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An Online Fix for Movie Fans

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As any film buff knows, a good preview is reason enough to turn off the VCR and head to a local multiplex. It’s better than butter-doused popcorn, better than boot-shaking Dolby sound and--sometimes--better than the movie you’ve just paid to see.

In three minutes or less, this modern take on uber-short filmmaking can offer a glimpse into a fantastic tale. They’re glitzy ads--and they’re often deceptive. Nearly everyone at one time has dropped $8 on a comedy, only to later realize the trailer was more amusing than the film itself. Remember the teaser for “Leaving Las Vegas” that portrayed the dark picture as a happy romp with a silly drunk?

For many people, myself included, this teasing promise matters more than what the film delivers. I refuse to enter a movie theater late on the chance that I might miss the one that says, “Hey! See how hunky Antonio Banderas looks in a suit of armor!”

Film studios, always eager for marketing opportunities, have started using the Web as global screening room for these quick-paced ads.

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Would-be watchers, be warned: The downside to checking out previews on the Net is traffic and bandwidth. Unless you have a fast Internet connection--say, a cable modem--it can take more than an hour to download a single trailer for a film that you might end up hating.

If you’re willing to wait on the download, Paramount Pictures has an extensive site devoted to the latest Star Trek release, “Insurrection” (https://insurrection.startrek.com/html/main_flash.html), that includes both previews and behind-the-scenes clips.

San Juan Capistrano-based FutureLink Communications uses a broadcast video technology to expand the size of the clips and reduce the time it takes to access them. Viewers just point, click and watch. The result, FutureLink says, has been a flood of traffic: Several hundred thousand people tuned in to the preview during the first week it went online.

“I knew ‘Star Trek’ was popular, but even I was surprised,” said Michael Fenne, FutureLink chief executive. “Movie fans are hungry for online video.”

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Some of the best preview archives are found on sites that fans develop. Cinema1 (https://www.cinema1.com) offers an outstanding selection of Quicktime previews, primarily of films in current release. A recent visit to the site turned up a clip of “A Simple Plan.” Even though I normally adore director Sam Raimi’s work, the preview was enough to convince me to avoid the film.

A quick trip to MovieWeb(https://movieweb.com/movie/movie.html) often unearths an entertaining gem. The site acts as a portal to Hollywood’s official Web offerings, so visitors can search for a particular film either by title or studio. Though the site is packed with inane fluff, it does distinguish between high- and low-bandwidth pages.

By far, the most popular preview online--and off, for that matter--is the trailer for the “Star Wars” prequel. Last month, LucasFilm Ltd. unveiled a teaser for “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” and posted the clip on its Web site (https://www.starwars.com/episode-i).

Within minutes, dozens of sites posted copies of the preview, both official ones yanked from the LucasFilm site and bootleg versions. Ironically, traffic at such fan sites as The Force.Net (https://www.theforce.net) and Dark Horizons (https://www.darkhorizons.com) was so heavy that it was easier to get the preview off LucasFilm’s pages.

“The fan sites celebrate the trilogy, so we don’t view them as a threat,” said Marc Hedlund, director of Internet development for LucasFilm. “If anything, they’re a benefit. Only a hard-core fan is going to sneak a video camera into a theater, film our preview, digitize it and put it online. And only an extreme fan is going to want to see that poor quality.”

P.J. Huffstutter can be reached via e-mail at p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com. Please send Internet site suggestions to cutting.edge@latimes.com.


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