender is just so creepy.

Like most people watching viral videos several months before a film's release date I'm enough of a fanperson that my future film ticket is metaphorically booked already, so I can't really guage its usefulness as a marketing tool (although I guess I am currently perpetuating its ploy by writing about it here...). But at face-value, as an advertisement for a robot as opposed to a film that contains a robot character? WORST. AD. EVER. Let's break it down.
  1. David8 (lovingly played by Michael Fassbender's smooth, skull-like face and vast array of teeth) is supposedly a master of human emotion, yet his dead-eyed expression and Swarovski crystal tears are so far down the Uncanny Valley that I'd rate this video at least a PG for pure inhuman disturbia value. He also has the soft, calm voice of Hal 9000 or Hannibal Lecter.
  2. He manages to enhale the perfume of a lily (FUNERAL IMAGERY, I see what you did there) in such a way that he somehow resembles a lizard about to kill and eat a small defenseless animal.
  3. "I understand human emotions... although I do not feel them myself." SCREAM. Look, I know this ad is aimed at CEOs looking to hire someone with no ethical qualms about doing their dirty work, but David8's demeanour is so disquieting I can't imagine buying him for that exact reason
  4. When he cries, not only are the tears fake in the sense that he's a robot and therefore has no autonomic function, they're false because he freely admits that he doesn't feel any emotion.
I'm convinced this is all on purpose. The David8 commercial is a masterpiece of subtle horror. Take, for example, his immediate appearance. Even discounting the fact that his facial expressions are seriously off and that Fassbender takes great trouble to move with the calculated smoothness of a machine (there's actually a fake David8 promotional website where you can examine his full range of emotional expression), he looks like... a Nazi. I've been wondering for a while now why Fassbender dyed his hair blond in order to play a robot, and I guess we have our answer now. What with the trim figure, masculine facial features and that blond side-parting he genuinely looks like the Aryan ideal -- plus the uniform shirt buttoned up to the neck.
Screencaps from here.
Oh, and in the background of that scene? Robot skulls.

The chess shot is really an extension of the Uncanny Valley thing as a whole. On top of David8's subtly non-human appearance, here we see two Davids performing what is supposedly a human leisure activity. Except they're doing it in a sterile room, with uncomfortably perfect posture, and expressing none of the body-language of either a person who is having fun, or a person interacting with another person. "THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT ACTUALLY PEOPLE," it screams, and I have to wonder if this is a purposeful marketing choice on the part of Weyland Industries because if a robot was exactly the same as a human, then what's the point in paying for a robot at all?
Another unnecessarily disturbing moment: the filmmaker chops footage of David8 up into little sections and spreads them out across the screen. The right hand side is particularly disturbing, since for a moment it gives the impression of a single, cyclops-like eye above a normal mouth. Also, the supposedly casual poses of the Davids labeled C, D and E are not remotely casual at all. My favourite detail is probably the sandals, which are probably intended to imply relaxation and comfort but in fact are very jarring when compared to David's pressed, buttoned-up clothes and flawless hair and skin.
What's that? David8 enjoys poking at tiny model people with sharp impliments? How delightful and artistic! I must buy one at once! Particularly in order to perform tasks that "humans might find... [ominous pause]... distressing, or unethical". What could possibly go wrong.
In conclusion, David8 is what you buy when you want a really efficient, emotionless version of Patrick Batemen in American Psycho, except he bleeds white blood, never dies, and has a metal skeleton like Wolverine. What appealing employee characteristics. Luckily he's totally obedient and able to work for 24 hours per day. You know... unless he malfunctions. Which never happens to humanoid robots on isolated space missions in sci-fi movies.
I assume it's no accident that David shares a name with the young protagonist of AI: Artificial Intelligence, a role for which Haley Joel Osment trained himself not to blink for long stretches of time in order to seem less human. But if David8 is the eighth iteration of the David series, I hate to think what their developmental process entails because David8 has all the human comfort and appeal of a switchblade.
Not disturbing at all.
Weyland Industries' homepage for David8 provides various ominous details about the robot's basic functions, such as his "Fear center safety program (can be disabled)". David8's marketing seems so skewed towards him being a soulless denizen of the Uncanny Valley that I'm very much hoping he turns out to be the opposite. Not that I want Fassbender's character to evolve into a warm and cuddly romantic hero like Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man, but what with Blade Runner and the original Alien movie, Ridley Scott does have a good track record for creating layered non-human characters.

Links

The timeline for Weyland Industries from Peter Weyland's birth to the "present" day is well worth checking out. This is the kind of constructed reality I appreciate: lots of believable detail, but very little solid information relating to what will take place in the movie itself.

This Twitter feed is an astonishingly well-devised piece of viral marketing. In character as David8, @david8weyland answers questions from fans with tweets like, "Spiders are a most fascinating breed of insect. Arachnids have superior strength, reflex and survivability." and "What fascinates me about humans is their individual interpretation of beauty. I can interpret positive visuals from objects."

There's also a David8 Tumblr, although I'm not sure if it's official or a fan-page and it doesn't seem as interesting as David's personal Twitter.

