- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

Each week the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

Site of Serenity

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon makes his directorial debut in the science-fiction Western film “Serenity.” Based on the short-lived Fox television show, “Firefly,” the movie chronicles the lives of a band of galactic outcasts who, aboard the Firefly-class starship Serenity, battle against the Universal Alliance.

For theatergoers waffling on whether to see the film, which opened Friday, an interactive Web site (www.serenitymovie.com/ main_site.html) gives an in-depth overview of the film’s creator, protagonists and story.

As a mixed-media montage of the film flashes on the computer screen, visitors land on a planet’s surface. The site is navigated by clicking either on a portrait in the cast of characters, a whirling set of circular icons or the drop-down menu.

The menu offers the standard fare common to most film Web sites, such as production notes, cast and crew biographies, images and 11 video clips ranging from TV spots to behind-the-scenes footage.

However, the other navigation routes act as a way for fans to investigate the Serenity ship, eventually exploring its infirmary, dining room, shuttle, cargo bay, air lock, engine room, cockpit and crew quarters.

Each area comes alive through snippets of video footage, working monitors, sounds and interactive gadgets adorned with Chinese scripts that reveal more about Mr. Whedon’s fictional universe and its inhabitants.

A stop by the dining room, for example, introduces Book, a man of God who also happens to feed the ship’s crew. Visitors will find his cookbook with seven recipes for treats, such as Jayne’s Sweet Prosperity Pie, Serenity Stew and Mudder’s Milk. The entire cookbook can be downloaded as a PDF file.

Clicking on a floating orb in the air lock reveals a short biography of Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds. A virtual game of horseshoes also can be found in which a player challenges Mal to four rounds of pitching. Executed much like golfing video games, the challenge requires the player to carefully click the mouse at the right time on a pair of moving targets to toss the horseshoe.

Masters of cyberspace

The award-winning PBS series, “American Masters,” has spent the last 11 years offering detailed biographies of some of this country’s greatest artists.

Its content-rich Web site (www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/index.html) offers an extended, interactive experience to every show by creating additional multimedia resources for the more than 100 creators profiled.

One of its latest programs, “Bob Dylan: No Direction Home,” allowed director Martin Scorsese to chronicle the years 1961 to 1966, a pivotal time in the famous songwriter’s career during which some of his most famous songs were produced.

The complementary Web site (www.pbs.org/ wnet/americanmasters/dylan) contains a quartet of features that will thrill the Dylan fan.

First, a section of video clips, not part of the original documentary (viewed through the RealPlayer plug-in) includes short interviews with Allen Ginsberg and Mickey Jones along with rare Dylan performances from 1966 of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” in Dublin, Ireland, and “Mr. Tambourine Man” in Belfast.

Next, a timeline follows the documentary years with more than 80 text entries highlighting his early career and embellished with concert images, personal photographs and album covers that can be enlarged for a closer look.

Another slick component, the Influences Map, gives the artist a chance to talk about his favorite musicians and industry folks. As visitors click on four boxes, they watch a branching feature open up to a list of artists with a text quote from Mr. Dylan on each. Also, each artist is linked to a separate Web page further explaining their importance to music and an external link for further information.

Rounding out the coolest parts of the site, a Fan Concert Map gives visitors a chance to write about their favorite Dylan experiences. Dots pinpoint each city link, offering completed entries of personal recollections.

Additionally, fans can read the fifth chapter from Mr. Dylan’s memoir, “Chronicles: Vol. I,” hear actor Sean Penn read part of the chapter (in an MP3 download) and read the speech about Mr. Dylan given by music critic Tom Piazza at 1997 Kennedy Center Honors.

Although the “Bob Dylan: No Direction Home” program aired last week, the site will stick around not only as an online ode to the legend, but also as a reminder to fans to try to catch a repeat of the program or buy the two-disc DVD of the show (Paramount Home Entertainment, $29.99), which extends the “American Masters” documentary even further.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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