Classic Feature: Introducing 'The Internet'

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Empire Classic Feature Introducing
'The Internet'In December 1994, Empire ran the following article on a new-fangled technology, one that claimed to place a vast repository of information within reach of a dial-up modem. "It's like having 30 million mates on the end of the phone!" we said. It'll never catch on.


This article was first published in Empire Magazine Issue #66 (December 1994).

Picture this. With just a Personal Computer (PC) and a phone line, you can tap into a huge collection of computers linked together across the world and you can, should you choose to do so, "surf the Internet". While surfing, you'll be privy to more information than you could ever use, or even conceive. There are groups of people talking about everything - everything - from movies to music to arcane discussions on Hebrew texts. Something like 30 million people are connected together via this huge computer network - and the number's doubling every year.

  It's a kind of vast talking shop, really. You sit at your desk in, say, Glasgow, and type a comment, a question or an observation about, say, Keanu's acting ability. It zaps out to 30 million computers all over the world. Everybody can read your message. Those who are interested can reply to it. The answers then appear on your screen. Frankly, it's unbelievable.  
  The Internet was designed for military and academic use, but there are so many countries and organisations connected now that no single body owns or controls it; not a corporation, not a government, no one. There are dozens of different movie-related resources on the Internet, but the first one users turn to is the newsgroup called, in the Internet's arcane language, "rec.arts.movies". This is a global discussion forum in which anyone who's connected can take part. Whatever your movie question or opinion, you can type it in and within minutes it can be read by hundreds of thousands of fellow buffs. Recent topics have included the dubious casting of Interview With The Vampire, the cause of Jenny's death in Forrest Gump and the expected release date for Die Hard 3. And if you want to know how people - real people, not critics - rate a film, "" contains hundreds of opinions, and because many of the writers are in the US, you can learn about a film well before it arrives here.

One of the most impressive resources available is the Cardiff Movie Database. This is one of the most comprehensive archives of movie information in the world. On the Internet, a fanzine for thousands of people costs almost nothing to create and very little to receive. As a result, films and directors with their own vociferous "real world" fans have massive followings on the Internet. Films like Aliens, Blade Runner, and Reservoir Dogs are all covered in exhaustive detail by their admirers, but Star Trek towers over all others - if you're interested in the films, the TV series or any of the assorted spin-offs, there is so much material available that you could stay connected permanently and never reach the end of it.
One of the most impressive resources available is the Cardiff Movie Database. This is one of the most comprehensive archives of movie information in the world. Though it started in - oh yes - Cardiff, it's compiled and maintained by about a dozen volunteers from around the world and is contributed to by thousands more. It contains information on more than 33,000 films, including cast lists, plot summaries and often interesting details like continuity errors. If you want a list of the films directed by Woody Allen which starred Diane Keaton, you can get one in seconds. But perhaps its most interesting feature is its rating system: films are rated from one to ten - a figure arrived at by averaging the votes of the Internet public. Anyone who wants to can add their own vote to the tally at any time. Similarly, if you spot a gap in the database and happen to know the answer, you can do your bit by telling the compilers, who can update it on the spot. The studios in Hollywood are starting to recognise its influence and are contributing casting information - often before a film even hits the cinemas in the US.

Coming to a PC screen near you: access to Hollywood via the Internet world. Seen the film? Bought the t-shirt now surf through the Hollywood database (below and left) in the comfort of your own home...

The Internet, however, is not just a home for opinionated amateurs. There are several film-related magazines on the Internet including Eye Weekly (Toronto's equivalent of Time Out), Film Maker (a highbrow film quarterly) and CinemaSpace from Berkeley's Film Studies Department. Specialist discussion groups exist for film archivists, film studies students, independent filmmakers, video-makers, screenwriters, even projectionists.
And, this is only the beginning. Companies around the world are starting to wake up to the Internet's commercial potential. Nearly all of what is available so far has been free, as electronic billing systems are not yet in place. As soon as they find a way to get paid for the information they provide, magazines and newspapers will get connected, making the Internet into a huge, global news-stand where the magazines are updated hourly instead of weekly or monthly. Further into the future, you may be able to send and receive film clips, and not just talk about them.
Being "online" is starting to lose its nerdy image, even in the UK. Before long, having an electronic mail address may be as fashionable (and more useful) than owning a mobile phone. Get connected today and join the Internet pioneers - you have nothing to fear except, perhaps, an enormous phone bill...

Er, So How Does It Work, Exactly?

