Movie marketing turns to the Internet -- A look at the websites for ''Jingle All the Way,'' ''Mars Attacks!,'' and ''101 Dalmations''

Movie marketing turns to the Internet

Now that the movie trailer has been effectively ruined as an art form — the average coming attraction lasts three minutes, blithely reveals every major plot twist, and gives you the vague feeling that you’ve already seen the flick for which it’s supposed to whet your appetite — it’s up to promotional websites to add some anticipatory zing to Hollywood’s offerings. Once superficial marketing gimmicks boasting little more than sound and video clips, those URLs at the bottom of movie posters and at the end of TV commercials are fast becoming a competitive necessity, as wired cineasts dial up the World Wide Web before they dial 777-FILM. Here’s a peek at what’s playing at a Web page near you this holiday season.

Jingle All the Way
Here’s a question more and more studio interactive divisions have had to grapple with lately: How do you turn a trifling and forgettable holiday flick into a Net Event? Well, it helps to ignore the ”trifling” and ”forgettable” part — the site for this Arnold Schwarzenegger dodo is festooned with more interactive perks (customized greeting cards, a Shockwave-charged Turbo Man, sweepstakes promotion) than your average CD-ROM stocking stuffer. Still, I can’t imagine anyone downloading the official Jingle All the Way wallpaper (replete with Turbo Man logos) other than a 20th Century Fox flunkie eager to suck up to the boss.

With its focus on star Madonna, director Alan Parker, and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, this site radiates so much ego it’s a wonder the glass on your monitor doesn’t crack (sample line about Ms. Ciccone: ”There’s no question that the story of Evita — the myth, the legend, the larger-than-life persona — could only have been done justice by someone with similar qualifications”). Fortunately, key bits of genuine Argentinean history glimmer through the waves of self-congratulation, and the hypertext layout enables you to avoid such banalities as the interview with Webber, who modestly observes, ”I could have made everybody cry their eyes out at the end of all this, but that was not the point of the piece.”

Mars Attacks!
Here’s a site that’s attractive enough to nudge you in its general direction, but not sufficiently weighty to pull you into permanent orbit. Its main goodies are so-dumb-they’re-fun interactive games (including a cheesy space shooter), a generous selection of director Tim Burton’s production sketches, bios of the cast (lots and lots of them — this flick seems to employ half the working actors in America), and links to pages serious (the Center for Mars Research) and silly (Alien Abductees Anonymous). I know Burton has had better things to do lately, but I’d love to see what the guy could accomplish with two weeks and a Web page-construction program.

101 Dalmatians
For weeks, well-meaning authorities have been warning parents not to buy their kids dalmatians — turns out the critters are ornery, rambunctious, and none too bright. The good news is that Disney has created a website that allows youngsters to adopt, name, and cavort with virtual dalmatian puppies, all of whom are as harmless and well trained as the stars of the live-action remake. Besides this puffery, the site offers some genuine pleasures, including a point-and-click search for the movie’s missing pups and a behind-the-scenes Q&A explaining how the crew coped with the little spotted fiends.

Since this is a low-key, low-budget drama among bloated holiday epics, you can almost understand the need to devote an entire page to blurbs from positive reviews. Simple, tasteful, and reasonably humble, the Shine site stands as an example of how the World Wide Web can help sustain word of mouth for indie films that otherwise might not receive much attention. Which isn’t to say that this relatively intellectual, essay-heavy site is entirely devoid of technical wizardry: Using that ubiquitous Shockwave software, you can listen to a constant stream of classical music and even ”play” snatches of the notoriously difficult Rachmaninoff’s Third on a virtual piano.

Star Trek: First Contact
Utilizing more high-tech plug-in software — Shockwave, VRML, Alive-X — than your average Borg, this lavish site is as far beyond the competition as Zefram Cochran’s warp drive is beyond the steam engine. As in the best Trek episodes, though, the creators don’t allow the blinking computer screens, 3-D-rendered scenery, and highfalutin jargon to overwhelm the human element: Starfleet ”cadets” who log on to this site can take periodic breaks from their combat simulations to communicate with one another in the Observation Lounge. And if they don’t have anything very interesting to say, you can’t blame Star Trek.

Comedy Central Online
Funny thing about cyberspace: While Comedy Central the network seems to air endless repeats of Absolutely Fabulous and such grade-Z movies as Stewardess School, Comedy Central the website abounds with original chuckle-inducing fare, including a takeoff on the children’s game Operation — with Boris Yeltsin on the surgeon’s table. The site is also the gateway to well-done separate pages devoted to Ab Fab, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist (visitors can submit their psychological symptoms and receive an analysis via E-mail), and Politically Incorrect (Bill Maher’s talk show is decamping to ABC in a few months, but you wouldn’t know it from the lavish treatment it gets here). Skip the channel, tune in the URL.