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Project type:
Movie promotion
In support of:
I (heart) Huckabees (Fox Searchlight)
Summer 2004
When I first heard about the Huckabees sites, I was ready to like them. But now I've been there, and, well, not so much. There's nothing particularly wrong with them, but I'm having trouble finding anything to get excited about. There's nothing here that would make me start calling my friends and generating any buzz about it.

I (heart) Huckabees sounds promising -- an "existential comedy", according to the main site -- by David O. Russell (director of Flirting with Disaster and Spanking the Monkey). There's something going on between the leader of a community open spaces movement and a corporate executive ("Huckabees" is the corporation, hence the title), a pair of "existential detectives"(???), a girlfriend, a rebel firefighter, and a French radical. Killer cast. Nice feel to the trailer; I came away from it intrigued, and put Huckabees on my list of "yeah, I oughta see that" movies.

On the web, the movie is represented by three faux sites that highlight the main characters of the movie and the organizations they're associated with. The Huckabees web site is a little sparse for what in the real world would probably be a Target or WalMart competitor, but it does a reasonable job of laying out the backstory of the company for us. It links, via a bit of corporate sponsorship, to a site for the Open Spaces Coalition, which explains its mission of preserving a local marshland with all the tree-hugging fervor you'd expect of such an organization, complete with poetry, downloadable posters, and (intentional?) misspellings. Finally, the existential detectives, Jaffe & Jaffe, have their own site that, if you can find the hidden link (I almost didn't), provides a bit of pseudo-philosophical babble about what it means to be an existential detective, a questionnaire that is meant to classify you into some imaginary psychological type, and two short case histories, neither of which have anything to do with the movie. The sites are presented in full "faux reality" mode, although a "disclaimer" link on each site will take the visitor to a single page about the movie on the main Fox Searchlight site, providing a way for a naive visitor to make the connection from these sites back to the movie they're promoting.

So why am I so blah about them? There's no story here; there's nothing that's driving me from the content of the sites to anticipating and thinking about the movie. Consider what a good trailer does for a movie: of course we meet the characters and learn a bit about their backstory, but we also learn about the conflict at the heart of the movie, start to get an idea about how the characters fit into that conflict, and speculate about how it might get resolved. Sadly, the conflict at the heart of the movie is nowhere to be seen on these sites. We get facts, but nothing else.

The Jaffe & Jaffe site is the key to the campaign, as it could -- or should -- tie everything together. Had it provided a case study focused on the characters in the movie, it would have given us a context for visiting the Huckabees and Open Spaces sites, and a basis for understanding the conflict between the characters and speculating about where it, and the movie, is going. Surprisingly, it doesn't. There are no links from Jaffe & Jaffe to either the Huckabees or Open Spaces site, and there are no references to characters from the movie anywhere to be found. So all we have are three barely-related sites; they're reasonable individually, but they fail to work together to create a compelling whole. Sigh -- another missed opportunity.

Immersive web sites may be a new way to promote movies, but the same old rules apply. If you can get people to care about your characters and get them thinking about what's going to happen, they'll want to find out, and their money will follow. Huckabees took the first step, but stopped way too soon.