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Universal Sees Red Over 'Hulk' Bootleg

A rough, early version of the unreleased film on the Internet is being slammed by viewers.

June 10, 2003|Richard Verrier and P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writers

In the Universal Pictures movie "The Hulk," mild-mannered scientist Bruce Banner transforms into a fearsome creature when seized with rage.

Universal executives had good cause to vent anger of their own this weekend after a rough, early version of the movie made its way onto the Internet just two weeks before the June 20 premiere.

This isn't the first time a highly anticipated movie has hit the Net before it hit the big screen. "Spider-Man" appeared online before its theatrical premiere, as did the current hit "Finding Nemo."

The difference with "The Hulk" is that what online movie fans are watching -- and slamming -- is an unfinished work.

Scores of critiques of "The Hulk" bootleg have flooded online gossip movie site Ain't It Cool News in the last couple of days, with most complaining about the look of the computer-generated monster.

"The success of the movie is going to rest on the audience believing that the Hulk is real," said Drew McWeeny, West Coast editor of the site. "And clearly, it's not in this print."

Universal executives dismissed such criticism, saying Internet critics aren't representative of the general movie audience and are unfairly passing judgment on something that is substantially different -- in terms of sound, music and special effects -- from the final film.

Universal has a lot riding on the ambitious movie, which cost an estimated $150 million and is coming out as the corporate parent, Vivendi Universal, courts buyers for its U.S. entertainment group.

"We are conducting a thorough investigation to determine how this occurred, and those responsible will face serious consequences," Universal spokeswoman Susan Fleishman said Monday.

Universal has enjoyed strong openings with the Jim Carrey comedy "Bruce Almighty" and "2 Fast 2 Furious," the sequel to its hit "The Fast and the Furious," and has high hopes for next month's "Seabiscuit."

Where the pirated movie came from is unknown. The film was distributed first through Internet Relay Chat, a computer protocol that allows users to copy files at high speeds from other computers.

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