There are as many ways to connect to the Internet as there are reasons to do it. Your choice depends largely on how much you have to spend and how much you expect to use it.
If you are lucky, you may find that you're connected already. Universities and some large companies have been on line for years; if your computer is connected to an academic or commercial network, it is worth asking the head geek what kind of access you have.
If you are starting from scratch you need three things: a computer, a modem (to connect your machine to the network through the phone) and a "service provider" - someone already connected to the Internet who acts as your gateway.
Almost any computer can be used to provide a connection, though a Windows-compatible PC or an Apple Macintosh are preferable. You shouldn't scrimp on a modem - the magic word to ask for is "V32 bis" which start around £140. Anything cheaper is slower, frustrating and false economy.
Most importantly, you have to choose a service provider. Bulletin boards like CompuServe and CIX - the Compulink Information Exchange - are easy to connect to, offer additional services of their own on top of Internet access and offer a cheap way in with minimum charges of around £6 a month, but they may not offer access to all of the facilities on the Internet, and if you become a heavy user, their hourly charges can be expensive.
Another option is direct Internet connection - this costs a flat rate of £10 to £15 a month, not including your ordinary phone charges you pay while connected (though all charges are made at local rates). This is offered by an increasing number of small companies, and British Telecom plans to offer its own service to home users sometime in 1995. Or else you can trek down to Cyberia, the world's first Internet café at 39 Whitfield St, London W1. There, for £1.90, you can surf for half an hour...

Calling Occupants of Interplanetary, Etc.

To test the Internet's usefulness, we zapped out some questions into space. The replies came in from all over the world within 24 hours. Here is just a small selection...

Question One: Tim Burton's Ed Wood is about a crappy director from the 50s. Can't wait to see it, but in the meantime, what movies did Ed Wood Jnr. direct?

From: Kingman Barstow, San Bernadino, California

Message: "Pick up the book used as a basis for the film, (Rudolph Grey's?) Nightmare Of Ecstasy. It's got a Wood filmography and bibliography and is available in a new movie tie-in edition..."

From: Len Freedman, Denver, Colorado

Message: "Plan 9 From Outer Space is Ed Wood's most famous film. Here is a list of all the movies available on video: Bride Of The Monster, Glen Or Glenda, Jail Bait, Night Of The Ghouls, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Sinister Urge, The Violent Years. There is a new "director's cut" release of either Jail Bait or Glen Or Glenda, which includes a restored scene..."

From: Lopez, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Message: "If you can get your hands on a copy of Cult Movies by Danny Peary, there's lots of interesting information about Wood, all of which matches the film. By the way, Ed Wood is a film well worth seeing, but see Plan 9 From Outer Space if you can before you go!"

Question Two: Keanu Reeves can't act, can he?

From: Leah Weston, New York City, "where the women are strong andthe men are pretty..."

Message: "He is one of the most insipid actors I have ever seen. I wanted to walk out of My Own Private Idaho when he was doing his faux Shakespeare. I've never seen him be anything other than mediocre, with the exception of Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure..."

From: Unnamed surfer, Tel-Aviv University, Israel

Message: "I don't call it acting, but he was well cast in My Own Private Idaho."

From: Unnamed surfer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Message: "If you have any questions about Keanu Reeves’ acting ability, watch River's Edge, Parenthood, and My Own Private Idaho in one sitting. His characters in these are all completely different, and he fully inhabits each one. Keep an eye on him - he’s getting better with each film."

Natural Born Killers Natural Born Killers: facts from the Internet database, reviews from fellow surfers.Question Three: I can't imagine Woody Harrelson from Cheers as a serial murderer in Natural Born Killers. Is he any good in it?

From: Gordon Miller, Towson State University, Towson, Maryland

Message: "Harrelson's not quite in the Anthony-Hopkins-as-Hannibal-Lecter ballpark, but it's a respectable enough performance. The film, as you will probably find out in the next couple of minutes, tends to arouse great passions. Personally, I dozed through most of it. Some good alternative rock tunes on the soundtrack, though..."

From: Daniel R. Williamson, Chemical Abstracts Service, USA

Message: "It was absolutely, positively, the worst movie I have ever seen. Too much of a reach to try to get something out of it other than the obvious slam on how the media (US anyways) handles murders and killing in general. Oliver Stone really blew this one - $6.50 down the tubes..."

From: Grant Friel, Los Angeles, California

Message: "Woody was excellent in the movie. The movie was not so much entertaining as shocking, but very well made. It is a unique movie with lots of violence. Could gross you out. Go see it!"

This article was first published in Empire Magazine Issue #66 (December 1994).

Empire Magazine - Issue 66