A few weeks ago I drove to an unfamiliar part of town and entered the home of someone I didn’t know, at which point I was asked to head down into the basement, where I saw a camera and a chair. You’d think thousands of horror movies would have provided enough intelligence to run away, but I couldn’t resist – they were asking me to talk about horror movies! That’s all I do anyway! Also they had croissants – no evil person serves croissants.
The shoot was for a new project simply called Yeah, a Facebook app that works similar to “Maximum Movie Mode” on your Warner Brothers blu-rays. Load the Facebook app and pick the movie, and it begins in a YouTube like interface. Below the movie (so that it doesn’t obscure any of the image), you’ll see an assortment of quotes from the film’s creators, poll or trivia questions, or just simple insight. And the films aren’t based on one studio, nor are they all horror – these are all beloved and iconic movies from all genres. The first batch includes Natural Born Killers, The Crow, Ghostbusters, Superman (1978), and Reservoir Dogs – certainly not a bad lineup, and all are the sort of films with fans that love to dissect what they're watching.
Yeah also offers Halloween, which is of course what I zeroed in on (that it was free didn’t hurt – the service works on a subscription model that appears to be 20 dollars for six months of unlimited access to the available films), as here is possibly no film in the world I know more about. Even obscure nonsense like the fact that the film’s production designer played Michael Myers in the closet scene because he knew how to break the doors more effectively is “George Washington was the first president” level in terms of stuff I just KNOW, with no memory of when I first learned it. Plus it’s been exactly 6 months since I watched it last, so it’s a perfect time to revisit it for the millionth time so I can enjoy my annual distraction free viewing this October.
What I liked most about the service was that I actually could just see what it had to offer without watching the entire movie. The “chapters” aren’t broken up by scene in the movie, but by the appearance of new trivia bits or interviews. So you can actually just keep hitting the “next” button and seeing all the extras, and get through everything in a half hour if you’re so inclined (I wasn’t inclined, however – why skip over the greatest movie ever made?). But it made it easy to back up and see what you missed if you got distracted into just watching the movie (you can also full-screen the film and ignore the supplemental stuff entirely, if you for some reason want to watch just a movie on Facebook), so it’s actually better than any Blu-ray presentation I’ve seen, in this department anyway.
So is it worth the time and money? Well I’m a tough critic on anything related to Halloween, and they did a damn fine job with it, so I’d say yes. A couple of minor trivia bits gave me pause because they didn’t jibe with what I had heard (such as John Carpenter’s favorite one-take shot being Goodfellas – I always heard it was Touch Of Evil), but there’s a ton of great little bits throughout, even things that I had never noticed like the fact that the poor bastard who plays the (killed off-screen) truck driver is uncredited. The quizzes and polls are also a fun idea – I think I was the first to get all the way through the movie so it wasn’t too exciting to see how my answer stacked up against non-existent others (my answer was always 100% of the vote), but it’s a fine way to play up the interactivity as well as the social networking potential of the concept – you can also “share” these elements on your wall same as you would your newest Farmville achievement or whatever.
Bonus interviews also pop up with some frequency – maybe every 10 minutes. For Halloween, most of them were (new) interviews with John Carpenter himself – a real treat as he’s sat out of a few of the recent retrospective things on the movie, feeling he has nothing new to say after nearly 35 years. There are also a few bits with PJ Soles and Dean Cundey, as well as rare footage from the set, featuring Donald Pleasence explaining why he took the role. There’s also a great bit of Carpenter directing Pleasence and Charles Cyphers in the “I met this six year old child with this pale, blank… emotionless face…” scene (my favorite in the film, incidentally), and even a recording of a 1978 audience reacting to the film’s climax (where Michael sits back up and starts approaching an unaware Laurie). You can skip these bits of course, but if you opt to play them, the movie will pause and the interview window will take its place. There’s a bit of clunkiness here though – on a Blu-ray the segment will finish and then the movie will start back up automatically when it’s done, but here you have to not only close the interview window, but press play on the movie again. It’s not the end of the world, but I’d like to see this revised into something a little more user friendly. But regardless – if you’re a die-hard fan of the film, you’re guaranteed to see new stuff here – it’s not just a bunch of stuff repurposed from a Blu-ray that you already own.
So why the hell did they ask me to take part? I began to wonder that myself when I realized that Halloween did not have any sort of “expert” commentary or insight, because that’s the sort of thing I was brought in to provide (for other horror films which I won’t reveal yet, because I don’t know if I can). I can only assume that as time goes on they will get more elaborate and more thorough, offering insight from folks like me along with the creators and cast as usual, to give it a more well-rounded experience. I only shot my part about 2 weeks ago, so I assume they already had Halloween more or less complete and thus perhaps realized that people who were not directly involved might have some interesting thoughts to offer (I myself talked a lot about how these particular films influenced other genre films of the period, and why they have endured), without having any bias. Also I’m probably easier to get than George Clooney.
I also assume that the experience will be modified as the data comes in on this first batch. If they see people are skipping over the polls and trivia questions, maybe they’ll phase those out. If they find that people are only watching the videos that involve that film’s director or main actor, maybe they’ll ditch having guys like me in there. There’s a lot of room to grow, and they have a lot of “dead air” that can be filled should they see a demand for it. At one point in Halloween they take a full minute to slowly reveal the phrase “You can’t kill the boogeyman” – this is the sort of thing that can be taken out and replaced with a new interview or maybe additional trivia. I could also do without the jokey narrative quips, such as suggesting that the DP lower his camera a bit during the scene where Soles’ breasts are just below frame. Not that I disagree (as a younger man it bugged me quite a bit in fact), but it feels a bit MST3k-ish, and the tone of the rest is pretty respectable. It’s one thing to point out a few gaffes here and there (especially in Halloween where they are so funny – like when Carpenter takes a drag off his cigarette too close to the camera and you see a huge waft of smoke blowing through the frame), but the time spent on that other stuff could have been used on another Carpenter interview, or more random trivia – they don’t even really mention the remake, for example.
But it’s a damn impressive presentation for an ambitious app, and considering that this is the launch title for a Facebook application, I’m even more impressed. Facebook apps are not exactly known for being the most stable or elaborate things in the world, and yet I got through this with minimal issues – the movie stopped once or twice, and one time it started over from the beginning after I came back from an interview, but that could have been a browser or serve issue for all I know. I never had trouble with the flash-based polls/questions (you drag your answers around), the movie looked clean throughout, and nothing ever “froze” – the text based trivia bits and quotes kept coming every 15-20 seconds or so. And if I can have a good time and learn new stuff with a movie I know inside and out and have seen probably (not joking) a hundred times, I’m sure it’ll be even more fun with the others (very excited to check out Natural Born Killers in particular). Needless to say, I hope it’s a success.