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Sunday, January 21, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Film Casts A Net -- For Movie Fans, The Internet Has Created A Perfect Marriage Of Technology

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

The Web. The Net. The Information Superhighway.

Hark! Is that a scream we hear?

Would that be you, desperately shielding your ears from the overenthusiastic technobabble of Internet missionaries, like some beleaguered Edvard Munch blowup doll?

Hey - chill.

The Big Bad Web isn't as overwhelming as it seems.

If you're an avid film fan or even just a casual moviegoer, browsing through movie reviews on the World Wide Web is a perfect way to acquaint yourself to the workings of this most rapidly growing area of the Internet.

In many ways, the Web and movies are a match made in techno-heaven. The Web is the area of the Internet with graphics, audio and video capabilities. Film, with its inherent focus on the moving image and sound, is an ideal subject for this medium.

"With the Web, you can archive the reviews and information," says Tonya Antonucci, a product manager with Starwave Corp., a Bellevue-based company that began providing show-business-oriented Web services in May 1995. "You can also link to information on similar movies or to actors and directors. Or if you're thinking of renting videos, you can just get the information from the archives."

Add to this mix the power to reach a global audience, and the ability of that audience to respond instantly, and it's easy to see why movie studios, film critics, computer companies and even the occasional movie fan are jumping onto the Web.

"It's like being at the beginning of television," says Lucy Mohl, a local freelance movie critic who is president of Film.com, a Web site devoted to movies. She first plugged into the Web in 1994 and, together with a local company that puts Web sites online, began creating Film.com.

"At first it was intended just to be a place where people could access my reviews," Mohl says. "But the more I did, the more excited I was. People on the Web feel a sense of feedback. It's a resource, but people can also put their two cents in."

Film.com went online last February, and now averages about 150,000 visits a month, according to Mohl, who was formerly a movie critic for KING-TV and NBC.

One of the earliest movie-review Web sites belongs to local freelance film critic Doug Thomas, who, with partner Bob Cappel, put Cinemaven, an earlier version of their current Marquee Web site, online in September 1994.

"When we first started Cinemaven, it was really easy for us to get on `Best of the Net' lists for companies like Prodigy and America On-Line," Thomas said. "But now the field's gotten really crowded."

Of course, part of the delight for Web site creators is seeing their names attached to articles that might be read by millions. (There are no definitive estimates on the number of Web users. Estimates on the number of Internet users range from 5 to 30 million). Many of the movie-review Web sites were started by individual movie lovers, not businesses. Profits for these ventures haven't exactly flooded in yet.

"This is an effort where we're getting more out of it than money," Mohl says.

But the revenue potential is there - through advertising that now is beginning to show up on some of these sites and through links to companies that can provide related services, such as video stores. Film.com, for instance, is involved in putting online the Video Software Dealer Association, which represents thousands of video dealers. Marquee hopes to work with local theaters to create an online database for movie times.

For film buffs, that means a growing number of Web sites offering movie information at the touch of a computer keyboard. There's something for everyone - from quickie reviews to in-depth filmographies for the connoisseur. It's even possible to check where movies are playing locally and purchase advance tickets through the Web.

Sound intriguing? Then here are some sites you might want to browse. The Internet addresses (known as URLs) for these sites are in the accompanying box.

Locally developed sites

Four of the best movie-review sites are created by people from the Seattle area. That's not surprising, considering the number of high-tech industries and film buffs in the region.

Film.com is one of the most comprehensive film sites on the Web. The home page opens onto a graphic of a rich, red curtain - a good symbol, it turns out, for its rich offerings.

Click on "current releases" for reviews of new movies. Each film is reviewed by several critics - almost all of them Seattle freelance writers. The reviews are sophisticated, thoughtful. There are also lists of the Top 10 and Worst 10 movies of the year, box office grosses and listings of movies coming soon.

There's plenty of room for audience interaction, with a chat room to post messages about films, a weekly audience poll and links to the video databases at Rain City Video and Scarecrow Video.

Two of the most impressive features on this site are its links to other cinema-related sites and to film festivals around the world.

This is a beautiful site to take your time browsing through.

