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Hi-tech pix lure online auds

HIGH CONCEPT TECH: Although the entertainment industry hasn’t figured out where the information superhighway is headed, that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from fast-tracking dozens of films with high-tech storylines. With more than a dozen computer-related projects in development, you can expect the studios to try and get a number of these films into the production pipeline faster than you can say “Bill Gates.”

The hope is that films featuring online love affairs, computer-savvy killers and lots of techno talk will appeal to a generation of tech-literate filmgoers. The fear is that the core youth audience for action pix will shun such films, preferring to be home playing Sega games.

One of the higher profile projects in development is “Disclosure,” Michael Crichton’s new novel about sexual harassment set against the cutthroat computer industry. The Warner Bros. film is to be directed by Barry Levinson and star Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. The bestselling book, which WB bought for $ 3.5 million, contains just about everything relevant to computers, including electronic mail, CD-ROM drives and virtual reality.

Two projects are set in the online world: One of those is “f2f” (computer shorthand for “face to face”), which producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer are developing at Disney. Based on an unpublished novel by Philip Finch, who is also scripting, the story is about a serial killer who tracks his victims on an online service similar to the Internet.

The other online project is “User Hostile,” co-written by John Stith and John Kennedy. The low-budget actioner, which will be directed by Denny Conrad Harris this summer, is the story of a man and a woman who meet online and end up on the run from killers.

And it’s not only action films or thrillers that are set in this world. Two classic stories –“The Shop Around the Corner” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”– are getting updating via computers.

“Shop,” Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 comedy that starred James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as co-workers who don’t realize they are lonely-hearts pen pals, is currently getting updated by producer Lauren Shuler-Donner. In the latest version, the two correspondents communicate ’90s style by — yep — electronic mail.

“The Class of Monte Cristo,” which producers Cari-Esta Albert and Marc Sternberg are readying for Universal-based Alphaville, is an updated version of Alexandre Dumas’ classic “Count.” It’s being re-written by Ian Abrams (“Undercover Blues”) and is about a high school nerd-made-good who takes vengeance on his high school class through the use of advanced computer technology.

But not every executive in town is convinced that computers are the wave of the future for films. “I’ve read so many computer scripts, I’m getting bored with them,” a producer said. “Give me a Western and I’ll be happy.”

INTERACTIVE SCRIBES: It looks as though all the talk about interactive multimedia companies plucking creative talent from Hollywood — which has yielded few tangible results so far — is finally panning out. Two of the town’s busier scribes, Chuck Farr and Peter Lenkov, have recently made deals to write computer games.

Farr, whose credits include last summer’s “Hard Target” and who has an overall writing-producing deal at Universal, is currently toiling away on the nuclear thriller “Project Delta” for Tsunami, a game manufacturer. Lenkov, who co-wrote “Demolition Man,” is writing what he calls a “cyberspace adventure” for L.A.-based Activision. Both deals were made by the Broder Kurland Webb Ufner agency, underscoring that agency’s expansion into the world of new media.

And how does writing an interactive game compare to churning out a 120-page screenplay for Sylvester Stallone and producer Joel Silver?

“It’s a lot of fun and you’re not limited to a happy ending,” said Lenkov, an avid computer game player even before he made his deal. “When you write a screenplay, there’s some doubt if you’re doing the right thing. This way, I could try everything. The person playing the game can make the decision.”

And Farr noted that unlike most movie writing jobs, where a script can languish in development for months, his project is already set to go into production, although he just started writing last week.

And as though he’s not busy enough, Lenkov is also producing another interactive game, “Conquerors,” for Trimark. The project, which is being written by “Leprechaun” scribes Turi Meyer and Al Septien, is being produced as a videogame and a film at the same time.

ISH-ED OUT: If you’re like most people, you’re probably getting pretty tired of hearing about the information superhighway, which, contrary to most reports, does not look to be arriving anytime soon. With that in mind — and with apologies to David Letterman — we present the Top Ten reasons that prove the ISH is still a long ways off:

10. “Melrose Place” hasn’t done an episode about the Internet.

9. Joey Buttafuoco doesn’t have his own cable channel.

8. Still at least several hundred “information superhighway” metaphors that haven’t been used.

7. The developers of movies-on-demand technology haven’t come up with a way to block Chevy Chase films.

6. Bill Gates only carries a million in walking-around money.

5. The pay-per-view ticket sales for the Singapore caning are well below expectations.

4. Howard Stern hasn’t figured out how to do the interactive version of “Butt Bongo Fiesta.”

3. Lyle and Eric only participants on CompuServe’s Menendez Brothers Forum.

2. Despite pressure from President Clinton, Big Macs still unavailable through fiber-optic cable.

1. Computer illiterate people still allowed to procreate.

(Andy Marx can be reached on PAGE and CompuServe. His CompuServe number is 70324,3424.)

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