- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

This year's Oscars saw a new type of Hollywood pitch during an acceptance speech. And it had nothing to do with politics.

The winning visual effects team from "The Matrix" closed the usual thanks and praise segment with a plug for the film's Web site.

Expect more of the same, as the movies have now cottoned to the use of the Internet as both a promotional device and an artistic medium in its own right.

For a movie to have its own Web site is now almost a given. All 20 of the top films in last weekend's box office totals had one.

Theatrical trailers and movie posters now almost always feature the film's Web site address as prominently as the list of credits, some even more so, such as the upcoming film "Chuck & Buck." It gives the title card for its Web site a shot all to itself.

Internet movie information sources from Yahoo Movies to James Bowman's reviews in the American Spectator now have links to each film's official Web site.

Official movie Web sites began basically as little more than posters, and some low-budget films still can afford only that. But the sites for major releases have gotten extremely elaborate in recent months recent years in Web time.

For the first time this year, the Online Film Critics Society gave out awards for best official Web site for a film. The nominees were "Being John Malkovich," "Fight Club," "The Matrix," "Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace," and the winner, "The Blair Witch Project."

It was "The Blair Witch Project" that transformed movies' use of the Web through an extremely elaborate Web site including details of the invented Blair Witch legend and biographies of the "missing" filmmakers. The film became an "event" among Web-savvy filmgoers.

By the time of its nationwide release in July, the little film that cost less than $35,000 to make had generated such enormous buzz that it eventually grossed more than $140 million in the United States and $250 million worldwide. In proportion to production costs, it is the most successful movie ever made.

Almost all big-budget movies now come with an elaborate Web site featuring the sort of goodies long associated with special edition tapes and discs; "behind the scenes"-type trivia, clips and even bloopers.

"Gladiator," the year's No. 2 box-office hit thus far, has 40 traditional ancient virtues such as courage and honor hidden on its Web site, each marked by an icon. Diligent surfers who find all 40 among the usual mix of clips, bios, production history and so forth receive film-related prizes.

The Web site for "American Psycho" offers the opportunity to exchange e-mail with the movie's anti-hero serial murderer Patrick Bateman. "The Virgin Suicides" Web site has a link to let Web surfers e-mail questions to the Sofia Coppola, the film's director.

Some others have huge amounts of material not just about the film, but about the film's subject matter.

For example, the Web site for "The Perfect Storm" has a downloadable 14-minute documentary about the 1991 real-life storm that inspired the book and the movie, amateur video footage of that storm's effects on shore and stylized graphics about the effects of waves. Sections give details on the special effects for one sequence in the movie the rescue of the boat Mistral or more details about real-life at-sea rescue teams.

"The Patriot," like many a Hollywood period piece, has come under attack for taking various liberties with history. But the Web site can easily satisfy history buffs with its links to more than 130 sites on Revolutionary War history, personalities, museums and re-enactment groups plus original documents such as the Declaration of Independence, "Common Sense" and many others.

Other movies try to capture some of the movie's flavor on their Web sites. "Gone in Sixty Seconds" and "American Psycho" both open with short teasers the first a highly fragmented and speeded-up series of facts about car theft; the second starring a yuppie declaring he's losing his mind and turning into a killer.

Comedic films especially seem to enjoy having fun with their sites.

On the Web site for the gross-out comedy "Me, Myself & Irene," an impromptu pop quiz immediately asks viewers to react to seeing a woman nursing her child. Based on the answers, the site goes either to the page for Charlie, the meek part of the split personality in Jim Carrey's character, or Hank, the mean side.

The site for "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," which was based on a 1960s TV cartoon show, greets the Web surfer with a cartoon newscaster reading an intentionally inane newscast on a television graphic. The page portrays its links as TV channels which the viewer has to switch between to get the information.

The channels' premise is that Rocky and Bullwinkle are running against Boris, Natasha and Fearless Leader for control of television. As of Tuesday morning, Rocky and Bullwinkle had garnered 85 percent of the vote, but moose and squirrel want every vote. Voters for the evil spies automatically receive an e-mail campaign pitch letter signed "Bullwinkle J. Moose."

The Internet also offers filmmakers a new medium for the movies themselves.

In a May episode of "Roger Ebert & the Movies," Mr. Ebert and guest critic Michaela Pereira reviewed "Quantum Project," which Miss Pereira called "the first Hollywood-level multimillion-dollar motion picture developed and produced specifically for the Internet." The 166MB, 32-minute film is available for downloading at www.sightsound.com at a price comparable to a video rental.

Mr. Ebert and Miss Pereira were both skeptical about whether the technology is up to the task of making downloadable feature-length movies a smooth viewing experience. Miss Pereira said on the show that "Quantum Project" took "hours to download" even with a high-speed Internet connection. Mr. Ebert said he didn't even get to see the movie because, for encryption reasons, no Macintosh-compatible version of the film was available.

For feature films, they added, the Web likely will be viewed as the minor leagues.

"Made-for-Net movies, like made-for-video movies, will always be perceived as having something a little bit wrong with them," Mr. Ebert said. "If they were a little better, they would have gotten a theatrical release."

Despite that, both Mr. Ebert and Miss Pereira were enthusiastic about the Internet as a medium for short films, whose theatrical release prospects are negligible and where download times are less onerous.

"The Web is made for short films," Mr. Ebert said.

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