Marquee: is a good site for the quick-hit movie review.

The reviews are compact and well-written, with both current and archived reviews searchable by title, lead actors or text. Easy-to-read letter grades and comments ranging from "Don't Miss It" to "Skip It" enhance the quick-skim format.

"The Video Hut" section offers a calendar of what's coming out on video and when, and top picks for old videos.

If you're cruising through this site, don't miss "The Stubbies," billed as "odd little movie news we couldn't pass up." Where else could you learn that the No. 11 film one week last spring in Switzerland was "Mary Poppins"?

Mr. Showbiz's Movie Critic: If you like your movie reviews with a soupcon of dry wit, try this site, part of Starwave's online sports and entertainment services.

The writing minces no words: " `Showgirls' is the worst movie I have ever seen," begins a review of the film by Mr. Showbiz Arts Editor Jeff Schwager.

A cute thermometer graphic rates movies on a 0-to-100 scale. "Nixon," for instance, hit 84 degrees. "Showgirls" froze at 0.

Also on the Mr. Showbiz site are television, theater and book reviews.

This is a fun site to browse through, more for its entertainment news than for its movie reviews.

USpan Movies Online: For a heaping dose of attitude, this is the place to go.

There are four critics with noms de plume such as "Mr. Subliminal" and "$5/Day Roadside Movie Companion." Collectively, they're known as Circle of Critics, and those with the inclination, or a lot of time to kill, can listen to their audio-taped critique session of the movie "Casino." It's not unlike hanging out with college friends at the Last Exit to dissect the deeper meanings of "Terminator."

This critics' circle doesn't sugar-coat its reviews. Here's Yves Jaques, the $5/Day guy, on "The Doom Generation": "This is a desperate pastiche, a noxious stew of tired themes, seasoned with deliberately bad acting and a thoroughly unimaginative script."

Looking for edgy, punchy reviews? This is for you.

Most interesting sites

Seattle folks, of course, don't have a monopoly on movie-review Web sites. There are now dozens of these sites on the Web, with more coming online each day. Here are some of the most interesting:

Internet Movie Database, a mind-blowingly massive database, is arguably the best site on the Web for movie information. The site has more than 60,000 titles, ranging from an 1898 film to those currently in production, and information on more than 200,000 people from actors to costume designers.

The information on each film is exhaustive, including country of origin, awards won, production company, running time, alternative titles, plot synopsis, quotes from the movie, release dates around the world, bloopers, viewer-response ratings, technical information, audio and video links and much more. You can search for movies by many of these categories.

Each movie also has a list of links to commercial and news group reviews on the Web. "Little Women," for instance, has links to 14 reviews, including those from Time magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle.

If you're a movie fan, days could go by before you come up for air.

The FilmZone is one of the best sites for information and reviews of foreign and independent films. There are pictures and video clips galore of indies, as well as plot synopses, reviews and a "Hipster Indie Film Column." The foreign-films section offers a list of 49 essential foreign films and includes video clips and reviews of some of them.

Also notable in this site are its interviews with directors ranging from China's Zhang Yimou ("Shanghai Triad") to Paul Verhoeven ("Showgirls").

The site also profiles works of different directors (currently Peter Bogdonovich), art directors, animators and soundtrack composers, and includes reviews of old movies and rock videos.

Independent cineastes will probably want to wallow for hours.

Teen Movie Critic offers a unique voice in movie reviews, that of 16-year-old Roger Davidson of Minneapolis.

"I give this review mainly for teenagers who are not sure what's cool and what's not," he writes.

The reviews are spotty, but earnest. It's more entertaining for what it reveals about the creator - a home-schooled boy, youngest of 15 children - than what it says about the movies.

Premiere: For a more Hollywood take on the movies, there's Premiere Magazine's new Web site. The "Features" section includes articles from current issues and the delicious "If You Ask Me" column by writer Libby Gelman-Waxner.

The "Marquee" section of the site features synopses, trailers, video links and reviews of current movies. The reviews are sophisticated; the articles much heavier on behind-the-scenes content than the other sites.

This is for those who love to watch "Entertainment Tonight."

