The Super 8 viral campaign and ARG has come to an end as the movie enters its second weekend in theaters, and now it is time to look back and try to make sense of it all. For many of our readers, you may know that the viral campaign for the J.J. Abrams-produced Cloverfield was the seed that started MovieViral, but this was the first Bad Robot film campaign we’ve had the oppurtunity to cover in full (we were only able to partially cover Star Trek). Get a recap of the story and our thoughts on how it all played out after the break.
Super 8 is directed and written by Abrams and it pays homage to the old Amblin Entertainment films of the 70s and 80s (like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Fortunately, the guy behind those films and the Amblin label, Steven Spielberg, is a producer on this film and has lent the Amblin name to it as well. The film, set in 1979, is about a group of kids trying to film a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera in their small town of Lillian, Ohio. The kids witness a massive train wreck that releases a monster that terrorizes the town.
This all started with news that a secret trailer would be attached to Iron Man 2 last May, and that Abrams was somehow involved. Of course, the first speculation was that this would be the Cloverfield sequel we’ve all been waiting for, but eventually we learned that it was a completely separate story involving Area 51 and that Spielberg was involved as well. The teaser trailer showed a train transporting material from Area 51 and getting into a massive wreck when a truck speeds onto the railway and rams the locomotive head on.
Soon after the teaser trailer hit, we got the official film website and some details on the plot, as well as the first viral page for the film, www.scariestthingieversaw.com. The URL was found after the text “Scariest Thing I Ever Saw” could be seen scrolling up sideways in the Super 8 camera lens at the end of the teaser trailer. The site was a remote view of a PDP-11 computer, which was a popular model in the 1970s. The featured command window had a countdown, which gave us our other narrative in the viral campaign, Rocket Poppeteers.
The countdown on Scariest Thing I Ever Saw (STIES) ended with a link to an image of a newspaper that had an advertisement for Rocket Poppeteers, an ice cream treat that featured a Captain “Coop” Cooper as its spokesperson. The newspaper image served two functions, as it helped us find RocketPoppeteers.com and that whole side of the viral, and it furthered the main narrative, since crossed out words in the paper made out the phrase “no certainty if alive may be after us we go underground”. On a side note, we tried to find if there was a real life Cooper and a real life D. Morris (the name on the PDP-11 computer). There were some good candidates for both, but it never played into the viral campaign at all. Also, while Rocket Poppeteers popped up occasionally, it never factored into the main narrative of the ARG as well, so we’re going to skip over that. You can read our updates to the Rocket Poppeteers campaign here.
One of the other major points of interest on STIES is the print window, which we soon realized served as a dialogue between Josh Minker and a mysterious man (it’s never established which one was the owner of the PDP-11). The first thing the two talk about is how Josh needs to stop trying to sell his parents’ stuff on Craigslist, which he was doing since his mother recently died. After some research, we figured out that fish enthusiast Josh lives in West Virginia, and he has a blog, HooklineAndMinker.com. All this helps to establish that the ARG takes place in modern times (presumably real time).
So, Josh takes down his Craigslist postings, and he learns that this all has something to do with his father, and that someone thinks Josh has something they are looking for. Josh and Mysterio, as ARG players came to call him, finally chatted using IRC messaging, and Josh finds out that his father may have hidden something in his possessions that is very important. Mysterio says he can help Josh find his father, who he’s never met. We next got some defaced Nellis Air Force Base ID badges, and while we didn’t know it at the time, it turns out the first badge was for Josh’s father. In fact, all the badges correlate with a later photo of the Belttrap team (more on that later). Also, Nellis is the Air Force base closest to, and most associated with, Area 51.
It’s at this point that we see two recurring items, the 3 dot symbol and the text “TROGL”, which Josh also sees on a book he got as a kid. We can now conclude that the symbol is for Operation Belttrap (more on that later), but TROGL still has no explanation (though there are theories). We next learn that Mysterio was a co-worker of Josh’s father, who trusted him when no one else would. Josh then went silent after he had a break-in (though nothing was taken), and Mysterio tells him to play it cool and update his blog normally so that he doesn’t tip off the people after the item that he knows about it. It’s here that Mysterio explains that Josh’s father is a biospeleologist (someone who studies cave-dwelling organisms, fitting given what we now know about the alien), and that he was working on an alternative energy source involving foreign matter (which we now know is the cubes).
The Super Bowl TV Spot had several versions online that showed different images in the Super 8 camera lens. These pieced together to make photo stills either from the movie or from the Belttrap incident report (more on that later). We next got an image of a note on the STIES site that implies that Josh’s father had planned on Mysterio and Josh meeting, and by anaylzing the image, a new website was found called Revalistic, which is a conspiracy site that includes posts about Area 51 and gives clues about the storyline that we’ll talk about later.
As predicted, March 11th brought the first full trailer for Super 8. In it, we see that Josh’s father is actually in the movie, and we get another new viral website: the S8 Editing Room. The site presents an old black and white film reel that needs to be pieced together with 100 clips. These clips were eventually found through a number of methods and revealed to be an incident report taken during Operation Belttrap, where an alien spaceship was recovered and studied. Both the alien and its technology were being tested on, presumably at Area 51.
