I admit it. I’m a sucker for an extra level of marketing, like when a phone number, e-mail, or URL are slipped into a film or TV show and they actually work. It’s like a reward for the inquisitive and nosey, a way to get you slightly more immersed in the storyline and characters. I drop in on the Schrute-Space regularly to read the Middle-America musings of The Office’s Dwight. I navigated through every option of the Dharma Initiative’s voicemail after the number appeared on Lost. I called the Sarah Silverman-branded 800 number the instant I saw the MTV Movie Awards promo posters plastered all over Hollywood. Heck, if I lived in New York, I would have been the first in line to order the Panic Room special from the real-life pizzeria that was name- and number-dropped in the David Fincher film.
So imagine how excited I was during an advance screening of Evan Almighty when the clouds parted, Morgan Freeman materialized (reprising his role as The Man Upstairs), and a number appeared on an invoice for the stack of two-by-fours delivered to the McMansion of Evan (Steve Carell, pictured) to get him started on Noah’s Ark 2.0. When Evan reads the number aloud and God points out that 1-800-GO-4-WOOD is a pun on the "gopher wood" reference in the ark-building instructions in Genesis 6:14, I knew it was more than a faith-based funny. When I got home, I punched in the number, ready to let Evan’s almighty marketing genius rain down on me.
“Hello, honey, looking for hot talk? Me and my horny girlfriends can’t wait to get down and dirty with you…” purred the woman who answered.
I slammed down the phone. WTF? No Freeman? No Carell? Not evenanimal sounds or showtimes. (Well, maybe if Id’ stayed on the line, I’dhave heard some animal sounds.) All this wholesomeness I’d absprbedfrom sitting through the family-friendly flood fable evaporatedinstantly, and I felt dirty. And then I laughed, and then I wondered ifI was going to be charged for that, and then I marveled at howUniversal could let this happen. I would inevitably not be the onlyperson curious enough to call, especially because the film is gearedtoward a generation raised on telephone tie-ins, MySpace, and othercyber-connections and contests. I dialed again because the movie’smarketers couldn’t be that dense. And, to be fair, they weren’t. Thistime no heavy breathing. I realized that if you hit zero instead of the letter "O"(6 button) in "GO," you get lust instead of the Lord. But if you spell "GO"out, you’ll get a sound bite from Morgan. A Universal confirmed to methat, as of June 22 (the movie’s release date), the correctly-dialednumber will lead to ringtones, showtimes, opportunities to donate tothe Conservation Fund’s tree-planting campaign (a tie-in to one of thefilm’s plot points), and more.
As I am an adult who uses the phone for a living, and even I madethe mistake the first time out, we at PopWatch thought we should warnparents to be careful when letting kids dial. We aren’t trying tobelittle the worthwhile themes of the film or the green efforts of themarketing department, but we wouldn’t want “reach out and touchsomeone” to have a new meaning for impressionable youngsters justbecause 0 and O are so easily interchanged.
Amusingly, this is not the first time the Almighty franchise has had difficulty with phone numbers. In Bruce Almighty,God makes contact with Jim Carrey via pager and the number 776-2323.The producers made sure the digits were not in use in Buffalo, thesetting of the film, but in other area codes, some telephone customersand, coincidentally, some churches weren’t so lucky, as they receivedhundreds of calls from moviegoers looking to dish with the Divinity. InSanford, N.C., the number put you through to a church with a pastornamed Bruce. To eliminate this problem, the movie phone number waschanged to the traditional fictional 555 prefix on the DVD and in TVscreenings.
Is there a moral to this homily? Perhaps it’s this: if there is a third Almighty installment, maybe God should stick with e-mail.