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By Chris Thilk | June 10, 2004

Rebranding an existing product is a tricky proposition at best. If you do it right, such as Federal Express changing to FedEx, it effectively changes the perception in people’s minds of a name brand. When done poorly it causes nothing but confusion. See the metamorphosis of TNN into The New TNN and then into Spike TV (a name I still can’t say without picturing James Marsters from “Buffy”) and think about how many people went “Huh?” with that one.

That brings us to “The Chronicles of Riddick”, which is the second movie in the Chronicles of Riddick franchise. What’s that? You didn’t know this was a franchise? Perhaps then you haven’t noticed that Pitch Black, the 2000 sci-fi flick that went a long way to making Vin Diesel a star has now been rebranded as “The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black” to make it fit into the series which also now includes the straight to video “Dark Fury” DVD.

The Teaser Trailer

Wow, there’s a lot of CGI in this. George Lucas must be wetting his armor at how someone actually took his advice that such mundane activity as designing and building physical sets was something for yesteryear. People in the trailer are either looking astonished or fighting, which leads me to believe no one from this film will be discussing it on “Inside the Actor’s Studio”. Oh, one more thing: Dame Judi Dench? What the hell is she doing here?

The Trailer

This one goes a little farther in setting up the mythology of the movie, an essential thing if you’re going to be shoehorning it into a non-existent franchise. Apparently, a group called the Necromongers invades a planet, strips it of life and resources, and leaves. Isn’t this the same setup for the alien invasion in “Independence Day”?

The Poster

Looks like a video game cover. Smells like a video game cover. Must be an action flick. A vague outline silhouetted against the sunlight and surrounded by ominous attackers is an all right concept, but not very effective at getting across the two selling points of the movie, points I will make later.

The Website

This is where the cross-promotion really gets into high gear. When you enter the site, you are immediately given a list of items in the Chronicles of Riddick series, including “Pitch Black” and “Dark Fury”. Clicking these takes you to info on those installments and how they fit into the over-arching universe.

Standard content resides in “The Movie” and “Downloads” sections, which take you to biography of cast and crew, a photo gallery, wallpapers, screensavers and such. Nothing extraordinary, but very easily accessible compared to some movies’ sites (That’s you Mr. Potter).

“Media” gives you access to not only the trailers but also the TV spots, which I found more effective than the trailers. Perhaps the 30-second time limit of TV ads forced the producers into creating a tighter, less over-reaching selling vehicle.

There are two portions of the site I found interesting, if not personally to me, then at least from a public-viewing point of view. The first is “The Mercs” which takes you to what appears to be a massively multi-player online role-playing game. Participating allows you to earn “U.D”s, or Universal Dollars, the monetary unit in the movies’ universe. On the site, you earn U.D.s by playing the game, viewing trailers, posters and other content. You can then trade in the U.D.s and get swag such as DVDs, posters, hats and other items. This is an interesting concept and great way to earn repeat visitors.

The other interesting part of the site is “The Hunt for Riddick”. This is basically an online Flash-animated short story that sets up and expands on the story of the movie and the universe in general. Featuring the voices of the original cast these are pretty well done. I have to wonder if they will be included on the DVD as extras since those of us with dial-up Internet connections would have a hard time viewing them online.

One final link takes you to the MovieLink movie download service, where you can earn free tickets. Good use of cross-promotion but I don’t think the legitimate movies-on-demand services have penetrated the public deep enough for this to really be something people will take advantage of.


One thing has struck me about the campaign for this movie, ever since I first saw a poster on the side of a bus here in downtown Chicago: The surprising lack of Vin Diesel. His name was not the teaser poster and he barely gets any face time in the trailers or on the theatrical poster. His name is there, but his image is surprisingly scarce.

Since I don’t know how many people saw “Pitch Black” and simply wanted more of the stories from this universe I can’t say I approve of this approach. Even if he’s in the movie for a grand total of 20 minutes, promote the hell out of those 20 minutes. This has got to be a major public recognition factor and I think the lack of his image in the promotional campaign will hurt the movie despite all the effort at making this part of a series.

There’s also little to no effort made to tie this movie to “Pitch Black”. So this campaign fails to capitalize on either its major star or its predecessor, both of which could have leant it name recognition. Someone was asleep at the wheel when they approved this one.

As moviemaking costs increase, the pressure to successfully market those movies becomes greater. In an attempt to show how marketers are trying to put the most hinders in the theater seats, Chris Thilk breaks down why some movie campaigns work and some don’t. The posters for “The Rocketeer” and “Unforgiven” remain two of his all-time favorites. For Chris’ ongoing movie journal and other various musings, visit his Random Thoughts blog.

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