“The Fourth Kind” is an American science fiction horror film released in2009 by Universal studios in co-production with Gold Circle Films and Dead Crow Productions. It was written and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi who took the title from the american professor and astronomer J. Allen Hynek, first to formally classify close encounters with aliens, being the fourth, alien abduction.
The thriller follows the investigation and documentation of psychologist Abigail Tyler, played by Milla Jovovich who travelled to Alaska and collected supposed evidence of alien abduction from different traumatized patients, who recalled similar details in their statements. She discovers and even experiences very troubling events… Fact or fiction? That is for the viewer to decide. Or not.
The footage collected by Tyler could be based on real events that actually occurred in Alaska. The film itself does not admit if it is inspired by real facts or if on the other hand it is fictitious. However, the film producers created two fake websites that included references to the plot and characters depicted in the movie: “Alaska Psychiatry Journal” and “Alaska News Archive”. Here is where the ingenious lie started.
When the film came out, the fake websites started gaining thousands of visits and the articles they provided went viral. At first, the producers of the movie claimed to have no relation with them, however, as time went by, the plot was undone and they were the ones left to blame. The websites were closed, and Universal was sued by the Alaska Press Club, being forced to pay $20,000 to the institution; it was too late though; the film had reached great popularity and there were plenty of “believers” who defended the “veracity” of the stories collected in the movie.
There is no doubt that the hoax was successful. In this article published by Breeanna Hare in the CNN some days after the premiere there is a detailed description of the audience reaction to this and several other horror thrillers. It boosted the global popularity of the movie and therefore contributed to its total gross ($47 m), shown here. How did it decay then? Well, as all lies do. The key was in the details: doctors from psychiatric hospitals in Alaska denied the existence of Abigail Tyler or any similar reporter. Moreover, it was found out that the webpages had been published just a month before the movie premiere.Presumably, if the producers had not mentioned components exclusive of the film, and focus deeper in the stories depicted, their lie might have been more difficult to find and spread, but its veracity would be much more solid. For future filmmakers thinking of using a similar resource, it seems to be a good idea to start building the website long time befo
re starting working on the film.
Once having exposed the hoax, we must face its moral implications. The recreation and distortion of some cases of missing people in Nome, Alaska, upset the real families of the lost. Once versioning any kind of real event, and making this version viral, there is a process of trivialization of the original, true facts. It is complicated to deal with matters involving dramatic losses without hurting the feelings of the true characters of the story. Then again, we can not forget the effect this particular lie had on people. It was a sham, a farce that drew people’s attention, influenced their attitude towards the movie, and made them more susceptible to praise and spread the word about it. It is funny how we people tend to get attracted by the unknown, the uncertain. And it is scary how effective can this uncertainty be when used for hidden purposes.
Before you leave, do check this article by Los Angeles Times in 2005. Think about how you would feel after watching exactly what is described in these statements. Think about it and then consider the power and effectivity of deception.