18 comments:

  1. Not going to lie, I took great glee is terrifying my flatmates with this video. I just can't get over how abjectly horrifying Fassy manages to be. Obviously, the unsettling quality of video is enhanced by music choices and shot composition, but Fassy is the only human(oid) we actually see, so props to him for inspiring such terror. His mother must be so proud...

    But, I'd have to agree, I think the problem with David is going to be if/when he ceases to be a disposable tool, switchblade or otherwise. I think it's quite telling that he is able to answer a question on what makes him "sad" before denying the existence of emotions, whilst when describing what TIPE stands for at the end, the only word you see Fassy say is "emotional". You can't really have it both ways Weyland, either he feels or he doesn't; is he more Bishop or Ash?

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  2. My love of creepy replicants/androids/robots/cyborgs knows no bounds. The uncannier the better. This one is nazier than they usually come, you're right. I can only imagine what that means wrt the actual film plot. As soon as I get the Avengers omgomgomgomg out of the way, I shall explode into a frenzy of Prometheus excite.

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  3. OOoh, that was.....
    Creeptastic. The weird sort of 'this is awesome, i am awed' expression with the flowers, when it's clear he's neither awed nor moved.... And the fingerprint with the corporate logo *and*, and.... David in the coffin-like shipping box, jerking to life like he's been shocked, or is a biology frog getting tweaked along the nerves....
    *shudders*

    Also, the vid you embedded up there is gone, but this link works as of my pasting it here.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMlBVtR12Hs

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  4. i think it's his head movements -- so unnatural-looking yet graceful, and paired with near-total expressionlessness most of the time. apparently fassbender studied this olympic diver for the way david moves, but if the diver moves like that in real life then he must be creepy as hell.

    thanks for the youtube link! i'll change it.

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  5. absolute agreement WRT the avengers. currently i'm stupidly overexcited about the avengers to a point that i haven't witnessed in myself since i was a teenager waiting for the harry potter movies to come out, which, IDEK where this reaction has even come from but there is NO ROOM for prometheus in my geek-hindbrain as of yet. ;) give it a month! (plus i haven't written Hello, Tailor review of the 3rd or 4th Alien movies yet...)

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  6. has fassbender EVER played a reassuring or "nice" role?? i'm not particularly a fan so i don't know much abuot what he's done outside Shame (which I'm unlikely to see), x-men and a british TV series he did where he played a Sexy Demon (it was awful).

    i loved the no emotions vs "what makes you sad" thing. ADVERTISEMENT PEOPLE: UR DOIN IT WRONG. don't contradict yourself in your 2-minute TV spot!! i have pretty high hopes/expectations for this character when we get to see the movie.

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  7. Reassuring or nice? No, not really, with the possible exception of Archie Hicox, the token British soldier in Inglorious Basterds. He was amazing in Hunger, though, which I highly recommend. Still not reassuring or nice, but then he is playing Bobby Sands, so my hopes weren't particularly high in that quarter. (There's an amazing scene in the middle which is a single camera shot under amazingly understated lighting of two people talking that goes on for about 15 minutes, it's like watching the real thing. Aaaaaaand, relax...) Oh God, by Sexy Demon thing, do you mean Hex? I never watched that, but even the stills look creepy, what is wrong with this man?

    I think the music change and then the cut closer during that exchange is also important, but I seriously wouldn't buy one of those given the choice. Empire magazine are running a feature of Prometheus this month in the UK, including a tiny interview with the King of Creep himself. Everyone is still irritatingly tight-lipped though. But, I imagine that after the Avengers, the marketing will kick up a gear.

    I was talking to my flatmate about the differences in the online marketing of the Avengers and Prometheus the other day, actually. I was a bit disappointed that there hadn't been more of this sort of stuff for the Avengers, until I came to depressing realisation that at 21, I'm not really in the primary target market... Whatever, I've booked my tickets for opening night and I feel no shame! Unlike Fassy, I suppose...

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  8. lol, absolute truth re: avengers. there's some kind of game and they had a bunch of contests earlier on (before i was interested), but a) i have no interest in games, and b) yeah, 22 is probably too old for this stuff, despite my staunch belief that when it comes to fannish stuff there's rarely any such thing as "too old". the prometheus marketers already know that the film ISN'T going to be child-rated so there's no point in that type of marketing, plus they're probably quite keen to hook the fanbase of old-school Alien fans. they seem to be going to hard sci-fi/backstory route, which i definitely appreciate because i'm a glutton for information but don't actually want to know what happens IN the movie -- unlike with the avengers, where so many (awesome-looking and tantalising!) teaser clips have been released that i'm having to ban myself from watching them for fear i'll have seen half the good scenes before i even step into the cinema.

    totally forgot about inglorius basterds! i loved that movie. + i want to know how one can knit together erik's nazi-hunting background in the XM:FC movie with the nazi-hunting of the Tarantinoverse.

