Friday, June 22, 2012

THE LOST ART OF MOVIE POSTERS

The teaser posters for BREAKING DAWN: PART 2 are out and surprise, surprise, they are basically close-ups of the stars’ faces, just like every other poster for all four previous TWILIGHT movies. Granted, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are easy on the eyes, and big stars, so that’s why the studios are using their faces and little else to sell it, but knowing that the box office for the franchise’s final entry is assured, couldn’t the studio have been a little more adventurous with their last poster? And tried to make them look different from every other one? How about something more chilling? Even a little bit edgy? Compare it to ROSEMARY’S BABY, another horror movie about maternity. That poster was provocative. Kristen’s poster is as ho-hum as she is as Bella.
The truth is most movie posters are more ho-hum than provocative these days. Great movie posters are becoming a lost art. Too many of them are done by rote today, with Photoshopped headshots of the stars taking up as much real estate as possible. Too often the posters tell us who’s in it, but precious little else. No sense of story or tone. It’s sad.

And where are the illustrations? Granted, drawings and paintings take more time to create, and cost more, but they really get your attention because they’re different, so why not do more of them?  Is it just another example of Hollywood expediency these days? Taking the well-trodden path? Going along with what everyone else is doing? And studios wonder why movie audiences are shrinking. Not only is everything a retread but also the posters all have a ‘been there, done that’ feel to them.

Look at these film poster comparisons and tell me that the art of movie posters isn’t waning. To compare apples to apples, I’ve juxtaposed a film from yesterday and a modern counterpart. 
THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) vs. BATTLESHIP (2012)
Both are adventure films with a humongous sense of scale, but isn’t it interesting how much more involving the older one is? The endless high-rise engulfed in flames in THE TOWERING INFERNO is terrifying. And it’s an illustration! As for the alien vessel threatening the noble sailor in BATTLESHIP…meh. Not too scary. Not very unique.
REPULSION (1965) vs. GONE (2012)
Which psychological thriller with a blonde beauty under duress looks more disturbing? More exciting? More creative? The Roman Polanski classic with a young Catherine Deneuve is brilliantly rendered, using negative space to great effect. The poster for the Amanda Seyfried frightener looks as generic as any B movie starring Shannon Tweed from the 80’s still gathering dust on a Blockbuster shelf. 
MY FAIR LADY (1964) vs. ROCK OF AGES (2012)
Movie musicals are a tough sell these days. Not in the 60's when superb works like MY FAIR LADY were delightfully brought to the screen and their poster reflected it. (Bravo, Bob Peak!) But in today's world, where MTV and music videos have robbed musicals of much of their novelty, it's a tough road. Crappy poster art, like this for ROCK OF AGES surely doesn't help compel anyone into the movie theater. It's an uninspired cornucopia of ego, all Photoshopped star turns, with mismatched sizes and lighting. It all makes for one of the ugliest movie posters to come down the pike in a long time.
THE THING (1982) vs. THE THING (2011)
I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Especially in Hollywood. Even on their movie posters. Sigh.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1978) vs. THAT'S MY BOY (2012)
Both are  comedies. Both are about a mismatched duo. But which one looks funnier? Wittier? Worth seeing?
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) vs. THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)
What do you do with an all-star cast? Present them with style like artist Richard Amsel did in his classic illustration of the who’s who from Agatha Christie's famed whodunit? Or line them up for the Stallone actioner and do your aging action heroes no favors by drowning them in garish orange lighting?
Sure, there are terrific posters being done today. The one-sheet for BLACK SWAN with Natalie Portman’s red eyes staring out amidst her pale skin was arrestingly brilliant. Also, Warner Bros. has done a marvelous job on every one of the Christopher Nolan BATMAN pictures. And having Steve Carrell grin like a naïf on the poster for THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN was a stroke of genius. But those are the exceptions to the rule. Give me one poster today that touches artist/designer Saul Bass’ amazing work for ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959). His imagery was attention-getting, unsettling and hip. And it was a cartoon. A cartoon. Now that was a poster. It was also art.

4 comments:

  1. I couldn’t agree with your points more. Too many posters are simply photoshopped floating heads pushing the celebrity factor, rather than enticing us with imaginative, eye-grabbing imagery.

    My favorites are the images that are either hand-drawn (a lost art!) and / or that communicate the premise in as few lines as possible. Here are four:

    WEST SIDE STORY (1961): Joyful, yet ominous at the same time. A Saul Bass classic. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d1/West_Side_Story_poster.jpg

    THE GRADUATE (1967): Minimal lines instantly project the sexual conflict.
    http://bertc.com/subsix/i18/images/graduate.jpg

    THE GODFATHER (1972): Could one tiny icon say more about the generational conflict and complexity of this masterpiece?
    http://www.impawards.com/1972/posters/godfather_ver1.jpg

    ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999): So direct, and as bright and colorful as Almodovar’s films.
    http://www.moviegoods.com/Assets/product_images/1020/196104.1020.A.jpg

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  2. Great choices, Fan. I'm with you. Illustration really makes the poster more often than not. Thanks again for contributing. You bring so much to the blog here.

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  3. Jeff: FABULOUS post! Compelling graphics and words are what sell a movie. I can't believe "Hollywood" is neglecting this important part of marketing. However, I disagree with "The Thing" ... I like the 2011 one better. One of the worst on your list is "That's My Boy" ... so awful on every level. Boring, unimaginative and just plain lazy. Adam Sandler should never show his mug on poster EVER! Did they mean to have the names switched over the actor's heads?

    First runner up for awful is Rock of Ages. Can you imagine what a creative illustrator could come up with for that kind of film? So many wonderful possibilites. Sigh.

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  4. Luane, thanks so much for your thoughts! And I'm glad you're following and hope to continue to hear from you.

    I agree with you that the new poster for THE THING (2011) was quite good, just unoriginal. It's graphic yes, but couldn't they have come up with something that was more unique? There's homage and then there's carbon copying, in my humble opinion.

    And the posters for THAT'S MY BOY and ROCK OF AGES are truly embarrassing, aren't they? Almost makes their movies seem DOA before they hit the theaters. But then, the box office failure of each seems to indicate that their posters were harbingers of their doom. Ha!

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts here and please continue to!

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