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Movies on the Web

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You know what big summer movie I’m already jonesing to see? The Truman Show, due in early June. The thought of Jim Carrey, our millennial Jerry Lewis, joining forces with a genuinely gifted director like Peter Weir (Witness) has me fascinated; that the movie costars Ed Harris, features Philip Glass music, and has a poster inspired by the paintings of Chuck Close just sinks the hook in deeper.

So why, for Pete’s sake, is the movie’s website (www.the trumanshow.com) so barren?

Because the studios still haven’t figured out what cyberspace is for. Usually, a site will appear a week or so before a film opens, featuring photos, production notes, the trailer, and an arcade-style game that’s impossible to operate when it isn’t actively crashing your computer. Occasionally, inspiration strikes: I love that the Sweet Hereafter site (www.flf.com/sweet/) lets you download the entire script. But for the most part, these pages exist only to give the PR department a URL to put on the bus posters.

The exceptions come with sci-fi films. The website for Godzilla (www.godzilla.com) is a massive, fire-pooting online installation created for the new screen monsterama. The film’s not due until May 20, but the site first stomped onto the Web last July; and if some of the goodies are dauntingly high-tech, the emphasis on community is cheering. There are avatar-based and virtual-reality chat rooms, streaming-video rumor corrections from the producers (”Godzilla is not a she”), and a flat-out wonderful ”classic Godzilla” database that gives you the lowdown on every cheesy rubber-suit Toho monster from Anguirus to Varan.

Running a close second is New Line’s Lost in Space site, felicitously URL-ed http://www.dangerwillrobinson.com. This one tries to appeal to as many contradictory audiences as possible: There’s a Daria-like diary for teenagers, purportedly written by Penny Robinson (Lacey Chabert); an animated Robot desktop gizmo for Dilbert types to show off at work; an impressive Create Your Own Planet feature for Sim-heads; and something called Dr. Smith’s Evil Asteroid that isn’t ready yet but that looks like a chic Goth camp-fest (Gary Oldman fans, start your engines).

Sometimes a high-tech movie’s high-tech PR back- fires. Universal’s Mercury Rising site (www.mercury-rising. com), supposedly designed by the villainous government encryption bureau for which Alec Baldwin works in the film, is a wonk’s paradise that’s impenetrable to the casual surfer. And sometimes a movie aimed at a non-wired audience can make for engaging results online: Paramount’s site for Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple II (www.oddcouple.com) offers a funny little checklist of the dyspeptic duo’s likes and dislikes (as role models, Felix cites Fred Astaire, while Oscar prefers ”Schecky from the old neighborhood, who won big at the dog track in 1959 and never had to work again”).

In the end, even that’s gilding the lily. All I really want from a movie site is information and a teaser: cast listings, trailers, links out to other relevant websites, maybe some on-set articles that don’t taste like no-cal puffery. More to the point, I’d like to get at this stuff early. Or would the studio flacks prefer I got my information from a Net gossip like Harry Knowles?

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