    Hex was a total mess. i watched almost every episode online during my high school exams, if it still counts as "watching" when you skip most scenes. it was set in this INCREDIBLY posh english boarding school that seemed to only have really attractive 18-year-old students (an A-level college boarding school, maybe??) and the main character was this objectively bland girl who found out she had ~~witchcraft powers~~. fassbender was her love interest but was quite clearly SO INCREDIBLY AWFUL it was very confusing as to why she ever went for him, even by the standards of badboy teen romances. Angel in Buffy i can understand, but fassbender's character was straight-up psycho and did things like forcibly impregnate her with an apocalyptic demon baby. the best character was the heroine's best friend the sarcastic lesbian ghost (!?) who took the lead in the second series where they basically got rid of the protagonist altogether and introduced a new cast and plotline. as i said: a total mess -- kind of as if Buffy had been killed off at the end of season 1 and the show proceeded to be about Xander doing something.... un-Slayerish.

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  9. Yeah, isn't there some sort of join SHIELD type thing. I think I probably exceed the age range for that, and I'm pretty sure my only super-skills are baking and procrastination. Outside of Greek myths, not many people get taken down by poisoned puddings...

    The Prometheus stuff is more like it. (Properly typed that 'is' as 'id' first time there, no, shush Freud, no one's listening!) I don't reckon the David ad will be in the film, or at least it could only really play in the background, so there's no danger of anybody being spoiled or anything. But it's still brought a lot of attention their way, very clever boys, you thought this one through! And as regards getting in those from the first lot of Aliens, my Dad certainly liked the look of it. If, of course, by liked the look of you mean was intensely creeped out by, but by casting Fassy you can't say they didn't expect that.

    I really liked it too. I'm normally allergic to over-Americanised history, but this was so tongue in cheek and never really pretended to be true that it got away with it. Unusually, I actually quite liked Brad Pitt's performance and Christopher Waltz was also bloody good. No, don't plant ideas like that in my head. Paradox!

    Wow, that sounds really bad. And not even so bad it's good, just weird and uncomfortable. Also, unfeasable, are any dedicated sixth form colleges boarding? Don't they just start from Prep? Why watch it though? I mean, I'll binge on a show as much as the next BA student with too much time on her hands (first year exam season I watched every since Jonathan Creek that has ever been made. There are quite a few...) but if it's that bad, I don't think I could have suffered through it.

    However, a sarcastic lesbian ghost? Now that I could get behind!

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  10. i think i was just procrastinating thru exams in high school when i was watching Hex, and after a while it turned into my brother and i watching with a sense of morbid curiosity like, "what are these writers DOING???" also i think it only ran for like 15 episodes or something, and we fastforwarded through a lot. ;)

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  11. Procrastinating through exams is something I am incredibly familiar with. Unfortunately... Even so, you've got some serious dedication to stick all of them.

    Weirdly, three of the writers now write for Merlin. I haven't watched that since the first series, but I'm pretty sure I remember it better than Hex sounds. Perhaps they got a really, really rubbish brief. Also, one of the IMDB reviews says that it was a really brave production for Sky One to air. Brave or going for edgy and missing the mark by miles, do we think?

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  12. IDK, there was a gay main character and she had several love interests? and there was a lot of sex? maybe it was better than i remember, but... no. possibly other people thought it was "brave" or whatever, but the first couple of seasons of Skins were full of sex, drugs etc but they were VERY well-written, and as I recall Hex really wasn't.

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  13. Hold on, is this the ghost or the odd one who was impregnated by Fassy? Right, this is all getting really complicated and I haven't even attempted to broach the plot. Probably not the show for me. I'll take your word for the quality, not sure my sanity can take a viewing. And I think it says something when you're lead leaves after the first series, and not something good. I don't think he's said much about it since either, so perhaps he's not too pleased with it either.

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  14. He manages to enhale the perfume of a lily (FUNERAL IMAGERY, I see what you did there) in such a way that he somehow resembles a lizard about to kill and eat a small defenseless animal.

    Oh my god, this line made me start laughing hysterically in front of my computer for several minutes. And then when I reached the picture of him with the lilies, it set me off all over again. A++++ and SO accurate.

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  15. Actually, the proper trailer is pretty creepy--what with the Gigerian sets, "I'm sooo sorry!" line, etc. And Charlize Theron--steely-eyed pushups, lurking in corners, a perfect ass in a skin-tight spacesuit--is also a tad creepy, but all kinds of sexy.

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  16. TE Lawrence and Peter O'Toole as Lawrence were the inspiration for David's look, not Nazis, although I can see that too. When you bear that in mind, they've done a remarkable job! Link to Fassbender discussing it: te-lawrence.livejournal.com/99380.html

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  17. huh, thank you! they seem to have gone for quite a random selection of influences on this one -- TE Lawrence and olympic divers??

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  18. Brrr, that video is creepy as all balls but I love it. (I honestly find the Lawrence/paragon of Aryan breeding thing dovetails quite well, rather than being contradictory. Lawrence, quirky and issues-riddled as he can be, is stirringly heroic (and in LoA, pretty damn gorgeous; he wasn't hard on the eyes IRL, but he wasn't the towering man-god that O'Toole's is) but Nazis... well, are Nazis. Even if Prometheus doesn't turn out well (and I've heard mixed reviews)... at least we'll have that creepy-ass viral video.

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