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Posterized December 2014: ‘Selma,’ ‘Inherent Vice,’ ‘A Most Violent Year,’ and More

Written by on December 2, 2014 

“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.

Looks like December is officially too important to riddle with holiday fare despite Christmas remaining a huge opening day at the movies. Besides a couple family friendly trilogy cappers and two musicals including Disney’s adaptation of Into the Woods (December 25), everything else is wrestling for their Oscar race bow complete with heavy drama and “brave” performances.

Then again, I guess Hollywood has been releasing their Christmas-esque flicks in November the past few years with Arthur Christmas in 2011 and Rise of the Guardians in 2012. It’s a smart move to hope for a big opening weekend and the potential for some legs to keep going past New Year’s. The thing about 2014, however, is that we didn’t even get one of those.

Character craze

Blockbusters enjoy sprawling casts and oftentimes possess more than a couple A-list stars demanding some poster love. The trick becomes how a design firm solves the problem of fitting everyone in. With the case of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (December 19), The Refinery can’t help but go busy with actors against a generic backdrop. Give them credit at least for paring things down to only eight humans unlike BLT Communications, LLC‘s zoo of what look like cardboard cutouts devoid of even the slightest bit of depth.

It’s by no means a great sheet; it simply allows us to not become too overwhelmed. And by “we” I mean Americans because it’s also The Refinery who get creative with the Spanish language iteration utilizing an MC Escher style to fantastic effect. Not only do I count twelve human characters in this one, they are spread out in a way that facilitates our ability to breathe light years better than the firm’s other example. There’s motion, environment, and some shadows that help remove the horrible aura surrounding everyone in BLT’s. This is how you win a rigged game.

The only other way to dismantle a large cast is giving everyone—or every pair—his/her own display. This isn’t a horrible choice for a children’s film since kids will love seeing all their favorite characters together in one giant marketing wall, but at least throw some variety and effort into the mix. It’s pretty bad when three separate adverts spanning two different designers use the same pose for Ben Stiller with different head tilts. You must to do better than that.

What The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (December 17) has that Night doesn’t is the PG-13 rating. It may not seem like much, but that number after the dash allows firms to go darker and more risqué as far as what they can use to advertise their product. Neither Art Machine, A Trailer Park Company nor Statement Advertising needs to plaster faces on their teasers because each sells the world. Their respective “before” (Comic-Con) and “after” depictions of Smaug’s clash with Dale gives uncensored fire and brimstone where the destruction is real, scary, and able to be displayed without excess.

Once you move past teasers you unavoidably must hit the usual totem collage Ignition has excelled at delivering. Even it is better than Night‘s class portrait, though, simply because there’s drama in the faces along with some subtle action. The absence of a legitimate scene for them to populate remains a harmful sacrifice either way.

Where Ignition does succeed with The Hobbit is in their high-resolution close-up character sheets. You don’t have to paste people onto a consistent background when you’re cropping so tight and the emotional turmoil shown unedited on both Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman‘s faces is powerful. Every crease etched on their faces due to their long journey is accentuated thanks to most of the color being removed so the purity of the posters’ formal composition is front and center. The bright white of the elves is less effective—yet perhaps scarier—but it’s still a huge step forward from awkward poses.

Ensemble assembled

There is something iconic about the red of the Annie (December 19) logo from 1982. It’s necessary to assist the remake’s campaign for nothing else but nostalgia on the part of thirty-somethings wanting to show their children a contemporized version of what they saw decades ago. So even though BLT used photographer Sheryl Nields‘ work on a solid background, it succeeds.

Compare it to their second version set against a blatantly manufactured skyline (badly mimicking the 1982 line drawing) and tell me which looks faker. At least the red isn’t trying to look real. It merely wants us to focus on the actors who are selling this film to everyone that could care less about the musical itself. Less is definitely more in this case.

Just don’t go too much less, though, since the text-based teaser is a failure. Yes the song lyric is as ubiquitous as the logo, but this thing is boring. It actually looks like the designers set it up as a background and forgot to put the actors above it. Add Quvenzhané Wallis similar to Aileen Quinn before her and it might work.

A lot of people gave eclipse‘s designs for Exodus: Gods and Kings (December 12) major flack when they arrived. But I kind of like them. Using photography by Michael Muller, the stark black and white desaturation look juxtaposed with the bright gold metal is eye-catching. I’m not sure about the Stargate pyramid behind the two leads, but I didn’t say the poster was perfect. (I can even forgive Christian Bale‘s head looking way too tiny for his body.)

The character sheets are cool too. There’s a rough texture to the gold that helps render it authentic while the monochromatic faces of the actors lends some humor to the whole “white-washing” of the cast. If anything it hides the bronzing toner used to make these dudes look faux Middle Eastern. But hey, Ridley Scott received his financing. He just didn’t get enough support to make the whole film black and white, I guess.

eclipse tried something different and whether it works in your eyes or not, you cannot tell me Art Machine’s or BLT’s are better. The former’s dust storm with Joel Edgerton and Bale placing a sword at each other’s throats is unintentionally comical. Why not put a lightning bolt between them and speak to the fractured brotherly love? As for the latter, BLT has to stop with the tornadoes. God is pissed—we get it. Tornadoes on top of tidal waves, though? Overkill.

Maybe BLT was as bored as I was with that last one because they stuck as many people as they could in the sheet for Chris Rock‘s Top Five (December 12). They couldn’t even find room for Kevin Hart—bold move.

I don’t like Rock as an actor. To me his brilliant stand-up shtick hurts his delivery in everything I’ve seen on the big screen while simultaneously ensuring the artifice of his choices sticks out like a sore thumb. With that said, his latest foray behind the camera seems to depict this exact dynamic. I’m hoping he brings the same enthusiasm he does in the poster to the finished product because his lack of polish could be a huge positive here.

Back to the design: even though it’s a staged composition that probably wasn’t shot live, it is set-up flawlessly. Shaped like a pyramid, our eyes dart directly to Rock’s white shirt before exploding up towards each successive layer until we hit the yellow light at the top of the “tree.” My only criticism is the use of two thicknesses on the title font. It’s distracting and the “Top” gets lost. Make the whole thing bold.

For Song of the Sea (limited December 19), calling the group at the middle an ensemble may be misleading since they are animated. The newest film from Tomm Moore, his distinctive style alone forces people to notice whatever ad material comes their way. It’s combination of solid 2D art and textured gradients is a welcome sight opposite Hollywood studios trying to render perfectly smooth figures as close to real life as possible.

The design is sort of like a totem collage a la The Hobbit above, but it has more consistency of depth and coherence because everything is fabricated with an extremely low field of depth. We know humans can’t fit together without space to hold them, but cartoons have the freedom to do whatever they want. So all these seals can share their rock island with the girl between them while the moon illuminates from behind. Cloudy, dream-like details can rotate around them and add detail while the gorgeous mix of rough, elongated bubble sans serifs and pristinely curved cursive can pop the title to surface.

This aesthetic is matched by the iteration with its sleeping man mountain (?) to create drama and appeal. The “Coming Soon” sheet, however, loses some character by becoming too crisp. Rather than seem fleeting and atmospheric, the harsh lines and shadows have this last one looking like paper art. A neat visual flourish itself, it lacks the intrigue of the other two.

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