- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 22, 2001

Hi-Res, a Shoreditch, East London, Web-site developer, has become known for its bizarre designs for movie-related Web sites such as Requiem for a Dream (www.requiemforadream.com). It recently continued its streak into the strange with a site for the IFC Films release of "Donnie Darko" (www.donniedarko.com).
The movie may end up as just another of those brilliant "independent films," but thanks to the World Wide Web, Hi-Res has given the film life beyond a simple promotional experience.
"The site presents a set of possibilities based on the parallel universe of cyberspace that does not really exist, versus both the tangent world of the movie and the real world that we live in," Florian Schmitt, creative director for Hi-Res, says from his East London offices.
"The whole idea behind the site was that while we were giving you information you could not gain from the film, we also wanted to entice the visitor to explore this other universe by providing a unique, and fun, way to look at it."
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore and Frank a 6-foot-tall gruesome rabbit the film twists the coming-of-age story of a disenfranchised teen from Middlesex, Va., around a surrealist science-fiction mystery. As a person, Donnie questions the reality of life as he meanders through a 28-day period, asking questions that will never get answered.
Director Richard Kelly gave the film a serious dose of brooding darkness while incorporating the style of a Rod Serling-inspired thriller. He gave the Web-development team not only a chance to continue to explore the questions of alternate universes and time travel, but also to create a sequel to his vision.
"What is different is that while you don't find out too much about the movie, you do get a lot of information being created by the story creator and director Richard Kelly," Mr. Schmitt says. "This makes this a very different type of movie-promotion site because it continues from where the movie ends."
For Mr. Schmitt and his crew, the quest was not just to create a Web site that would drive moviegoers to the theater, but to develop an alternate universe that would become real to the user. For example, one of the key concepts of the film is a fictitious book about time travel while it is only alluded to in the movie, it can be read on the site.
Technically, the goal was to take the Web site beyond menus and flash introductions into something that compels through the creators' ability to fuse sound and visual media. One of the weirder ideas involves a peppering of red dots that pulse throughout the pages.
"Sometimes the dots are markers; other times they are buttons. It's a way of showing the site is alive," Mr. Schmitt says. "When we do a Web site for a film, it's about creating a narrative. It's more than an animation; you can actually involve the person at the computer and play with them, even if you are not actively responding."
When surfing through the site, visitors are met with numerous pop-up windows used to propel their journey as they stumble on new information a character's obituary, a newspaper article from 1988, a series of windows that act as a prompt to get the viewer to take a certain action or that reveal a code when closed in the proper sequence.
While these windows look as if they are "real" Web destinations complete with URLs, they are, in fact, just very clever uses of the relatively common Macromedia Flash software application.
Mr. Schmitt says his crew is not made up of "tech-heads" and notes that they have backgrounds in film, music and fine art though they have learned their way around the keyboard and cyberspace.
"We wanted to give the Web site more than a superficial two-dimensional feel and hoped to create a world that would penetrate the life of the user," Mr. Schmitt says. "I receive e-mails from people asking Donnie what he thinks, as though he is a real person, so it must have worked."


Soaps on the line

For soap-opera fans around the world who wish "General Hospital's" Luke Spencer would just once send a message to show he cares, Robin Mattson can make that dream come true.
The "All My Children" regular is the star of the new Web site Soapgrams.com (www.soapgrams.com), which shows her and a bunch of her acting associates commenting on almost any occasion from a bad hair day to a holiday for a price.
These prerecorded gems from the sirens and hunks of daytime melodramas can be personalized and sent to friends who play them through the Windows Media Player plug-in.
Soap stars to choose from include Anthony Geary of "General Hospital," Cady McClain of "All My Children," and Sabryn Genet from "The Young and the Restless."
Visitors simply choose a star and greeting (for $1.99), or they can personalize it with a name (for $2.99). The message then arrives via e-mail or a traditional answering-machine message ($3.99 for this service).
The site has a bit of added value for hard-core soap fans as it lists related links to their favorite stars.
Write to Joseph Szadkowski, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, or send e-mail ([email protected]).



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