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Movie Poster-Mortem

We dissect the images behind the summer’s blockbusters, including ”Notthing Hill,” ”Phantom Menace,” and more

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Do these posters make you horny, baby? In this season of shagadelia at the multiplex, where it seems you can’t walk five feet without encountering a lewd, full-size Austin Powers cutout, posters for a wide range of pictures — from G-rated fare to R-rated raunch — are reaching all-time highs of sauciness. Though the MPAA still has the industry-sanctioned authority to veto any ad campaign it finds inappropriate for the general public, standards now look to be looser than Calista Flockhart’s belt. Does the title of the South Park movie mean what we think it does? Can’t somebody please issue Adam Sandler a summons for public urination in promoting Big Daddy? And what are those kids doing to that American Pie? Not everything, of course, is objectionable. While some graphic details are blue, others are simply borrowed, and still others are fresh and new. A critical look at this summer’s randy and wide-ranging posters.

Notting Hill: A
From Universal, the studio that couldn’t do much right last year, comes an ad that does everything right. Good, clean, and fun, it puts across the plot in one deft image, contrasting Julia Roberts’ self-absorbed character — she’s a great big movie star who’s literally got a swelled head in the poster — with the self-effacing Everyman played by Hugh Grant. It pulls off a neat poster-within-a-poster illusion, carried out with snapshot realism. And it shamelessly appeals to our memories of an earlier hit by touting its pedigree: ”From the creators of Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Bull’s-eye. With this image, audiences have already wed.

Eyes Wide Shut: A-
The Thomas Crown Affair: B
Arlington Road: C+
Here we have variations on a time-honored motif: side-by-side portraits. It worked for Leo and Kate (Titanic), Travolta and Cage (Face/Off), even Spock and Kirk (the Star Trek cycle). It’s also ideal for Eyes Wide Shut, which teams Tom Cruise and wife Nicole Kidman in a psychosexual thriller from the late Stanley Kubrick. The melding of faces nicely conveys the film’s marital identity crisis (welcome bonus: legible credit type). Next to this, Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan look like wannabes in their pose for the caper remake Thomas Crown — and whose idea was it to groom Russo like Agent Scully? The concept gets its stalest iteration in Arlington Road, misrepresenting a very original thriller as if it were a by-the-numbers action flick.

Deep Blue Sea: B-
The Haunting: C
Are these promos for horror thrillers, or a joint ad campaign for recycling? Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley ought to get a thank-you acknowledgment somewhere in Warner Bros.’ Deep Blue Sea poster, which looks like it was shot inside the tank of the Jaws ride at one of Universal’s theme parks. The Haunting scares up the same sort of grainy, misty, Gothic-roofline image you’ve seen before in artwork for The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror. And the house-has-eyes thing — is that supposed to spook us?