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What a Web They Spin

After the success of the low-budget 'Blair Witch Project' promoting itself on the Internet, the major studios are jazzing up their sites for blockbuster releases.

May 07, 2000|MICHELE BOTWIN | Michele Botwin is a Times staff writer

Sen. Kelly's campaign Web site looks remarkably like a hate site. On it, the senator warns that our country is being overrun by a "growing number of individuals--who are impure at their most basic level." He promotes "a brighter, genetically cleaner United States of America." And 13-year-olds everywhere are eating his message up.

Before you write your congressman, you should know that Sen. Kelly is actually a fictional character in "X-Men," and his Web site,, was erected to promote the widely anticipated summer release from 20th Century Fox. The "Mutant Watch 2000" site lets users participate in the mutant hysteria that is part of the sci-fi comic-book film adaptation's story line.

Having learned important lessons from last summer's blockbuster indie film "The Blair Witch Project," which generated a groundswell of buzz online, the major studios are ratcheting up their Web sites for this summer's crop of blockbusters. The official sites for "X-Men," "M:I-2" and "The Perfect Storm," among others, offer rich multimedia, movie-related content and interactive features designed to build and sustain excitement right up until the opening day at the box office.

When it comes to using the Web, studios may not lead the way, but they're proving to be fast learners.

" 'Blair Witch' wasn't exactly a wake-up call, but it . . . confirmed the importance of the Internet," said Jeffrey Godsick, vice president of publicity and promotions at Fox. "The Internet allows us to identify a niche audience and tap into their loyalty in an efficient way. Studios can't feed the general moviegoer at the same level."

In marketing their summer films on the Web, studios followed the pattern established by Artisan Entertainment last year with "Blair Witch": incrementally introducing back story and depth to a movie's Web site to build momentum leading up to the release. Using a movie site simply to post promotional material and trailers won't get the job done, the studios have discovered.

Chris Gore, who runs the independent movie site, said, "The studios are now directly feeding the hard-core fans, speaking directly to them, and treating them with some kind of respect. They're reaching the people who are fanatics, who then go out and influence all their friends."

Fox employed a two-pronged strategy to present "X-Men" online, commencing six months before the opening of the film. In January, the studio launched the "Mutant Watch" site, allowing visitors to identify friends and family members whom they suspect could be mutants and assess their own mutant quotient by answering a series of questions. As the story line continues to unfold online over the next few weeks, users will be able to role-play by combining their mutated genes (or "superpowers") with those of other users in order to unlock more information on the site.

The studio also posted a straightforward promotional site,, featuring QuickTime trailers, transcripts and streaming video from chats with the film's stars, in addition to material, such as photos and production notes, from the movie. The site's reach has been extensive: The second trailer, posted April 5, has generated more than 1.3 million downloads, Godsick said, and more than 100,000 mutants have been registered on the "Mutant Watch" site.

Over at the "M:I-2" site, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to assume the identity of an Impossible Mission Force agent. On the elaborate high-tech site, located at, participants are issued an alphanumeric code name and a physical identity, which they can modify, for example, by adding a mustache or changing gender. The agents can then hone their espionage skills by playing a series of eight Shockwave games of increasing intensity that test such essential spy tactics as safecracking, decoding, bomb defusing and helicopter navigation.

The site, which is available in nine languages, also provides an Agent Locator (a map graphic that shows how many users are registered as agents all over the world) and a communication function that lets visitors send e-mail messages to other agents.

Other features on the site include downloadable "M:I-2" desktop images and Mission Time screen savers, which synchronize a user's computer with Global Mission Time (Greenwich Mean Time), as well the trailers and background information on the movie. A teaser site launched in November, and the enhanced site started in February, giving the movie seven months to ramp up online before its May 24 release date, said Kaaren Shalom, executive director of interactive marketing for Paramount Pictures.

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