Pathfinder's Hit City, from Time-Warner, offers movie reviews that have run in its magazines, primarily Time, People and Entertainment Weekly. The site isn't too exciting, but offers good, solid reviews.

Movietimes.com, designed as a movie guide for the San Francisco Bay area, offers compact reviews akin to the Marquee site. A lot of the San Francisco information won't be relevant to Seattle readers, but the "Little Guy in Chair Movie Reviews" - capsule reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle - are entertaining. A cute icon of a guy in a chair indicates the ratings of the movies, ranging from those so bad they deserve an empty chair, to those that cause the little critic to jump with joy.

A great feature of this site is its links to the major motion-picture studios' Web sites. This is a general quick movie-review site for the whole family.

For those with very limited time, Onscreen Magazine offers two- to five-sentence movie synopses, and basic movie reviews. (Not all its listed movies have reviews.) The BATech Movie Page dispenses with words, showing instead the percentage of people, by gender, who like and dislike each movie. It's a purely reader-driven review page, asking viewers to rate movies, which BATech then tallies and posts.

Other movie-related sites

Movie-Review Query Engine enables a user to enter the movie title or key words for a search through reviews that have been posted to a movie-review news group or on various media outlets on the Web.

All-Movie Guide is a 131,000-movie database with information about directors, stars, grosses, genres, credits and a nice section where you can find movies with similar themes or the same "touch and feel." There are no movie reviews.

MovieLink, the online version of the telephone movie guide and ticketing service (otherwise known as 777-FILM), provides movie information by geographical location. Click on Seattle, for instance, and you can find out what movies are currently playing at which theater, and purchase tickets using a credit card. This site also offers links to chat groups, trailers, movie posters and a parents' guide explaining why particular movies have been given their ratings.

Movie studio sites

Many studios have their own sites - mainly glitzy promotional packages of photos, plot synopses and video trailers of their current releases. They include Fineline Pictures, Paramount Pictures, MCA/Universal Cyberwalk, Sony/Columbia/Tristar, Walt Disney/Buena Vista, MGM/UA and Newline Pictures.

------------------------ PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE NET ------------------------

Many branches of the Seattle Public Library offer free access to the Internet and text-only links to the World Wide Web, either by signing up to use its terminals, or by hooking up to the library link at 386-4140.

Graphical Web links are available at two terminals at the downtown library and at several branches. Call Seattle Public Library at 386-4140 for more information.

Popular places to buy an Internet account or time on the Net are the Speakeasy Cafe at 2304 Second Avenue and the Internet Cafe at 528 15th Ave. E.

---------------------------------- ADDRESSES FOR SOME MOVIE WEB SITES ----------------------------------

-- Film.com: http://www.film.com . -- Marquee: http://www.marquee.com . -- Mr. Showbiz's Movie Critic: http://showbiz.star-wave.com:80/showbiz/moviereviews . -- USpan's Movies Online: http://useattle.uspan.com/u-movies.html . -- Internet Movie Database: http://www.msstate.edu/Movies . -- Premiere Magazine: http://www.premieremag.com . -- Time-Warner Pathfinder's Hit City: http://pathfinder.com (then scroll to "Entertainment" and click on "Pathfinder's Hit City") . -- Movietimes.com: http://www.movietimes.com . -- The FilmZone: http://www.filmzone.com . -- Teen Movie Critic: http://www.skypoint.com/members/magic/roger /teencritic.html . -- Onscreen Magazine: http://www.onscreen.com . -- BATech Movie Page: http://www.batech.com/movies.html . -- Movie-Review Query Engine: http://www.cinema.pgh.pa.us/movie/reviews. -- All-Movie Guide: http://allmovie.com . -- MovieLink: http://www.movielink.com . -- Fineline Pictures: http://www.flf.com . -- Paramount Pictures: http://www.paramount.com . -- MCA/Universal Cyberwalk: http://www.mca.com . -- Sony/Columbia/Tristar: http://www.spe.sony.com/Pictures/index.html . -- Walt Disney/Buena Vista: http://www.disney.com . -- MGM/UA: http://www.mgmua.com . -- Newline Pictures: http://www.cybertimes.com/NewLine/Welcome.html

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Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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