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Cd-Rom Offers A Taste Of Film Directing

The new Steven Spielberg movie? It’s not the “Jurassic Park” sequel not yet, anyhow but an interactive CD-ROM that lets you pretend to deal face-to-face with Spielberg himself in an urgent game of brainstorming a feature film from script to box office.

The big pitfall is the budget: $40 million just doesn’t go very far these days in big-league Hollywood.

The program is called Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair (Macintosh/PC CD-ROM, Knowledge Adventure, $54.95).

And although your first act is to place your name above the title of a make-believe motion picture, the toughest task is sustaining the illusion that the experience is happening.

Spielberg does a lot more talking than listening, and of course everything he has to say is prerecorded, at any rate. He’ll introduce you to your production assistant, your screenwriter team (“Aladdin’s” Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio), and your cast, which includes footage of Quentin Tarantino, Katherine Helmond and Barry Corbin.

The greater worth of Director’s Chair is its clear portrayal of the steps a movie must go through to be made and marketed. If the illusion of making a picture makes the CD-ROM ideal for imaginative children, then the practical knowledge conveyed here makes it almost essential for any movie buff who’d like to understand the process better.

You start out as a Spielberg protege, learning the basics and progressing through intermediate and advanced levels, increasingly challenged by fairly complex plots, special effects and stunt-action scenes, and the temptation to spend more and more money.

The pace (as played out here on a Windows 95 system) is brisk. The vivid graphic design, though slightly exaggerated from reality, gives a workable idea of a movie studio’s layout and operational procedures.

Choices are fairly cut-and-dried: You must decide whether your first screenplay will be written from a masculine or feminine viewpoint, and your musical scoring choices range from rock band to symphony orchestra. The film-editing process, where you are shown how raw footage is cut and assembled into a watchable picture, may be the most fascinating segment for those who’d like to pursue the craft as a career.

Ultimately, if you mind the deadlines and budget and don’t pull a “Heaven’s Gate,” you’ll wind up with a completed production. The illusion follows through with a mock-premiere, for which you have the option of printing tickets and sending out copies of your film via floppy disc or Internet.

Spielberg, of course, had no such fancy gizmos to show him the ropes when he was starting out as an amateur filmmaker during the 1960s. He had his 8mm home-movie camera and the neighborhood film-processing shop, a film-cutting board with that caustic-smelling splice glue, and a household living room for his premieres.

So although Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair is a very generous gesture from one of our most important movie guys, it also renders distant and sterile an experience that should be had with real film (or at least video) and real people.

Like a good book on the process, it should be considered no substitute for the real thing, no matter how amateurish the real thing might be.

The CD-ROM also will give any user a sharper understanding of what makes Spielberg’s own movies click.

As Director’s Chair hits the market, Spielberg and many of his associates on this CD-ROM are at work on “The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2.” Meanwhile, this lifelike game is a world worth getting lost in.