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Posterized December 2016: ‘La La Land,’ ‘Jackie,’ ‘Silence,’ and More

Written by on December 2, 2016 

“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.

We all know that December isn’t actually the end of the 2016 movie year (at least not in cities with names other than New York or Los Angeles that must wait until February for some buzzed-titles), but it is the month where those coveted Oscar-bait movies get their qualifying run.

The Founder (limited 12/16, wide 1/20), The Comedian (limited 12/2, wide 1/13), I Am Not Your Negro (limited 12/9, wide 2/3), and Hidden Figures (limited 12/25, wide 1/6) are just a handful with more discussed below that fit this mold. This is what happens when you want to ensure your film is seen as close to award’s season as possible. It’s all sat on, released together for one week all at once, and than paced throughout winter to cash in on their trophies.

December might therefore be the most important month for advertising—more so even than the summer blockbuster deluge. There’s a lot coming at you and you only have so much time to devote. Maybe an art print abstract isn’t good enough when the McDonald’s arch and Michael Keaton can grab you with recognition. Marketing may create art, but it can’t help forcing many imaginative artists into its generic box too.

But some still break free.

The highest form of flattery

Hooray, imitation. I just hope flattery was the reason and not laziness because these four bear quite a bit of resemblance to past posters.

Assassin’s Creed (opens December 21) came out with this mirrored image a little while back after the main drive of their marketing campaign was in full swing. I like the idea because Michael Fassbender is playing two different characters separated by time wherein his future self is embodying his ancestor. He’s the same even if the environment he’s in isn’t. So why then is this poster just the past reflecting itself? Where is the sense of duality? Whether or not the similarities to The Last Witch Hunter design were lazy or not, this half-baked utilization of a fun concept is.

The Vin Diesel starrer isn’t quite the same, but it’s close enough to beg comparison. The crown of thorns behind him is based in repetition with the spire revolving more than once and the whole is mirrored over its vertical centerline. Add the pensive drama in Vin and Michael’s faces and you have virtually identical circular motifs on white.

It’s not like the rest of Assassin’s Creed campaign is bad either. Putting Fassbender at great heights to stand tall or fall works to get the action and stunts on display. I like the falling example because it plays with a sense of vertigo as we struggle to realize if the image is upside or right above us. This advert by BLT Communications, LLC makes me dizzy in a good way.

I’m not sure what to say about the comparison between Barry (limited December 21) and Ava DuVernay’s documentary from earlier in the year 13th because they are both Netflix productions. Maybe the internet studio is trying to retain a consistency in tone for their movies? I don’t know. It’s not as though the two share genres or subject matter—one fictionalizes Barack Obama’s years before becoming president and the other documents injustice in America.

I do get that both are “America”-centric and the flag lends itself to them, but they don’t have to be so similar. 13th is designed better as far as symmetry and clear focus goes, but Barry is more intriguing with its overlays and atypical style. The more I look at the latter, the more I think perhaps that it’s a fan-made piece considering its inconsistent kerning on the actor names and weird visual artifacts. Who knows? It’s not like Netflix needs posters.

The most egregious example of copycat artwork this month has to be Burn Country (limited December 9). I really think whomever was tasked to design this literally opened a file of Blue Ruin‘s one-sheet and drew over it.

There’s the large text acting as part of the main image with silhouettes of people beneath. There’s the addition of destruction to it in the mode of the film (bullet holes for Blue Ruin, charred edges for Burn Country). And there’s a car in the exact same place because it would be too hard to stick the police cruiser on the opposite side. Even without those floating heads adding an amateurish flavor, however, this latest poster can only show us how great the other was in 2014. The plagiarism here is inexcusable.

I’ve left Ignition‘s Live By Night (limited December 25, wide January 13) for last because I do enjoy the piece. The coloring and shadows deliver a palpable drama and the font of the title is captivatingly unique. It’s not perfect considering all text besides that title is obviously compressed and distorted alongside a bad decision to stretch three of the five lines at top to mess up any hope of consistency, but it’s a head-turner nonetheless.

