[Ed. note: This article has been updated with information supplied by The Media Grind, the agency behind the promotion. It has been edited to reflect that Geocaching does not condone the burial of caches, and that there was no formal press release sent to media outlets.]
Early in Alejandro González Iñárritu's wilderness survival film The Revenant, a band of mostly white trappers who have been killing and skinning beavers in the woods for six months are attacked by a vengeful native tribe. Facing a long trek back to the protection of the nearest fort, the survivors realize they can't make the trip burdened by their huge, heavy bundles of pelts. So they bury them in the woods, hoping they'll be alive later to tramp through the snowy, desolate wilderness looking for what they've hidden.
There's no official word on whether a giant bundle of beaver skins is among the Revenant props 20th Century Fox has buried around the world as part of a promotion for the film, but it'd certainly be the most appropriate promotional item they could pick. (Second most appropriate: a prop skeleton for each of the many, many people in this film who die lonely, frigid deaths in the woods.) As part of a promotional blitz for The Revenant, Geocaching.com and Fox have teamed up to place 20 props packages around the US, Mexico, Europe, and Australia, with tracking data on Geocaching.
"The adventure is the reward; no other prizes will be awarded."
They're encouraging people to find the items (all of which are listed as the property of Hugh Glass), log them on the site with the hashtag #TheRevenant, and move them to "another amazing location" for the next geocacher down the line. "We're excited to see The Revenant props travel to extreme locations, face the unknown and survive the harsh winter wilderness," says the enthusiastic promotion copy, which might be straining a little too hard to make a quiet niche hobby relevant to a bombastic, awards-baity film.
Information on the items — the copy refers to them as "‘The Revenant Movie Trackable' prop packages" — was quietly released to geocaching sites back in November 2015, and dedicated hobbyists have already been busy moving them around. The most ambitious, Geocaching user RogueAirPirate, even claims to have switched two props packages — one found in Alabama, one in France. But with The Revenant hitting wide release, Fox and Geocaching are expanding the promotion, and getting the word out to the geocaching and film community alike.
Momentarily leaving aside the commercial co-opting of yet another stubbornly personal, profit-free hobby, Fox's press emphasis on sending people out to "discover lost treasures" seems likely to provoke the wrong kind of interest. Judging from participants' selfies on Geocaching, the Revenant props are mostly pretty mundane objects — battered leather bags, tattered climbing ropes. But they're still film props, objects with a thriving eBay marketplace. Even studios themselves have been peddling props online since they figured out it was a good way to recoup production money. Though the geocaching community itself uses the word 'treasure' to describe caches, the word has a different meaning within the community than it does outside it. And unlike geocachers, people who dig up "treasure" usually don't put it back for the next person to find. The uninitiated might just read this as an open invite to walk off with their own personal souvenirs of Leo DiCaprio's would-be Oscar journey.
Never Forget hitchbot
More than anything, the Hitchbot experiment comes to mind: in mid-2015, the hitchhiking robot that had already successfully toured Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands was sent out in the States in a similar bid for a nationwide collaborative art project. Less than two weeks later, it was vandalized and dumped in a Philadelphia alley. This is why we can't have nice things, or at least nice, unsupervised, wandering robots. It remains to be seen whether America can do any better when tempted by objects once touched by Leonardo DiCaprio.
"The adventure is the reward; no other prizes will be awarded," the promotional copy concludes. It should probably add "Unless you choose to walk off with them. But don't do that." Geocaching.com's attempt to get more people aware of and interested in the sport is admirable. But while the site is promoting The Revenant, it might also want to promote the Geocacher's Creed, a collaboratively generated ethos that might get missed by newbies, treasure hunters, and people who just stumble across the prop packages after surviving a devastating bear attack of their own.