Hi-ReS! leapt onto our screens in 2000. Pushing the web to its technical and artistic limits, they create web experiences rather than websites. With a reputation for creating distinctive, non-linear websites for films, their early landmark sites include those for Requiem for a Dream, Donnie Darko, Centre of the World and Jump for Tomorrow.
In the Spring of 1999 Alexandra Jugovic and Florian Schmitt moved to London, with no real plan except to be creative and get paid along the way. With their cash dwindling they came up with a masterplan – they’d create a website. They had no idea how to build one but so what? That didn’t matter in ’99. They downloaded a trial version of Flash 4, giving them thirty days to master the software and build a website. The result was soulbath.com.
With corrupted images, dead links, fake error messages and hidden menus, Soulbath appeared to be broken. Proclaiming that the web was full of lies and the banner was the enemy, it was rallying call to reclaim the integrity of the web. Those that “stayed tuned and kept their hands off the mouse” were rewarded with a multi-window, audio-visual experience that could almost be played like an instrument (almost).
Twelve million visits later, the site had caught the attention of Darren Aronofsky, who wanted Hi-ReS! to create the website for his new film, Requiem for a Dream. Fortunately, his film studio was Artisan Entertainment, one of the few to see the potential of the web beyond an online press kit, having hired another London-based agency, Lateral, to create the incredible Blair Witch website the year before.
Like all Hi-ReS! websites since, the resulting site was much more than a trailer, it was a cinematic gem in its own right.
Requiem for a Dream is about addiction, compulsion and the inevitable descent that ensues. The website investigates similar online behaviours, recreating the morbid patterns exhibited by extreme web users. As the visitor descends deeper into the malfunctioning website, it gradually deteriorates and finally falls apart, ejecting the visitor in its death throes.
What makes this site extraordinary is that Hi-ReS had the confidence and freedom to capture the ‘soul’ of the film without reproducing it. It is not a trailer and doesn’t even link to one. It can be enjoyed before, after or independently of the film. The visitor is a character in the story, gradually losing control as they journey through the site. The harder they try, the faster the experience deteriorates. As you make choices, you may end up where you intended, you may not. The experience is deliberately disorientating and ultimately ends in rejection.
As well as being a masterpiece in interactive storytelling, the site said something about the medium – interactivity doesn’t necessarily mean control. As Antirom said before them, you can have anything you like, as long as it’s Coke or Fanta. And there is no Fanta.