- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

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

Surfing Stardust

Paramount Pictures’ romantic-fantasy epic “Stardust” has faded from theaters, but its gorgeous Web site (www.stardustmovie.com) is still around to entertain cyber-audiences.

The movie, based on Neil Gaiman’s illustrated novel, stars Claire Danes, Michele Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro. It tells the tale of a star who crashes into a magical kingdom and highlights her human form’s struggles against those who want to control her.

The site’s design takes beautiful advantage of the fairy-tale world created by director Matthew Vaughn through detailed interactive locations and the melding of video, sound and photo elements.

Narrator Ian McKellen begins a visitor’s cyber-journey with a thoughtful query about the cosmos as a panoramic view of star-filled English countryside opens up, backed by an orchestral score. Those with a sharp eye will see a house twinkling in a distant village. Click on it to be transported to the Village of Wall to learn about many of its famous characters.

The average surfer will find the Games and Features section, broken into six challenges and activities, a fun place to stop.

Games include controlling the gatekeeper as he knocks down foolish youngsters trying to get through the wall, capturing lightning bolts by guiding a massive airship and sneaking up on a prince to push him out a castle window. (I guess you have to see the movie to appreciate it.)

Under Features, visitors will learn about fishing for lightning bolts from airships in a slick multimedia encyclopedia presentation through hot spots found on an illustration of the vessel Caspartine.

My favorite to explore is Starry Sky. The simulation enables the stargazer to look to the virtual heavens and find celestial bodies to click on containing messages from site visitors to their loved ones. Of course, the gazer can create a personalized star to be placed in the “Stardust” universe.

Cyber-‘Bean’

Comedian Rowan Atkinson’s goofball character not only resides in cyberspace at his own site (www. mrbean.co.uk/) but also has an online stop (www.beansholiday.com) tied to Universal Pictures’ recent release of “Mr. Bean’s Holiday.”

First, the Bean’s main site offers an animated design with links to cartoon segments and games such as solitaire and a jigsaw puzzle.

An equally goofy movie Web site has a better chance to suck fans and younger surfers into Bean’s zany world, concentrating on his new adventure in the French Riviera.

Within a colorful and sparse design that uses signs on a post to access sections with fare such as photographs, movie clips and downloads, the site’s true center of silliness can be found through the Games’ posting.

Besides a matching game and beach maze, the very simplistic challenges include building a sand castle by clicking on floating buckets and shovels.

Also available is an activity that encompasses the humor found in this living cartoon character. The Dancing Bean has a visitor click on various parts of Bean’s body using a side menu. Then choose a tune and watch him perform the oddest of steps.

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 (jszadkowski@washingtontimes. com). Joseph also writes a Web- exclusive column for the Washington Times Web site where he reviews educational software and family-friendly video games. Check it out at www3.washingtontimes.com/family times/romperroom.htm.

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