- The Washington Times - Friday, July 8, 2005

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

A Fantastic Web site

Marvel Comics’ famed superhero team arrived in theaters yesterday with the release of 20th Century Fox’s “Fantastic Four.” Although the official Web site (www.fantasticfourmovie.com) does a terrible job of covering the superheroes’ sequential-art roots, it still offers loads of multimedia fun, including 10 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and a trio of interactive features.

First, after downloading Maven Networks’ broadband video plug-in, viewers who own a computer running the Windows XP or Windows 2000 operating system with Internet Explorer version 6 or later, Windows Media Player 7.1 or later and Direct X 7 or later get to watch a sampling of high-definition trailers and photos from the film that will fill their screens.

Next, there’s the three-dimensional fighting game, It’s Clobberin’ Time. It allows a player to choose among Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, the Thing, the Invisible Girl or Dr. Doom in a battle against an online or computer opponent.

Clobberin’ Time is similar to the Ninja Assassin challenge seen on the “Elektra” movie site highlighted months ago (www.elektramovie.com), but the characters are much better defined and harness more eye-popping powers along with some slick animations.

The typical challenge takes place in rounds as players select three actions to have their character perform. They can energize him, move him around a gridded game board or attack.

Attacks include the Human Torch unleashing some spectacular flame assaults, the Thing jumping to shake the ground, Mr. Fantastic performing an elastic punch and Dr. Doom’s scorched-earth trick delivering a circle of electrical energy around him.

Finally, visitors can take a tour of the headquarters of the Fantastic Four, the Baxter Building, as they are whisked through areas with a mouse click on the Proceed icon. They eventually end up in Reed Richards’ laboratory — where they can take a tough science quiz and leave a note on a chalkboard for one of the team members (and get an e-mailed response). They may also view surveillance video and journal entries from Richard’s computer.

Info highway invasion

Director Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” has invaded theaters, and its official Web site (www.waroftheworlds.com) delivers an eclectic mix of exclusive content to satisfy fans of the film and even those wondering about the origin of the movie’s story, written by science-fiction author H.G. Wells.

Visitors enjoy the eerie sounds of John Williams’ orchestration as they navigate their way through the standard variety of film clips, photos, production notes and screen savers set in front of backdrops revealing the layers of destruction heaped upon Earth by extraterrestrials.

First, there is an unforgiving multilevel quiz with questions on the production team and story line and “War of the Worlds” trivia. Players must have perfect answers to reach each new level.

The multimedia wonder of the site is a survival game in which players create on-screen IDs with passwords, or just log in as guests, to choose from 16 environments and enter terrains where they constantly rescue citizens bewildered by the alien invasion.

The real-time strategy action comes from an over-the-top perspective as the player clicks to areas of streetscapes where he wants his avatar to go. The rather elaborate setup also has the player collect inventory items such as water, food and first-aid kits to collect bonus points and complete objectives.

Time is crucial because explosions are occurring all around the protagonist as he assembles a group of fairly mindless survivors who follow his on-screen commands to a safe area.

Among the missions: finding a place to hide with a set number of refugees, collecting a raft, an air pump, gasoline and a motor to reach an idling ship; and avoiding radiation zones.

Players can join others online to perform team rescues and conquer objectives while messaging one another in real time during the action.

Exclusive “War of the Worlds” content also extends to online portal partners who have posted extra multimedia happenings for fans to appreciate the film.

Viewers can watch a 17-minute discussion between Mr. Spielberg and his star, Tom Cruise, who interview each other with questions posed by Moviefone (https://movies.channel.aol.com) users. A full-screen option is available that requires the AOL Media player plug-in.

Those with the latest versions of Yahoo Messenger and the Flash player can get an IMVironment loaded with footage from “War” that acts as an interactive background to keep users visually stimulated while talking to friends.

Additionally, a link from the movie site to AOL’s Research & Learn section (https://reference.aol.com/nowyouknow/waroftheworlds) pulls up a biography and bibliography for H.G. Wells and information on Orson Welles’ controversial 1938 radio performance of “War of the Worlds.”

• 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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski @washingtontimes.com).

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