A Finnish spoof of the sci-fi classic "Star Trek" has boldly gone where no feature film has gone before, relying on free distribution over the Internet to reach more than 450,000 viewers in less than a week.
"Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning" is a full-length feature in Finnish with English subtitles. It was made over seven years by a group of students and other amateur film makers with a bare-bones budget and a few home computers to create elaborate special effects.
"We took a conscious decision not to go to the theatres as the movie was done mostly on a voluntary basis," said Timo Vuorensola, who directed the film. "Through the Internet and DVD it will probably get the widest possible viewership. We are hoping to reach one million downloads by the end of the year."
The success of "Star Wreck" comes as Hollywood grapples with the threats and opportunities of the Internet. Movie studios are fearful of the rampant piracy that has ravaged their music label counterparts, but are also hoping to use the Internet to cut distribution costs and open up new markets.
Finland's most-viewed film ever is "The Unknown Soldier" (1955) with 2.8 million viewers. To reach the top three, "Star Wreck" would have to surpass 1 million.
Homemade remixes of popular culture have become increasingly popular with the introduction of inexpensive computer software that can replicate expensive recording studios and film sets, coupled with low-cost distribution on the Internet using peer-to-peer technologies such as BitTorrent.
Such efforts have sometimes run foul of copyright holders, as with DJ Dangermouse's "Gray Album" that combined the Beatles and hip-hop star Jay Z. The Beatles' record company EMI responded with a cease-and-desist letter, but only after millions of copies had been downloaded.
The makers of "Star Wreck" said on their Web site (http://www-fi.starwreck.com/index.php) that they "take legal issues very seriously," and noted that "the world is full of parodies that look very much like their targets."
According to the Finnish Internet hosting firm Magentasites Oy, which is helping to distribute "Star Wreck," about 450,000 copies have been downloaded from the film's Web site since October 1, and an estimated 250,000 copies have gone out through various mirror sites.
The site offers DVD sales and free downloads via BitTorrent -- a popular file-sharing application that is widely used for legitimate purposes but also for pirated movie and TV files.
NBC Universal Chief Executive Bob Wright said this week that Hollywood is looking to launch a comprehensive movie download service sometime next year, but first must address concerns about piracy and fears from movie theater owners and DVD retailers.
"You don't want to unnecessarily upset your current distribution partners," he told CNBC on Wednesday.