Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Internet is a chamber of secrets for Potter fans

Several of my friends are under an “Internet blackout.” They won’t venture online until after they’ve finished reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final installment in the adventures of the famous Mr. Potter.

That’s probably a good idea, as apparently the entire book has leaked online, with every page photographed and available via various BitTorrent file-sharing sites. As I write, The Washington Post claims only the first 495 pages of “Deathly Hallows” are online, but disagrees and says it’s all there.

For Harry Potter fans, the entire World Wide Web is now a chamber of secrets: Enter at your own peril.

I haven’t read the whole thing. I’m not a rabid Potter fan and have no desire to download the book. But I have seen a few of the leaked pages (unless they are elaborate fakes) and a summary of all of the sorts of things you probably don’t want to know.

Not to worry. I’m not telling.

At any rate, Scholastic, J.K. Rowling’s U.S. publisher, is reportedly readying its legal team to sue the trousers off whoever leaked “Deathly Hallows” in the first place. So, my attorney advises me against saying anything.

It’s times like this when I’m glad the Internet wasn’t around when I was young. I didn’t have to go out of my way to avoid the great spoilers of my childhood, like Spock dying in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” or Darth Vader revealing that he is Luke Skywalker’s father in “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Sorry if you didn’t know those plot twists already. I can’t be held responsible if you’ve been living in a cave. Besides, Spock got better.

Oh, and while I’m at it: Rosebud was Charles Foster Kane’s sled, Soylent Green is people, and “To Serve Man” is a cookbook.

I’d give away the ending to “Sleepaway Camp,” but you don’t care, anyway.

But don’t worry. I’m not going to spoil anything recent. The only time I’ve ever done that was when a friend and I saw “The Sixth Sense” and, five minutes into the movie, I leaned over and whispered the big twist. But I didn’t know. I was just guessing. It’s not my fault that it’s so obvious.

Wait. I did tell a few people the ending of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village,” but that was just to spare them the agony of sitting through the movie.

As important as spoilers for books, movies and TV shows have become, it’s amazing that the modern definition of the word “spoiler” isn’t yet in Webster’s or the Oxford English Dictionary. Clearly, English-speaking lexicographers are dropping the ball. Even Roger Ebert now sometimes warns of spoilers in his movie reviews.

(While I was writing that last paragraph, another friend went online and threatened bodily harm to anyone who spoils the final Harry Potter book for her. She is 34 years old.)

Unlike Scholastic, however, some publishers actually make a point of leaking spoilers to the media before readers have a chance to read for themselves. I’m speaking, of course, of Marvel Comics and DC Comics, which alert The New York Times and The New York Post every time something major happens to one of their characters. If Captain America dies or Spider-Man reveals his secret identity to the world, it’ll be on CNN before you have a chance to track down a copy of the comic book in question.

It just goes to show that Marvel and DC aren’t really in the storytelling business anymore. They’re in the business of promoting their trademarked characters, which they can then license for movies, toys and video games. This may be why I don’t read superhero comics anymore.

As for everyone who still does care about storytelling, remember: Think twice before you click on that link.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The movie with no name generates early buzz

The most interesting thing about director Michael Bay’s “Transformers” isn’t the movie itself. If you want a movie about giant robots who moonlight as cars and airplanes, the 1986 animated version, “Transformers: The Movie,” is a better deal.

No, the most interesting thing is the mysterious teaser trailer screening before “Transformers” — a teaser for a movie that doesn’t yet have a title.

The Internet Movie Database refers to the film as the “Untitled J.J. Abrams Project.” But rumors have floated around the Internet for weeks, usually citing the working title “Cloverfield.” Probably no bogus movie name has generated so much buzz since George Lucas began work on a film called “Blue Harvest” — better known as “Return of the Jedi.”

For now, “Cloverfield” will have to do. Executive producer J.J. Abrams (“Alias,” “Lost”) isn’t giving up many hints. On Monday, Ain’t It Cool News posted a letter from Abrams in which he denied any connection to two Web sites that seem to be part of a viral marketing campaign for the film: and

Whoever “Ethan Haas” is, the Ethan Haas Was Right site, which invites visitors to solve puzzles in order to uncover Haas’ prophecies of impending doom, looks pretty professional not to be part of some elaborate marketing scheme.

So far, Abrams said, fans have discovered only one legitimate “Cloverfield” Web site,, named for the film’s scheduled Jan. 18 release date.

The trailer itself is doing a good job of generating interest. At first, it appears to be home-video footage of a party. Maybe the movie is a comedy? Then things take a slightly darker tone, and you think, “A drama? Maybe a thriller?”

