We take a look at sites for ''Nutty Professor,'' ''Twister,'' ''Mission: Impossible,'' and ''Independence Day''

By Ty Burr
Updated May 31, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Websites help studios to promote summer flicks

It’s amazing how rapidly tomorrow’s breakthrough can become today’s cliche. In the seven years since the World Wide Web was invented, commercial movie sites have mutated from tentative, sludgy, and — considering the competition — reasonably cool online experiments into often dull edifices of Hollywood propaganda. These days, any movie with even a hope of appealing to a youthful or upscale audience has to plaster a URL (Uniform Resource Locator, or, in plain English, Web address) across its ads and posters if it doesn’t want to seem out of touch.

Clearly, the Web has the potential to be something more than a marketing department’s new toy. But what? Can multimedia enhance, even improve upon, the experience of a two-hour flick? Partial answers are popping up on websites devoted to this summer’s big movies; while sites for some much-hyped films, such as Disney’s The Rock, with Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage, hadn’t launched at press time, the ones currently available run the gamut from cynical placeholders to enjoyable online fun houses.

At the downscale end are sites for the upcoming The Nutty Professor and Dragonheart, available at the MCA/Universal Cyberwalk. Both offer a conventional movie trailer for download as well as a short, diverting trailer enhanced with Shockwave — essentially a chunk of multimedia animation — and that’s it. (If your Web browser can’t handle Shockwave software, you don’t even get that much.) Perhaps there’ll be more content when the films open later this month, but for now these sites pull off the unthinkable: They make coming attractions a chore.

By contrast, Paramount’s sharply designed Mission: Impossible website is a big shiny machine bent on erasing the old TV show from your mind and replacing it with the buff new Tom Cruise version. While some of the areas are still under construction, there are dossiers containing info about cast members from Cruise to (say it with me, now) Ingeborga Dapkunaite, plus photos, audio and film clips, production sketches, and the inevitable pitch for T-shirts and toys. There’s also an elaborate contest co-sponsored by Apple that requires you to register a little too much demographic information for comfort (an E-mail address is one thing, but a phone number?). For all the sleek Web chic on display, though, it’s still a pure promo site; the links page directing you to a handful of corporate websites makes that clear.

Twentieth Century Fox’s site for the upcoming alien-attack movie Independence Day provides visitors with a wealth of links to websites dealing with UFOs and paranoid government-conspiracy theories. There’s also a surprisingly witty poll, a chance to send in your own ”encounter,” and the de rigueur Shockwave gizmos. In fact, there’s almost too much here — and it’s not particularly well organized or easily navigable. Poking around in ”Area 51” sent me to a related article at High Times magazine’s website — with no way to get back to the Fox site. And the gimmicky little animations that clutter up the pages — the famous Fox logo complete with moving searchlights, for instance — are a bandwidth-hogging annoyance.

Only Warner Bros.’ Twister site manages to extend the concept of the disaster flick it’s promoting in ways both informative and amusing. (Yes, Time Warner is this magazine’s parent company, but no one has sent me any checks, okay?) To get to the good stuff, you have to pass a five-question ”Storm Chaser Test” — it’s just hard enough that you could refer to the included articles but not so difficult that you can’t bluff your way through. From there, you click your way through a drolly creative storm chase: stills from the film accompanied by text that gooses you through the plot. Click on a recurring image in the photos and you’ll be rewarded with more than the usual multimedia flotsam: on-set photos, special-effects sketches, storyboards, a trailer that was shown in theaters. You can get all that plus cast and crew bios, Internet postcards, and more when you reach the end — but for once, a site makes getting there half the fun. The Web has a ways to go before it provides an experience anywhere near as compelling as a movie — but at least the promos are beginning to look better.
Professor and Dragonheart: C-
Mission: B Independence Day: C
Twister: B+