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A look inside Hollywood and the movies : MEN IN TIGHT SPOTS : Sure It's a Bow, but Their Arrow Was a Chicken

August 01, 1993|JEFFREY WELLS

"Is this the summer of the arrow and are we part of a vogue?" asked Mel Brooks just before last Wednesday's opening of his latest genre spoof, "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."

What Brooks was referring to--three new movies that are using images of archery as a visual centerpiece in their one-sheet posters--is more of a movie marketing blip than a vogue. It was not only Universal's decision to use an arrow (actually a spear) motif in its poster for the upcoming Jean-Claude van Damme actioner "Hard Target," it was also 20th Century Fox's decision to use a pair of nearly identical bow-and-arrow images to advertise two strongly similar spoof comedies--Brooks' "Men in Tights" and "Hot Shots, Part Deux"--with opening dates less than nine weeks apart. The "Men in Tights" one-sheet depicts star Cary Elwes about to launch six arrows simultaneously, while the "Hot Shots" poster features a Rambo-esque Charlie Sheen preparing to fling a chicken.

This raises a modest question, given that "Hot Shots, Part Deux" was only a modest-grossing breadwinner (roughly $38 million from U.S. theaters) and was generally seen as a comic letdown. Is Fox dampening the potential interest in "Men in Tights" by suggesting it's a chip off the "Hot Shots" block, or is the similarity between the posters too subtle for audiences to notice?

"I honestly don't think that's the association that people are making here," argues Michael Kaiser, Fox's executive vice president of marketing. "The image is a joke on the Costner poster (for 1991's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"), with that shot of him about to shoot the flaming arrow. You always want to have a simple, iconographic image, and this one got the joke across."

Seinegger Advertising chief Tony Seinegger, who created the popular arrow POV shot agrees: "I don't think the public remembers that was used in the trailer for the Costner film (and which was also spoofed in Fox's teaser for "Men in Tights"). Industry people are the only ones who notice stuff like this."

"I heard somewhere that the public generally forgets ads after about three weeks," adds Brian Fox, whose Fox & Friends agency tailored the one-sheet ads for "Hot Shots."

On the other hand, the subliminal suggestion that this is another "Hot Shots" "is clearly there," admits an anonymous advertising executive.

Adds a studio source: "I think the problem is, they didn't even think about it. Unlike a good 'borrow,' it's like, oh, I've seen this one before."

It was Brooks' idea to lampoon the Costner image in the "Men in Tights" poster, according to all concerned. "It was my call . . . I thought it was a great idea," says Brooks. "When you're trying to get a satirical thought across, you need a stepping stone."

A source who claims a familiarity with Cimarron Bacon O'Brien, the ad agency that worked on the one-sheet for Fox, says, "I don't think it was anyone's favorite image." The agency's problem with it, he says, "wasn't that it's derivative of the 'Hot Shots' poster but that it wasn't more clever." Jeff Bacon, who guided the agency's effort on the one-sheet, did not return calls.

One idea for the "Men in Tights" copy line, says an agency source, was "Go ahead--maketh my day," instead of the line that was finally selected, "The legend had it coming." Brooks' view, he recalls, was that the Clint Eastwood-ish copy "would dilute what the film was about. You can only focus on two things when you're doing a spoof--the spoof and the thing it's spoofing. I always like the copy line we used on 'Blazing Saddles'--'Never give a saga an even break.' "

The prevailing view among studio and agency executives contacted for this article is that if any film deserved to use an archery motif it was "Men in Tights."

"They could have used visual jokes about rocket launchers or machine guns with 'Hot Shots,' " says one agency head. "But you've got to use a bow-and-arrow to sell Robin Hood."

Fox's Kaiser is whimsically unbothered by these observations. "All I can say is, if you look at all those action movie posters showing guys pointing guns at the camera--and there've been hundreds over the years--bows-and-arrows are running significantly behind guns. The real trouble is, there are too many action movies and an insufficient variety of weapons."

Brian Fox adds: "Movies are basically the same stories being re-executed over and over with different twists. If the story lines don't change that much, why should the ads?"

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