- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

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

One site to rule all

As director Peter Jackson’s final film of his interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” epic, “The Return of the King,” plays before packed houses, theatergoers might enjoy a visit to the film’s official site (www.lordofthe rings.net) for an exhaustive look at the trilogy.

After a quick audio welcome from one of the film’s actors (I was greeted by Billy Boyd, who plays the hobbit Peregrin Took), the site presents pages of information on all three films. Included are photos, character and actor biographies and an encompassing Video Gallery containing 14 segments (averaging five minutes each) displayed using either the Quicktime or Media Player plug-in. Offerings range from an actors’ discussion of the Samwise Gamgee character to a segment on how Gollum was brought to life.

Those who love to learn about and participate in the behind-the-scenes making of a film also have come to the right site. Two immersive modules, found under Inside the Effects, will take at least an hour to get through and cover both the minutia behind the Prelude to the first film’s battle and the Helm’s Deep fight in the “Two Towers.” Each uses the magic of Macromedia’s Shockwave 3D and Flash 6 plug-ins and features video clips on the groundbreaking technology explained by the folks who brought the scene to life.

Additionally, visitors to the modules can build their own Orc by controlling its body frame and movement, manipulate a scene by tweaking its digital and real elements and watch a 3-D simulation on how an elf warrior goes from a wire-frame computer construct to an animated character.

Finally, a Downloads section features an avalanche of possibilities that includes more than 50 desktop images, five screen savers, 18 electronic cards to send to friends, 17 miniposters, 17 America Online buddy icons, a Nullsoft’s WinAmp Audio Media Player overlay, a Palm Pilot interactive map of middle earth and a Uruk-hai in a pear tree.

Cyber-singing

Humiliating oneself has become so much easier these days, thanks to the explosion of karaoke in almost every multimedia form imaginable. So why not give it a free go on the Internet, courtesy of MidiKaraoke (www.midikaraoke.com) and sing along to almost 1,800 tunes.

Established as a “non-profit educational resource” to help music students with vocal technique and MIDI-sequencing interpretation (which appears to have solved any copyright issues), the site uses files with the KAR extension that, when loaded on multimedia computers, displays song lyrics with bare-bones accompaniment.

After downloading and uncompressing the files, Mac owners can use the Quicktime plug-in, which will perfectly post highlighted words in a little box as the music plays. PC owners have more powerful options, such as using Quicktime or Microsing’s WinKaraoke (www.microsing.com), a free software download, not only to see a bouncing ball jump over lyrics, but to record 42 seconds of their performances (microphone not included).

Songs range from “Summertime” from the opera “Porgy and Bess” to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve belted out Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” with a cheesy keyboard playing in the background.

Blues bytes

The jam machine known as Blues Traveler offers its fans a variety of song downloads to enhance the enjoyment of the 20-year-old band. Those in need of a BT fix will want to look to the Free Stuff section of its slickly designed site (www.bluestraveler.com) to find a total of 36 MP3s that feature the work of vocalist and extraordinary harmonica player John Popper and his four musical mates.

The majority of the cuts are culled from live gigs in New York clubs during the band’s lean years, with stints at CBGBs and the 712 Bar in 1989 and the Academy in 1991. Additionally, four tunes come from an unrealized concept studio album that highlights the versatility of the musicians. Most notable of the MP3 online catalog are “The Sun and the Storm,” with its bit of reggae mixed in with a characteristically explosive Popper mouth-harp solo, the fiery “Support Your Local Emperor” and two versions (fast and faster) of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

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 an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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