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Any movie enthusiast who has played with Microsoft's splendid Cinemania CD-Rom will want to take a look at Cinemania Online, a weekly updated mix of topical and enduring material about films and those who make them.

It's not a replacement for the CD, or for your favourite movie guidebook. New releases get fairly punchy 100-word reviews, but the catalogue of other movies on general release is curiously judgement-free. And of course the whole thing is US-oriented - don't expect to get much joy out of the interactive "find your local theater by zipcode" gadget.

There are features, columns and news items in the Attractions department - last week, for example, including an interview with Kenneth Branagh about his interminable Hamlet. There are lists of Top 10 box-office movies, and so on - all a bit like the Barry Norman show, except that there's more of it, and you don't have to stay up late on a Monday night to get it.

What makes the site especially compelling - and makes you realise how poorly most sites exploit the fundamental power of the Web - is that there is a great deal of linking. Wherever a movie star is mentioned in an interview, a review or whatever, there'll be a link to a biog, provided by Baseline's Encyclopaedia of Film - and from there links to other films, and from there to other people, and so on.

In other words, it's as easy to spend whole days exploring here as it is on the CD-Rom.

This background stuff can be accessed directly via the Library, which contains "over 20,900 cast/credit lists and 4,600 artists' filmographies, more than 400 movie reviews and 3,400 biographies, nearly 70 years of Academy Awards, and much more!"

At first, Empire Web seems much less impressive - good to look at, but without much content. But it turns out to be one of those sites that doesn't explain itself. The section called Spotlight, for example, takes you to a long page of banners, each of which takes you to a single graphic about a movie, within each of which are half a dozen links to biographies, reviews or related features.

This site is also much more immediately useful as a guide to what's on release in the UK; each week new releases are reviewed and rated, and there are sections on movies being made and a daily news bulletin. Add a fun and games department and a highly selective links page, and you have a move zine well worth visiting.

Empire Web's only disappointment is its cinema guide - "reviews" of cinemas all over the UK, submitted by readers. I know that my local cinemas are dumps, thanks - what I don't know is what time Hamlet starts at the Showcase. A waste of bandwidthn

Chris Gill

Cinemania Online http://Cinemania.msn.com

Empire Web http://www.erack.com/empire/

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