This is where Sarah comes in. Josh’s blog is hacked, and he finds out it was Sarah, his new supervisor and friend who did it. In fact, Sarah is running the conspiracy site Revalistic, and her and Josh finally have a chat on her /explanation subpage. She reveals that she used to work for an oil company and that they had files on strange projects and new material and that Josh was in there. So, she came looking for him with a group also looking for the truth, and they were the ones who broke into his place. She wants Josh to trust her now, since they both want the same thing: the truth. Mysterio doesn’t like that she’s involved, but he tells Josh that they have to find the “vitas relic”.
Next we got an update to the STIES print out that has a photos of Josh’s father with other scientists. The note on the back says they are planning to “infiltrate the compound” because everyone is in danger, and that Josh’ father has some sort of mental connection to the creature. He says that there’s “another piece” that needs to be found if his attempt doesn’t work. Mysterio expresses regret for not helping. The numbers on the back of the photo match the ID numbers we saw on the badges (above), and it looks like they are in order from right to left, since the second ID is 58-O-42, Josh’s fathers’ ID, and the second person in the photo looks to be Josh’s father. Also, we know that Mysterio is in the photo, but we don’t which scientist is him (my guess is 58-O-47).
When we finally learn Mysterio’s name, Alexander Kaslov, but it comes at a price. Kaslov leaves a note that says if Josh gets this, then they caught up with him and he’s probably dead. Also, someone from Josh’s father’s past is after the vitas relic, and that he cannot have it under any circumstance. Josh ends up finding a device his father hid, but in the process, Sarah is held hostage in Ohio. The device was used in the Operation Beltrap video for studying the alien cubes. Josh goes back to her, but some kind of energy kills the captors, Sarah is saved, and Josh ends up finding one of the cubes, which is the “vitas relic” Josh’s father (who we find out in a trailer is named Dr. Woodward) left for him. We learn that Woodward is buried in Lillian, Ohio behind a cemetary toolshed, and if you watch the movie, you’ll understand the significance of this location.
The Operation Belttrap Incident Report video is fully revealed, and we learn a lot about the alien and its technology. The spaceship breaks into the cubes as a defense mechanicism, and the alien has telekinetic and telepathic abilities. When it grabbed Dr. Woodward, they shared a bond that made Woodward obsessed with freeing the alien so that it could go home. This occurred on April 8th, 1963. The spaceship was brought down by a nuclear blast in 1958, with the scientists starting to examine it on October 21st of that year. The alien is subterranean and can control the cubes to some degree.
While that is the end of the ARG, going back to Revalistic.com gives some really interesting insight into the circumstances that brought the spacecraft down in the first place. Sarah’s investigation into her company’s strange energy research has inadvertently given us details not shown anywhere else. She first talks about the US conducting atomspheric nuclear tests in the 1950s, which leads to her finding studies on trying to harness the energy in Van Allen Belts (belts of trapped charged particles around the Earth), and eventually gets us to the Explorer 3 satellite. The satellite was believed to decay from orbit in June 1958, with several pilots seeing flashes in the sky, but the government said it couldn’t be the satellite. Then fusion scientist Nicholas Christofilos was brought on to Task Force 88, a military group that conducted atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s to create artificial Van Allen Belts for research. This project was titled Argus. This leads to other groups and companies, but what’s important is what this implies for Operation Belttrap. The documents Sarah finds have not only “TF88”, but “OBT” written all over them. The incident report video shows “Joint Task Force: Orpheus J88-18”, so we know that the task forces are probably the same. Given the timeline of the Explorer 3 sightings, we can assume that while conducting nuclear tests, the spaceship was brought down, probably on accident. This is confirmed by the Operation Belttrap video also talking about a nuclear blast. Even “Operation Argus” is mentioned. Plus, this video linked from Revalistic about Argus looks a lot like the Operation Beltrrap video.
As you can tell from that extensive recap, this was a complicated ARG. There were a lot of dead ends and over-analysis, but eventually we reached the finish line. While I tried to simplify the storyline, there are a lot nuances to each step, so definitely check out the articles referenced to learn more. Also, we didn’t know the full story yet when writing the updates, so the context is sometimes very different. I even called the town Littleton a few times.
I enjoyed the game very much, but I thought it ended rather abruptly. I was very unsatisfied, as it was too quick and anti-climatic. We never learn who is after Josh, what that energy was that saved Sarah, and why Woodward even wanted Josh to find the vitas relic. This felt like the LOST finale without the emotional climax to make up for not giving us all the answers.
Finally, I have to talk about Rocket Poppeteers. Cloverfield had Slusho and Super 8 has this sugary treat. Honestly, I’m tired of it. At least Slusho had something to do with the plot in its film (main character Rob was moving to Japan to become a VP at Slusho) and ARG (Slusho is a division of Tagruato). Rocket Poppeteers strung us along and gave us little return. There’s a few vague references to it in the film, and it has nothing to do with the ARG or the film’s storyline. The only things I liked about this side of the campaign were the real world applications. There was a Rocket Poppeteers ice cream truck at Comic-Con last year, and 7-Eleven had the treats at their locations.
Overall, it was a fun and interesting campaign to cover, and I appreciated that the ARG tied in very well with the film. I’d like to think Abrams learned a thing or two from the Cloverfield campaign, where many fans were upset how little the ARG played a role in the actual movie. Give us your thoughts on the Super 8 viral campaign in the comments below!