USA Today – Josh Chetwynd

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When unveils Quantum Project at midnight ET Thursday(9 p.m. PT), the Internet revolution -and Hollywood’s role in it -will get a serious test.

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The 36-minute Quantum is billed as the first feature film to be made for and distributed exclusively on the World Wide Web. While it’s unclear whether the film deserves that claim to fame (after all, any filmmaker can post a film online), one thing is certain: This is the first Net movie with legitimate Hollywood credentials.

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The movie, which cost $3 million to make, stars Stephen Dorff (Blade), Fay Masterson (Eyes Wide Shut) and John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda) and is produced by Metafilmics, which did What Dreams May Come. With slick Hollywood visuals but little character development, it tells the story of a quantum physicist (Dorff) trying to figure out love.

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For $3.95, viewers can download the movie from or Whether they do in large numbers will help answer a pressing Net question: Are the masses ready for full-length computer cinema?

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SightSound is banking on the answer being yes.

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“There is a totally alternate world out there,” says SightSound CEO Scott Sander. “For a certain generation, I think the Internet is the primary” source for entertainment.

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College kids, he says, already are downloading and watching pirated versions of films like The Matrix off the Web. And, with the superfast connections on university campuses, films such as Quantum can be downloaded in 10 to 25 minutes. (For a 56K modem, though, it will take a mind-numbing four hours.)

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Filmmakers also hope to lure viewers by offering computer-only options. They plan to eventually offer alternate cuts of the film (at a still-to-be-determined price) and deleted footage, making it possible for fans to craft their own versions.

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“With a regular movie, it is extremely difficult and expensive to re-cut it,” says Quantum producer Barnet Bain. Changes to a digital movie can be done so easily that “we are currently working on three or four versions of the film that emphasize different aspects or directions.”

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Despite the extras, analysts are skeptical about Quantum’s prospects for success.

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“They have a couple of strikes against them to begin with,” says David Card, a senior analyst at Internet tracking firm Jupiter Communications. “One is the download issue, which is serious because most people don’t have (the quicker) broadband connection, and the other is, who wants to watch a movie on a computer, anyway?”

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Simply informing people that the project exists is another challenge. SightSound has chosen not to spend much on publicity and is counting instead on good word-of-mouth, which can spread quickly on the Internet.

But entertainment industry analyst David Davis of Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin believes that strategy probably won’t be enough. “If you can’t spend $10 million to $15 million in marketing, it is very hard to get into the public conscience,” Davis says. “It would have to be something on the order of The Blair Witch Project or maybe more to succeed.”

Regardless of the reaction, Bain seems certain that over time the film will be seen as significant. “Quantum Project,” he says, “is The Jazz Singer (Hollywood’s first talkie) for the Internet.”

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