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Movie Web site stirs cloning controversy

A Web site meant to promote the movie "Godsend" is stirring controversy because some users think the site is real, the film's maker says.
/ Source: Reuters

A Web site meant to promote upcoming film drama “Godsend” is stirring controversy among people who oppose human cloning and want the site shut down because they think the site is real, the film’s makers say.

One problem is that the site, http://www.godsendinstitute.org, doesn’t make mention of the movie.

Instead, it promotes what purports to be a fertility clinic run by Dr. Richard Wells, who is billed as being “the top genetic engineering researcher” in the United States and a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Robert De Niro, who stars in the movie.

“Almost everyone who goes to the site thinks it’s real, but by the time they leave, most have figured it’s fiction. Some even applaud it,” said Tom Ortenberg, president of film releasing for Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

But some Web surfers have begun petitions to close the site because, they claim, it is insensitive to people who have lost a loved one or family member and might actually be seeking to have that person cloned, which is the topic of the film.

Ortenberg said Lions Gate is getting several hundred phone calls a day to the fake clinic’s toll-free number, but none have been from people who had a death in the family and were looking for help.

Internet marketing evolves
Movie marketing on the Web goes back years. Perhaps the best example of a “hoax” campaign is the one for $140 million domestic box office hit, “The Blair Witch Project,” in 1999.

That movie earned legions of fans based on its Web site that led people to believe that the Blair Witch and the three kids who went into a forest to find her truly existed.

But in recent years, Ortenberg said, movie promotion on the Internet has grown increasingly bland.

“For Internet-based movie marketing to be effective as users mature and as consumers get more savvy, the campaigns need to be more interactive and more interesting,” he said.

Independent companies like Lions Gate use the Web to market movies because it is less expensive than traditional media and there is a high degree of correlation between Web surfers and movie goers.

Ortenberg calls the “Godsend” site “a million dollar idea” built for only about $10,000. He said it has generated millions of hits and hundreds of thousands of unique users.

“Godsend” debuts nationwide in theaters on April 30. Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos star as a married couple who lose their son and attempt to bring him back to life by having Wells (that’s really De Niro) create a clone.