Then the explosions start, and the person holding the camera, along with the other partygoers, heads outside just in time to catch a blast lighting up the night sky, followed by what sounds like a roar.

When I saw the trailer in the theater, people in the audience were, at this point, asking each other, “Is that Godzilla?”

Godzilla doesn’t appear. But the next thing you see are buildings crumbling and cars flying across the city. Then something crashes in the street below.

It’s the severed head of the Statue of Liberty.

We’re in New York City, and Really Bad Things are happening.

Then the trailer ends with that date: 1-18-08. So, whatever is happening, you’ll have to wait seven months to find out.

That’s brilliant marketing.

Judging from just the trailer, the film currently known as “Cloverfield” looks like “Godzilla” meets “The Blair Witch Project” — a monster movie told from the point of view of amateur video. Probably not coincidentally, “The Blair Witch Project” is another film that took full advantage of an unorthodox marketing campaign, which had a lot of moviegoers convinced the film was a legitimate documentary rather than a clever work of fiction.

All we know about “Cloverfield” is Abrams is producing it, “Felicity” creator Matt Reeves is directing it, Drew Goddard (“Alias,” “Lost”) is writing its screenplay and it stars a cast of unknowns, who reportedly weren’t even allowed to see the script before they signed on.

For now, we’re left to guess. Is the entire film going to be “home movie” footage, or was that just a trick to throw us off. Is there really a giant, Godzilla-like monster? And what is up with all of this Ethan Haas stuff, which makes the movie look like some sort of cosmic doomsday out of the pages of an H.P. Lovecraft story?

That ought to keep people talking until January.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

British TV’s ‘Hex’ should leave viewers bewitched

This usually works the other way around. American producers find a clever British TV show, adapt it for the U.S. and spring it on an unknowing audience.

“The Office” and “Three’s Company” are two successful American shows based on series that aired originally in Britain.

“Amanda’s,” based on “Fawlty Towers,” is an unsuccessful one. Which is probably why no one remembers it.

But occasionally, an American show will have such an impact in Britain that it will spawn imitators there. Such is “Hex.”

When it first aired, “Hex” had a reputation as the British answer to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Actually, its first season has more in common with “Charmed.” The more Buffyesque plots don’t kick in until the second season, which is currently airing on BBC America.

The show’s first 10 episodes — all six episodes of season 1 and the first four of season 2 — are now available on DVD. The three-disc box set lists for $49.95, with most retailers knocking at least $10 off that.

Set at an isolated boarding school that once belonged to a woman who more than dabbled in the occult, “Hex” follows a shy student named Cassie (Christina Cole), who discovers she has both supernatural powers and a mysterious link to the late lady of the house.

That would normally be enough for any teenager to cope with, but Cassie’s problems are just beginning. As soon as her powers start to manifest themselves, she attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger, who spends most of his time lurking in the mists just off the estate and doing his best impression of a tortured Jane Austen hero — except evil.

The stranger is Azazeal (Michael Fassbender), leader of a group of fallen angels. And fallen angels are always bad news.

Cassie’s only real friend is her roommate, Thelma (Jemima Rooper), who happens to have an unrequited crush on Cassie. This is doubly bad news for Thelma, who ends up dead by Azazeal’s hand by the end of the second episode.

Normally, I wouldn’t spoil a major character death like that in a review like this, but in this case, there is life after death. When Thelma shows up at her own funeral, it’s obvious: She is a ghost, and she isn’t going anywhere soon — even if Cassie is the only mortal who can see her.

So, it’s up to Cassie and her ghostly and even-more-frustrated-than-ever best friend to unravel the mystery of Cassie’s powers and figure out what Azazeal wants, besides wanting Cassie, which he makes clear at every opportunity. It’s fate, he says.

While “Hex” lacks the self-conscious, pop-culture humor of “Buffy,” it doesn’t wallow in the sheer goofiness that made “Charmed” often too painful to watch.

What it has that those two shows lack, however, is gorgeous cinematography. The producers of “Hex” take full advantage of their rural English setting, and every episode has the look and feel of a movie.

They’re also not afraid to take chances. The seventh episode introduces a new character, Ella Dee (Laura Pyper), a 500-year-old demon hunter with impeccable taste in Goth fashion, who sends the series in a totally new direction. If Ella and Buffy were to ever face off, my money would be on Ella.

Note to movie producers: Pyper is an excellent actress who needs more work.

Although the DVD box set ends four episodes into season 2, it nevertheless ends with a perfect cliffhanger, which will leave anyone hooked by the first 10 episodes eagerly awaiting the show’s final nine episodes.

It’s just a shame “Hex” ended after just two seasons.