There are very few people who have done more to change the tone of and style of not just journalistic writing but also the ways many other forms of writing were done than Hunter S. Thompson. Instead of remote detachment it was suddenly trendy – and would continue to become more and more accepted – for the writer to insert himself or herself into the story, providing the reader with a first person account and perspective of the subject matter being covered. It’s tempting to call Thompson the first blogger since that sort of “world through my own eyes” style would become the go-to approach for online journals but I’m not going to do that since it’s not exactly accurate.
So it’s kind of appropriate that when his books get made into movies there’s no attempt to do anything but find a Thompson surrogate to fill the character of the writer. The latest example of this is The Rum Diary. In this story that character, Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp, a friend of the writer who also played him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), is sent to San Juan some time in the 1950’s. There he seeks to ingratiate himself in the local culture while at the same time investigating the possibly illegal activities of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), an American who’s more than a little shady. And that’s also while becoming involved with Sanderson’s girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard).
The movie’s first poster certainly sets up the story. The film’s title is spelled out using empty liquor bottles and the equation for the story is laid out as being “One part outrage, one part justice, three parts rum.” That plus Depp’s name is all that’s seen here (I’m surprised he’s not actually seen on the poster) but this is officially labeled as a teaser for now.
The second poster just has Depp looking kind of sideways toward the camera, a hat cocked on his head and the copy “Absolutely nothing in moderation” toward the bottom. Another poster has the same copy but with a shot of Depp staring out the window of a hotel room that’s obviously been the scene of some major debauchery the previous night.
The trailer starts out by introducing us to the Thompson character played by Depp and his introduction to life in Rio, which is filled with lots of drinking and lots of strange characters. Then we meet the girlfriend of a powerful American who he begins to investigate. We finally see Depp get a little earnest as he declares he’s going to go after that guy for illegal activities, something that also lets him get closer to the girl.
It’s basically about selling the movie as another eccentric performance by Depp in an exotic location and with lots of crazy folks around him. It looks pretty good, like there might be more to it than just lots of zaniness by Depp, like there might be a decent story that performance is hung on.
The setup of the movie’s official website is one of the more unique I’ve seen recently.
First off at the bottom there are some of the main content sections. While there are links at the bottom of the page that will take you to the various sections you can also scroll left to right to find them in a different way.
“About the Film” takes you to the section with a Synopsis of the story as well as a Cast/Crew credits. There are just shy of two dozen stills in the “Photo Gallery” and “Videos” has the official Trailer as well as four extended clips from the film. Desktop Wallpapers are also scattered around the site for you to download if you so choose.
There’s also some information that can help you appreciate the film’s a little more. There are sections for “San Juan, P.R.” and “Hunter S. Thompson” that give you some background on both the movie’s setting and the gonzo journalist that wrote the book on which it’s based.
The film’s Facebook page has lots of photos, videos and updates on the marketing and promotion for the movie, including an emphasis on getting you to enter a contest giving away a trip to San Juan.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A TV spot or two was aired, some of which were surprisingly strong on plot and basically played like slightly trimmed down versions of the trailer, showing much of the same footage and nothing new. If anything things that emphasized Depp’s antics were what was cut as the approach here was to sell it as a straight, if slightly funny drama.
Media and Publicity
Despite the fact that the movie finished shooting in 2009 it wasn’t until March of 2011 that news broke it had finally been picked up for distribution by FilmDistrict (Los Angeles Times, 3/29/11), a new distribution house that was just getting off the ground.
There was also a profile of Depp (Vanity Fair, Nov. 11) that talked about his affection for Thompson but which gained a lot of attention for comments made about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise more than anything.
There’s some good stuff here. The emphasis, of course, is on promising the audience that they’re in for a crazy, whacked out Depp performance that this time is geared more for adults than the kids the POTC franchise appeals to. It might go a little hard into that particular paint, though, and overplay just how kooky and psychedelic the movie really is, though, in that effort. But it’s still a nice collection of elements even if it doesn’t really add up to a cohesive and whole branding effort. There’s just too much going on here, likely the result of the studio trying out different approaches that it never quite comes together.