Web buzz casts pall on 'Blair Witch'

Posted: Thursday, November 02, 2000

HOLLYWOOD -- The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away.

Just as "The Blair Witch Project" exploded from out of nowhere last summer to become one of the year's biggest movie phenomena and gross more than $140 million domestically, its sequel failed badly at the box office in its opening week. "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" took in just over $13 million in its debut; in its opening weekend, the original brought in $29 million. It totaled $112 million in its first month.

How bad was the sequel's opening? "Blair Witch 2" couldn't even knock off the month-old comedy "Meet the Parents" from its No. 1 perch. While sequels in general aren't generally expected to do nearly as well as the originals, the extent of the drop-off was a shock.

The dismal opening of "Blair Witch 2" underscores a key online lesson for studios: Netizens have become hip to the tactics of movie marketers.

The backlash against "BW2" began months before the film's opening, with negative buzz fueled by speculation that Artisan Entertainment -- the studio that released both "Blair Witch" films -- was putting out just another slasher flick. Hours after the movie hit theaters, the reviews started streaming onto Internet message boards.

"I am horribly disappointed," wrote "Niptuc," a musician from Somerville, Mass. "It feels like a hijack of the original concept and adds nothing to my interest in the mythology that the original story established."

An online user nicknamed "Dr. Strangelove" was more blunt: "'BW2' is definitely amongst the worst sequels in movie history. To be honest, I still can't believe how bad it really is. Is this some bad dream?"

To be sure, some of the online assessments were positive. "It's a movie I'm gonna see again," wrote "TigaLily."

But on the whole, the Internet response was hostile. Critics seemed to cluster on the dozens of fan sites and message boards dedicated to the film's mythology, making "BW2" to some extent a victim of the online success of the first movie.

"With the first site, it was the element of self-discovery that got people invested in the experience of the movie," said Amorette Jones, Artisan's executive vice president of worldwide marketing. "That truly became the viral component -- a friend e-mailing a friend, 'Hey, I think this is true, check it out.' That was absolutely impossible to duplicate (with the sequel) because, of course, most people knew it was a movie."

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