For a brief moment in May 1997, Universal Pictures was promoting a major blockbuster about ducks. With the internet growing into the vital marketing tool it’s become today, the studio pushed its financial might behind the online sphere, creating a comprehensive, immersive and interactive site for the sequel to one of its biggest hits. However, just after The Lost World: Jurassic Park was released, something went badly wrong.
“They’re quacked,” reads a CNN article dated May 28th 1997 and brilliantly titled Hackers fowl Up Lost World Site. “The dinosaurs of The Lost World were no match for hackers who broke into their Web site and with a stroke of a key changed the film’s name to The Duck World: Jurassic Pond.”
The stroke of a key simplicity this excerpt suggests isn’t quite accurate, because as you can see from the logo the hackers uploaded (below), this was a pretty professional job. Questions can therefore be raised about the hack’s veracity. Sure, Photoshop had been around for nearly ten years when the hack took place, but would those responsible really have been able to create a logo that’s as slick as the Duck World one? And if they could, and were willing to go to the trouble of hacking the site of one of the year’s biggest releases, wouldn’t they do something more incendiary than a mildly diverting duck pun?
A major studio staging a hack of its own website may seem ridiculous, but judging by the rest of the site, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising. Long before viral marketing campaigns and VR experiences, The Lost World’s site attempted to draw the film’s fictional world into the real world. Laid out like the office and HR portal for the Jurassic Park franchise’s central corporation InGen, the sit was a fully interactive portal that allowed users to view messages from John Hammond, find out more about InGen’s staff and learn about the Park’s dinosaurs.
Best of all – it’s still live!
Yup, head over to www.lost-world.com and you too can enjoy the best in 1990s web design and development. Well, most of it anyways. In-keeping with the site’s concept, some pages are locked behind passwords which, I assume, were widely available 20 years ago, but have now been lost beneath the sands of time. For example, try clicking the computer on the ‘Hammond’s Office’ page, and you’ll find a request for an ID and password. A TV in the same room is similarly frustrating, offering only an ACCESS DENIED message when you click on it.
Wonderfully though, there are plenty of elements that are available. Having trouble sleeping and fancy replacing those relaxing ocean noises with something a little more adventurous? Download two (lamentably short) audio tracks of ambient dinosaur noises here. Wanna catch up on a few messages between Hammond and Ian Malcolm? Here’s a letter from Hammond, and you can view a lovely signed picture from Malcolm here. Keen on finding employment in a bioengineering company hell-bent on resurrecting dinosaurs at any cost? Check out the InGen Employee Handbook!
The Lost World site is a playbook for what movie marketing has become in the internet age. You’re not just being sold a movie, but a story that extends beyond the cinema screen. Through the site, you can learn about characters who were never a part of the Jurassic Park film universe, but who (I suppose) are technically cannon. Kevin Davies, Jason Preston and James Saunders, for example, are all mentioned and take prominence on the ‘hot sheet’, which is used to keep tabs on troublesome employees.
Meanwhile, InGen security chief Jim Boutcher seems to have walked straight out of the pages of Orwell’s 1984. “Fear of pain. Fear of God. Fear of death,” he writes. “Without fear and anxiety, people wouldn’t exist. They’d have no motivation, no call to action. That would be fine and dandy if we were living in some kind of pinko utopia, but wake up, brothers and sisters, that’s not where we’re at.” Cuddly ol’ Dickie Attenborough this guy ain’t.
This kind of immersion stretched into other parts of The Lost World’s marketing and merchandise, most notably the video game. Released on the Playstation and Sega Saturn, the game was ultimately something of a disappointment, but its production placed realism, storytelling and innovation at its core. Even the music (by a young Michael Giacchino) broke new ground: at Spielberg’s insistence the game was one of the first to record its score using a full orchestra.
Its crowning achievement, however, comes at the very end. Gamers with enough patience to complete the story and gather all the collectible pieces of DNA were rewarded with a little treat: a recorded message from a certain Mr Jeff Goldblum. Rather than congratulating players on their hard work and dedication though, Goldblum gently berates them, imploring them to put down their controllers and go outside. Maybe even find themselves some romance. Gladly, YouTube has preserved this nugget of peak Goldblum for the ages…
Spielberg films have sometimes struggled with digital technology (the infamous E.T. Atari game to mention one notorious example) and it’s ironic that one of his misfires is also one of the few to get the digital side of things right. With its high-tech virtual reality-based plot though, next year’s release of Ready Player One represents a chance to redress the balance as Warner Bros prepares for what’s sure to be groundbreaking digital marketing campaign. Hackers, get your keyboards (and better puns) at the ready.