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Posterized April 2017: ‘Free Fire,’ ‘The Lost City of Z,’ ‘Colossal,’ and More

Written by on April 5, 2017 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.

There are only four weeks in April, but a ton of films are scheduled for release. A common thread between them, however, is a distinct lack of mammoth bugdgets—something the latest installment in the Fast and Furious franchise probably didn’t expect (or maybe it did considering a return to April after Part 7 bowed in May). Instead we’re looking at wide releases of festival favorites from A24 and WWE Studios with productions from Fox Searchlight, Bleecker Street/Amazon, and STX.

Talk about a change of the guard. Maybe spring is slowly becoming autumn-lite to bookend the popcorn, throwaway excitement of summer tent-poles. Here’s to hoping this trend continues.

They all need to fit

That volume means there will be a wealth of good posters and a wealth of bad. The latter is never helped by a studio desire (or contractual imperative) to throw as many characters into one sheet as possible, but that’s still what happens only too often.

Just look at The Refinery‘s Going in Style (April 7). Could no one get its three stars together for a publicity photo that didn’t look more airbrushed than authentic? Could they not be positioned in front of a wall, brick or otherwise, so that real lighting could create shadows that weren’t just blurred ovals on fake ground? A jaded person would look at this poster and assume it was an animated film utilizing the technology that brought Peter Cushing back to life last December.

It’s made even worse when compared to the artwork that advertised the film it is remaking. This thing had character with some nice illustrative work and an infectious bit of comedic appeal. Here were three names so big that you could cover their faces without studio brass batting an eye. Why then is the newest trio—Academy Award winners all—unable to be seen beyond manufactured plasticity? We know how old they are. We know how good they are. This depiction feels like a metaphor for the film itself: something talented people now regret.

What Gravillis Inc. does with The Circle (April 28) isn’t much better. They’re allowed to utilize the medium’s two-dimensionality and not worry about shadows to provide depth, so that’s a plus. But throwing in part of your film’s motif to cut through the rectangular canvas doesn’t make it any different than if they simply bisected the page with two stills. Despite being a “circle,” having your actors both look in one direction reads very “straight line” to me too.

They get no assistance from the circle maze design tease by mOcean either as it comes across as a child’s drawing rather than anything of dramatic weight (more so when enlarged with the actors). It’s so smoothly curved right down to the line ends and yet the title is in san serif and squeezed to the point of illegibility. They’re so desperate to keep the space between lines consistent, but the gap between title and lines is less than half. It’s being crushed in a vice and it’s the last thing I look at—so it’s perhaps never seen by those walking right by.

WORKS ADV does things correctly with Their Finest (limited April 7) by contrast. They embrace the idea of collage but don’t pretend to be doing anything to subvert it. They aren’t cutting characters out to fabricate a scene and they aren’t boringly keeping things apart in their own separate boxes either.

Is it Photoshopped? Yes. But the lack of a desire to “create a scene” renders that choice acceptable. These actors are Photoshopped into a symmetrical hierarchy to guide our focus and compliment the Union Jack design behind them. It’s clean, informative, and never talks down to our ability to parse visual stimuli. It won’t win any awards, but it nevertheless accomplishes its job by impressively cobbling together a lot in a way that makes it seem like much less.

And while I usually rail against the totem collage, I can’t lie and say I don’t find BLT Communications, LLC‘s—with photography by Jose Haro—sheet for The Promise (limited April 21) attractive. The characters are just barely positioned for billing hierarchy but artistically joined in a Mount Rushmore pose rather than a bumbling “moment” that doesn’t exist. The colors are vibrant and rich, popping the dark portraiture off the page. And the morphing from flag-like fabric to character wardrobe is seamless in its transitions and hard layering from background to foreground.

It also nicely balances out the heavy photography at the top against the stark white at bottom. The slight lowering from Oscar Isaac to Charlotte Le Bon moves our eyes with the angle of the fabric down to the corner only to flow back on its curves to the title at left. You want to stay and move through its ebbs and flows rather than stare at one piece before moving on.

Sullen faces in the crowd

The previous section shows the importance of the concept of “less is more.” Just look at Concept ArtsThe Fate of the Furious (April 14). That’s right. The Fate of the Furious.

It isn’t necessarily some stunning work of art, but it is successful. And in the marketing game, successful is what truly matters. We arguably receive the series’ two biggest stars in Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson as their friendship has fallen—nothing else. Whether one is literally a “candy-ass” or not, the characters of Dom and Hobbs are at odds. “Family no more” explains what the image shares: anger in the background and guilt in the fore. With perfect use of depth of field, a blurred The Rock tells us that the latter is the imperative.

This stuff pushes the series into overt melodramatic, but it’s also why I keep watching. Many audiences, however, do so for the cars, stunts, and action. So while this tease speaks to me, the others talk to the public. Characters are replaced by automobiles doing their best to symbolize each actor in America while chaos and insanity takes their spots internationally. Whichever brings you out to the theaters, though, there’s no question Furious will hit pay dirt.

Blood & Chocolate‘s Sleight (limited April 7) utilizes emotions too as Jacob Latimore arrives in profile to set a scene more than shine a spotlight. It also isn’t flashy, but it uses design effectively to grab our attention and retain it enough to read through what it’s selling. The grain on the photo and lens flare put the image in line with the comparison at top (Chronicle meets Iron Man) and the red words steal our gaze while also bookending the title so it jumps off the dark hoodie below (thanks to a heavy font and pristine white color) as well as the wealth of text surrounding it.

Match the title with the playing card and ideas about magic, con games, and twists are conjured to add a level of mystery and excitement. It looks gritty and intrigues with how little it says. Don’t discount the miniscule size of the WWE logo either to not completely turn off potential ticket buyers via prejudice as far as wrestling quality might be concerned. They didn’t produce it. They merely acquired distribution after it debuted at Sundance. So rest assured.

When it comes to Arnold Schwarzennegger’s pained expression on Aftermath (limited April 7), we get a great example of how two posters can deliver two very different tones despite using the same image.

LA‘s somber look of wheels turning is enhanced by the stripped down color. We aren’t just seeing a photo of a man grieving—this is an expressionistic view of his sorrow mixed with his drive to get even. Things are colliding like the two airplanes about to crash into the title, itself small yet impactful due to the square block font and thick characters. Past, present, and future are coming together and we can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Now look at the other version. The color filter is gone. The expert typography is replaced by in-your-face size over substance. And Schwarzennegger’s soft squint is altered into a harsh grimace. This isn’t a man thinking. It’s a man uncoiling to pounce. This is direct-to-DVD action whereas the first was introspective drama. So why not just show the crashed plane instead of implying it too? Nuance has already left the station so they might as well leave nothing to interpretation.

Put all the above together and you get something like Buster’s Mal Heart (limited April 28). We have the expressive face—albeit a blank one that’s not as easy to read as Dwayne, Vin, and Arnold; the carefully cropped imagery supplying ample white space to position text; and a carefully placed detail to either crack the whole wide open or make us scratch our head.

The title font’s mix of capital letters and lower case makes me think “free font search,” but it gets the job done. Its size makes it disquieting with the lowercase letters feeling even bigger than they already are—a sense of oddity to match the crop of Rami Malek at his chin and the inverted clock behind him. On quick glance you’re simply seeing a man at a desk. But if your brain realizes something is off, you move closer to inspect. Things start to sink in, curiosity increases, and you find yourself hard-pressed to forget its name.

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