I suppose that as a graphic designer and movie buff, it must come as no surprise that I pay particular attention to film posters. Next to trailers, posters represent the overall feel of a film best. A million interviews and sneak peeks usually end up sounding the same anyway. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a thousand words paint a thousand pictures, but when you’re trying to sell a film — in essence a big, long picture — then it’s best to cut the chatter and distill it down to an image. More often than not I find myself swayed by a good poster (my views on trailers have been made clear several times), and here’s a few that caught my eye recently, for various reasons.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a film I’d heard a lot about, yet somehow never got around to seeing, which I finally ended up doing a few months ago. It wasn’t that I was expecting something mindblowing — and it was certainly better than Corpse Bride — but it failed to make a great impression on me. This poster for the new 3D rerelease, however, impressed me because the colour palette of the image is more in tune with some of the later sequences of the film instead of the usual blue and black tones associated with the film.
It’s rare to see US film posters — even those aimed at children — which are not monotone in nature. Somewhere in the shift from the illustrated and painted posters of the 60s and 70s to the photographic ones of the 80s and 90s (and today’s photoshopped-to-death monstrosities) the posters have started to look more like the films themselves. I suppose this is good, in a way. No sense wasting a perfectly composed Robert McGinnis poster on a film that is composed mainly in gunmetal grey.
Walking into a theatre used to be fun just to look around at the pictures. Nowadays, not only do I have to contend with the blandness of multiplex design, but the somewhat intended purpose of that bland design — to act as a blank canvas for the promotional materials such as posters and standees to catch your attention — is lost due to the fact that the poster row is a landscape of sepias, cobalt blues, and pastels on white for chick flicks. There are definitely good uses of monotone (the Miami Vice posters spring to mind) but most of them are quite unremarkable.
On the other side of the pond things don’t seem to be faring much better. Here’s a bunch of posters for Eragon which, as I recall, is some kind of fantasy book written by a teenager. The book itself sounds interesting (although it does seem to suffer from High Fantasy Names syndrome, in which every character has some kind of unpronouncable name with either too many syllables or random use of the apostrope), but we aren’t discussing the book, its upcoming movie adaptation, or its pretty looking videogame, we’re talking posters (specifically, this one).
Let’s see… General green/brown cast: check. Principal players all lined up and looking menacingly at the viewer: check. Weapons drawn: check. Castles disappearing behind ominous atmospherics in the background: check. Bad photoshop on absolutely everyone: check. Oh, and then there’s the dragon, who seems to be bored and passing through like some kind of fantasy version of a jumbo jet at the corner of your holiday snaps.
Also, the perspective changes between cast, castles and dragon are quite ridiculous.
Am I going to see the movie? Yeah, sure. It has dragons (even bored ones are nice), John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Irons (oh wait, he was in Dungeons & Dragons too, eeeep) and Sienna Guillory (her presence alone is enough to sway me).
Also some emo dude* and a guy named ‘Speelers’ — yeah, probably wait and see if there’s anything better that week.
*Oh, that poor boy. His name is Garrett Hedlund. If you’re Indian and multilingual, that name is hilarious. hehe.
The Eragon posters remind me of the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire posters, although some of those were quite well done — they contain all the same elements, but the composition is certainly more interesting.
Speaking of Harry Potter, Alfonso Cuarón who directed the third (and best) Potter film has a movie coming out called Children of Men. Here’s a few posters, and these are the perfect example of a muddled, inconsistent brand image. The one sheet at the top of the page is, well, boring. It looks like it could be the poster of a documentary on the birthing process, and the copy is so generic it hurts. Must be aimed at the American market, then.
Scroll down on that same page for the teaser posters, which are much better. We’ll forgive the designers their trendy Banksy homage, because the copy is interesting and the stark design seems more in tune with what the film is about.
Living in a place that is influenced by many different kinds of media cultures, I suppose I’m in a privileged position that I get to walk in to, say, Virgin Megastore and see imported design that is aimed at US, European or Asian markets, usually for the same product (eg. three different versions of the same book) and can compare. The American one, I’m sad to say, is usually the most boring. The Asian one, regardless of its origin, is usually like the American one only with looser composition, and the European one is minimalist and crazy and takes you by surprise.
Globalisation, of course, has its flipside. I’ve talked about Farhan Akthar’s remake of Don before, and here’s the teaser poster, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it perfectly illustrates that this ain’t your father’s Don, but on the other hand it is a lot more monotone than Hindi film posters usually are. I’ve noticed this in many of the top films this year. The fact that now nearly half or more of a film’s potential box office comes from outside India (albeit from NRIs — Non Resident Indians) as well as commerial Indian cinema’s simmering desire to make it to #1 at the US box office, is now clearly dictating the style. The films themselves are now slicker, but in aping the west they may unfortunately be adpting the bad as well as the good. Having seen the teasers for Don, one does notice a green tone to the film, but it isn’t as heavy as in the poster.
Of course, there are somethings that will always be uniquely — and terribly — Indian.