- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

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

BrainPop stop

One of the best online resources for children and adults, BrainPop (www.brainpop. com), offers an education on a variety of topics along with a dash of humor. Comprising concise animated segments taking perfect advantage of the Flash Player plug-in, the site features hundreds of cartoons on science, social studies, math, English, health and technology.

BrainPop is primarily subscription-based, but it also loads each section with about five free clips for frugal surfers to enjoy.

A recent free clip on the avian flu gave its animated hosts, the human Tim and robot Moby, four minutes to explain some background on a potential health problem for multiple species. Visitors learn what “pandemic” means, how following strict food safety rules can help contain the spread of the virus and, more important, why people should not panic. Visitors also can take a 10-question quiz to reinforce what they just watched.

Pricing for BrainPop, after a 14-day trial subscription, ranges from $8.95 a month for families (discounted to $79 per prepaid year) to $150 per year for educators (for 15 daily log-ins).

Sony Cyber Cinema

Web developers at Sony Pictures have been busy offering dynamic content and extended interactive experiences for the movies “The Legend of Zorro” and “Zathura.”

First, the “Zorro” Web site (www.sonypictures.com/movies/thelegendofzorro) offers a pair of games to bring the swashbuckling hero’s exploits to computer screens.

The less taxing of the two, Shooting Gallery, simply requires players to look around the Zorro Web site and open up character icons to discover weapons they can use at a target range. With the mouse controlling a rifle, whip, knife and swords, the player can destroy items including clay pots, wine bottles, fine china and light fixtures.

The Legend of Zorro game provides a much deeper experience.

Within 125 battle rooms, displayed with characters jumping down onto table-shaped platforms, up to four players in each area can fight using miniature multimedia chess pieces of Zorro, Elena, McGivens, Ferroq and Armand in a turn-based strategy simulation.

Players register (or play versus a computer opponent), enter an arena and try to reduce an opponent’s health bar to zero. Using a three-step turn, they can attack with weapons (using Elena’s move called the eviscerator was especially fun), defend, move or re-energize themselves per step.

Fighters compete around a train, courtyard or church environment. They can grab helpful items (such as dynamite) hidden around the game board and text-chat with one another.

Next, a film follow-up to “Jumanji,” the celestial-based “Zathura,” (both based on children’s books from Chris Van Allsburg) has a Web site (www.sonypictures.com/movies/zathura) to challenge the noggin with hours of stimulation.

The Zathura Games page alone will consume many minutes with 10 separate single-player challenges and a virtual two-player version of the board game used to propel the movie story.

Each solo contest is a timed two-minute affair and includes a pair of pinball games, a take on the classic Asteroids game called Meteor Storm, the word scramble Zathura Bound, the first-person space-rock shooter Zorgon Attacks, and the maze manipulator Rocket Run.

Additionally, visitors to the site will find a heavy dose of education available through multiple PDF downloads for children in grades three through five and six through eight offering cross-curriculum lessons in science and language arts.

Digital Bats on the Net

I have written about Web sites adding multimedia content to promote movies, but rarely have seen a cyber-stop set up solely to highlight a DVD release. Such is the case for Warner Home Video’s Batman — The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 DVD set, which includes the films “Batman,” “Batman Returns,” “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin,” along with a utility belt full of extras.

The Web site (www.warnervideo. com/batmanmoviesondvd) opens with a front page of moving poster images from each movie. A short clip of director Tim Burton describing his vision for the Dark Knight automatically loads while a scene from his 1989 “Batman” plays.

Two sections are worth a look. The Batcave contains screen savers, Buddy Icons, a 13-megabyte printable PDF calendar featuring the women in Batman’s life, and interactive posters of the Batmobile and Bat Gadgets highlighting some of the crime fighter’s amazing toys.

Next, Batman Trivia presents a timed multiple-choice game asking very picky questions about the films and their production.

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 (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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