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Posterized December 2017: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ ‘Phantom Thread,’ ‘The Shape of Water,’ and More

Written by on December 4, 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.

The critics group selections for best of everything “Cinema 2017” are here and the major players involved are arriving in limited release so audiences can play along. Big city living should provide ample opportunities to see what the hullabaloo is about and choose your own faves within it.

Not only are studios dropping their contenders all at once to ensure their yuletide cheer is tempered by box office receipts, though. They’re also not disappointing us with posters that can’t do their movies justice. I had to leave a couple good ones on the cutting room floor this month as a result, among them: The Ballad of Lefty Brown‘s (limited December 15) western chic (poster) and Happy End‘s (limited December 22) subtle viewfinder frame (poster). Competition is therefore fierce on screens and walls this winter.

Familiar is at it again

What’s great too is that even the so-called “copycats” are attractive enough to warrant a look. We may desire something fresh, but familiarity works too—especially if it triggers thoughts of another movie you enjoyed.

For Quest (limited December 8), the comparisons are many. Of late the poster I automatically think of is BLT Communications, LLC’s A Better Life. The foreground adult and child with backs to us, the urban setting in the background, and even the somewhat washed out glow at the center to ensure we see the figures as paramount allows the familial aspect of love and protection to shine.

What I like about this one more, however, is that things aren’t shrouded in foreboding shadow. There’s optimism to Quest—a notion of moving towards something rather than away from it. I also really like the title font’s calligraphic serif moving thin to thick. It’s regal and strong, but not overpowering. It serves its purpose by complementing the whole.

With Hollow in the Land (limited December 8) I recalled Iconisus L&Y – Visual Communication Systems’ Boy A. Beyond the characters’ wardrobe choice of a hoodie there’s also the pensive look, desire to hide, and mysterious atmosphere alluded to via smoky clouds and superimposed newspaper clippings respectively. The latter shows a glimpse into the past with those articles just as the former provides a scene from an unknown time as a picture-in-picture within the darkened folds of a coat. We’re given room to explore.

That added street scene may distract our attention a bit, but I’d still consider it an effective means to provide layers to the imagery. The same goes with the title. Rather than up the point size so its letters cover everything like so many “text on face” designs do, this layout keeps them small (relatively speaking). And yet there’s still scale in its orchestration through the liberal leading that keeps each word away from the next. It works as an arrow of sorts, our eyes deliberately moving from one to the next—character down to car.

You can’t blame The Refinery for going homage as far as their Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (December 20) sheet is concerned. Its sequel is releasing more than twenty years after the original and almost forty since Chris Van Allsburg’s source picture book. They should be doing all they can to resemble the Robin Williams’ starrer because they have their work cut out for them as far as making the property relevant again (although the concept behind the film itself seems to do exactly this).

From there you have B O N D’s tease with four silhouettes falling from the sky and another with everyone submerged in water to their noses (with an alligator to boot). Both give enough of a sense of scale and humor to draw interested parties closer despite the circumstances of this world remaining unknown to those unfamiliar with the book.

While those two examples do work, however, the final sheet is less than stellar. Humor is removed for scale alone and the result is a generic action adventure scene of jungle animals and their human foes. If only they did something to acknowledge how these actors are the avatars of teens. What if they had the kid actors with these “stars” translucently superimposed above them similar to Vixen and her animal powers in Legends of Tomorrow? Sure it would perhaps be too much, but at least it’d be something.

Sadly the most egregious copier this month has few redeeming qualities. The culprit is BLT’s Downsizing (December 22) and its identical concept to the firm’s own Ant-Man. I get that both center upon a plot wherein the lead character is shrunk, but are you really going to dust off your own design (that’s less than two years old) to portray as much? At least Ant-Man didn’t put “Paul Rudd” in giant letters at the top to compete with the actor’s photo. Nor did it put “people” icons into the title.

A foreign sheet with Matt Damon on a welcome mat is at least more attractive to look at, but it’s even worse in execution. It screams Photoshop from the floating mat atop fake porch slats to Matt looking at nothing when the angle is very specifically positioned to have us looking at him. Why isn’t he looking back? Why is the poster only pretending to engage with its viewer?

I guess Ignition’s is therefore the best of this trio, but it’s hardly good either. What it does to improve upon the first is this: more text (it’s not a Damon sandwich anymore), a comparison point (saying “actual size” isn’t the same as putting an object next to him), and the improvement of that awful “logo” (the people aren’t toothpicks being crushed anymore). Like the film itself, the idea is much better than how it’s being utilized.

That’s how you do characters

For what I believe is the first time since writing this column, I can put a section together with good character sheets. Yes, good. I had to reduce from four posters to three to allow it, but the sentiments are still pure.

First up is The Greatest Showman (December 20). While BLT had the reins on the teaser above (which is very nice in its mirror between reality and fantasy alongside a period specific font), WORKS ADV was put in charge of the characters. Where most films would choose a background and then just swap out each actor, they’ve decided to create four distinct “scenes” instead.

You have Hugh Jackman with top hat, Zac Efron and Zendaya swinging through the air, Rebecca Ferguson looking royal for the camera, and Michelle Williams being hoisted into the sky against the moon. They’re all in motion as the world behind them blurs with a spin. They simultaneously exist as a series and on their own.

Allowing them to be in their element creates excitement rather than portraiture. They embody the magic that the studio hopes the film possesses for its audience. The care to which they are allowed individual identities assures that they stand apart.

The same can be said for Proof’s Ferdinand (December 15) campaign. They could have just stopped after two effective one-sheets (the “bull in china shop gag” and simplistic 2D-animated vintage beauty are wonderful) and yet I’m glad they didn’t.

You could argue these three aren’t character sheets, but they serve that purpose nonetheless. Just because the firm didn’t merely put the girl in a frame and the bull in another doesn’t mean these designs don’t represent them in unique ways. To look upon the minimal bull and bee is to conjure images of Pablo Picasso and his sketch work. The rose takes that contoured drawing and creates something new from it in a bold, woodcut ranch type of way. But my favorite is the colorfully cartoonish flower with bull-shaped petals and 1950s postcard aesthetic. Whether relevant to the film or not, it’s absolutely stunning.

When you combine both (the thematic/aesthetic strain of Greatest Showman with the minimalistic beauty of Ferdinand) you get LA’s memorable character series for Star Wars: The Last Jedi (December 15), a film that needs no marketing at all let alone pretty marketing.

This is another where I would have been happy with the teaser alone and its refurbished lightsaber glow from A New Hope (which in turn has been mimicked by the likes of Turbo Kid too). I like the red outline on the title, the competing faces of good and evil, and the hero destined to traverse the chasm between them.

But how could I not also love the characters? From the red cloaks against grungy gray backdrop to the logo’s crisply bright colors to the progression of photography into painterly brushstrokes, these things are a perfect amalgam of portraiture and illustration. Removing the eyes with an astute crop doesn’t create anonymity, but mystery instead. There’s dark drama and an almost totem like permanence as though these stories truly are carved onto cave walls. They aren’t fading. They’re coming to life.

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