With that said, I cannot look at it without thinking Ben Affleck has been cast in a new Dick Tracy movie. What’s going on here? I watched the trailer and I don’t remember seeing anything resembling this foreboding aesthetic tone or its yellow hue. So what made Ignition and Warner Bros. go this route? I haven’t the faintest clue, but I’ll give them credit anyway. Whether this visual style ultimately serves the film or not, I desperately want to watch it and find out.

When is enough enough?

There were only three films with massive character sheet campaigns this month so my inclusion of Passengers (opens December 21) is tenuous at best. I mean the film pretty much only has two characters (minus android Michael Sheen and a quick trailer shot of a crew) so moving beyond them is impossible. It’s just a shame no one could put Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt together in an interesting way.

BOND‘s sheet is creepy if nothing else because her eyes look dead and his sad. Can’t wait to discover she’s an android too … nah, that won’t happen. I don’t get this glamour shot concept, though, because nothing is happening. Are they looking at us or are they merely there? Why are lines missing from the title font? Why is Morse code being used as a design flourish and why is it five times thicker than the text?

Wonderland‘s entry is a lot better and that’s saying something considering it is practically the same concept. Putting the actors on the same level so we can look at their eyes by shifting left to right rather than top to bottom is a plus. Putting them on a space background adds more relevance than stark white emptiness and the tiny spacecraft is a nice distraction for us to shift focus. I guess at the end of the day these two celebrity faces just mean more than their actions.

I think that’s why I often prefer ensemble pieces without a clear A-list name to usurp the whole a la Office Christmas Party (opens December 9). Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston aren’t necessarily huge enough to garner special treatment anymore and this fact allows firms like BOND to focus on themes rather than personas. Why not go the Project X route of showing the aftermath of chaos? We’re going to see this movie because of the insanity. A destroyed office, broken window, passed out randoms, and a urinating Santa deliver.

WORKS ADV can then come in and give that insanity a more personal touch to highlight the actors involved (literally as those featured in each sheet have their names colored at the top in case we didn’t know who they were). Make a bunch of these and put them on a giant cardboard structure with multiple panels. Play with depth of field to enhance the seizure inducing lights and the motion of partying without a safety net. We get a sense of the characters via their expressions and yet retain an air of mystery as to what they are getting themselves into.

It’s BLT’s graphic series that shines, though. It’s nothing special or necessarily attractive with way too many snowflakes, but it allows for the freedom of doing whatever craziness is wanted without needing to spend time setting up a photo shoot. The splash of red adds some spice to the monotone blue and the instruction manual aesthetic fits its office setting. They’re stupid fun, plain and simple.

To a point, LA‘s series for Sing (opens December 21) utilizes this same ambition. Let’s separate the characters and showcase something that makes them standout from the others. Have fun with homages to Flashdance, punny fake band names, and showing-off the animated fur and quills to intrigue animal-loving youngsters. This is the stuff theater lobbies were made for and each little critter should get its time in the sun.

If ever a film needed this breadth of posters it’s Sing because the teaser is rather bland. Yeah there’s an animal poking out the window up high, but the whole is just a marquee. No kid is looking at that and begging Mom and Dad to go. There’s no hook. Show the stage with a singer in the spotlight, not a bunch of names kids could care less about.

It’s a different story with Rogue One (opens December 16) because the world is what many gravitate towards—especially when the cast is completely removed from the usual Skywalker clan. I don’t exactly love the awkward fighting on the bottom of LA’s tease but the juxtaposition of the Death Star in the sky above the horizon line is awe-inspiring. This is a galaxy far far away and we get to bask in its beauty before the violence officially begins.

And from there you can just run wild. It’s Star Wars so you don’t really need advertising to fill seats. Those tickets are being sold regardless. So go all-out like BOND with their Asian sheet focusing on light and composition. Superimpose blueprints on faces and pay homage to old painterly collage work. Besides that first upside-down triangle IMAX design bottling everyone up into a confined space, the other assumedly opening night giveaways are quite attractive.

BOND’s white version of said triangle with softer edges is my favorite, their illustration with a giant Felicity Jones looming my second. LA’s Darth Vader as backdrop concept is nice in an “appeal to fanboy anticipation” way, but it’s a tad too busy. All in all, though, Disney has the resources and confidence to go beyond straight photography and they embrace the idea of collector’s items to make it all worthwhile.

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