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Posterized March 2016: ‘Midnight Special,’ ‘Knight of Cups,’ ‘Batman v. Superman,’ and More

Written by on March 3, 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.

There are a lot of films opening this March that hold some interest. And not just the limited releases either. Disney has Zootopia (poster), Paramount has 10 Cloverfield Lane (poster) and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (poster), and Universal is bringing everyone’s favorite Windex-using family back with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (poster).

Some of those received intriguing posters—well one did even if Zootopia‘s overflow of characters is similar to The Muppets and The Peanut Movie before it—but none are worth talking about beyond meeting expectations. Not all the ones below exceed theirs, but at least they give us something to discuss about outside of the status quo. Yes, even the superheroes.

Grungy faces

While I honestly can’t muster much interest in seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (March 25), I do love WORKS ADV‘s teasers. They look like real photos of hastily plastered wallpaper posters, wrinkled and translucent atop an unspecified number of adverts formerly possessing that prime real estate. Superman’s is better because you can actually see the layers beneath it through the shredded Batman logo—a logo I’m thankful looks more like it should rather than the bloated nonsense revised to fit the Superman crest inside it for the film’s own icon.

These two are visceral and tactile while the second go-round is somewhat tame. Henry Cavill looks constipated and Ben Affleck only shows his lips. The Bat logo is the bloated one I just mentioned hating out of context from combining with Superman and the stamp of it aligning with the image doesn’t have the same impact as when they contrasted. I like the idea of some Supes fan ripping into the Batman poster and vice versa—defacing one hero for another. I don’t need a logo and a full body shot of the same person it represents. That’s redundant. And I definitely don’t need one with the Daily Planet logo and a Wayne Manor stationary seal to give Amy Adams and Jeremy Irons some play either.

As for the “fight” shots—I can get behind them. Fanboys have wanted a Batman/Superman showdown for decades so playing up the war sells. The face-off shot is boring, but the one with both engaged and ready to pounce is pretty effective. I like that they stuck with only showing Batman’s back since showing his mouth isn’t enough to care about whether Affleck is being represented well. We know who he is and we’d rather see an actual face staring back than a mask.

Pristine faces

I really love what LA did on their character sheets for Allegiant (March 18). If memory serves, the representation of a pane of fogged glass with plus signs was shielding Tris from Jeanine during the climax of Insurgent. This was the barrier containing her as she was tested to the death—a see-through coffin of sorts boxing her in like everyone in this post-apocalyptic Chicago has been since the beginning of the series.

The design provides a very cool aesthetic as the actors are seen behind in intriguing poses showing emotion rather than portrait ambivalence. There is a very small center of focus and the rest fades into a blur towards the edges. I haven’t seen any posted at my local theater, but I can imagine it looking fantastic behind those glass frames—as though these characters were literally trapped inside looking for a way out.

LA’s second set of character sheets is less inspired as it simply supplies close-ups devoid of expression. I can get behind the percent “pure” detail because I’ve read the book and know what that means, but it’s abstract to the layperson going in having no clue about anything except the previous movies. At least the other theme had visual impact beyond bland information.

The diptych of Tris and Four embracing from both sides is much better. It’s not about who they are to the community or the world, but instead who they are to each other. There’s worry, love, trepidation at the unknown—a scene is constructed by the two that plain faces square to the camera can never deliver.

How about the final sheet with spiral staircase? It’s attractive. I’ll give them that. But what’s happening? The figures are too small to discern identities—is the woman in white Kate Winslet? Naomi Watts? Both don’t make sense to have such a predominate focus in this chapter. Is it therefore Shailene Woodley? Probably, she being the true Divergent with the others lingering in the dark below. Maybe we’re just supposed to appreciate its prettiness and not care about the rest.

Isolated figurines

I’m the first person to champion minimalism in movie poster design, but sometimes ad agencies strip things down without reason. Case and point: Cardinal Communications USA‘s I Saw the Light (limited March 25). It looks incomplete as though they isolated Tom Hiddleston from his stage in order to place him atop a different background and forgot to finish. Making all the text a uniform black doesn’t help because nothing pops from the pack. This is what you set up before actually creating a design. Title? Check. Actors? Check. Media quote? Check. Leading man photo? Check. They simply forgot to start moving things around to see what they could come up with.

The one-sheet for Grimsby (March 11) isn’t much better except for the fact that it’s mocking another recent spy venture in Spectre. They are purposely going for the sleekness of silver—the edge of a razorblade—to juxtapose against Sacha Baron Cohen’s off-putting sultry gaze and Mark Strong’s angry confusion. Does it work? I guess. But I credit any success to the contrast of the former’s underwear and latter’s suit. That’s what’s funny, not the Bond spoof.

While no less inventive, at least ARSONAL‘s poster with the two actors shooting guns whilst flying through the air is fun. You know what you’re getting with explosions in the background and sloshing beer in the fore. Both brothers are shooting and intense—one an embarrassment and the other a professional. It perfectly predicts the film as either being a complete mess or just funny enough to be watchable.

The Bronze (limited March 18) is exactly what I Saw the Light is trying to do. The lead is isolated, but Melissa Rauch is standing against a texture rather than appearing as though her background was accidentally deleted. She’s also engaging the audience (us) rather than singing to a crowd that no longer exists. She therefore isn’t out of place.

It also excels over that other poster by not placing text on the top over her head. She isn’t boxed in as a result, but instead given the position of ‘main focus’. The actors’ names have a color that complements her wardrobe and the title pops with its obvious play-on-word. Is it a resounding success? No. But it’s effective and looks intentionally drawn.

To truly succeed in letting your actor sell your film regardless of place, you must add intrigue. The Young Messiah (March 11) does exactly that. The designer isn’t beholden to showing his face but instead uses a profile so the fabric of his shirt and curls of his hair can play against the subtly colored background rather than float above. He can be cropped over the edges, trapping our gaze from traveling around him freely without ever stopping. There’s emotion in his contemplation, beauty in the over-exposure. And the title font is thinly serifed, just bold enough to draw our eye.

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