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Posterized May 2013: Super Sequel Summer with ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Hangover,’ ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Fast & Furious’ & More

Written by on May 1, 2013 

“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.

One of these years Alamo Drafthouse has to organize some crazy Mondo Tees sponsored summer where every big tent pole release receives a unique artistic interpretation on paper. They get a couple mainstream grabs now with limited edition giveaways at select IMAX midnight openings (see two of this month’s entries below by Jock and Mark Englert), but how cool would it be to enter theaters and see work from the likes of Martin Ansin or Ken Taylor represented in the huge “Now Playing” frames illuminated outside their entrances?

This is how a revolution could begin. How the Hollywood marketing machine could transform overnight into a gallery-worthy exercise in contemporary design, photography, and illustration. Mondo is doing it with their own space in Austin showcasing a stacked crew of freelancers and I think it only takes a quick jaunt on the web—whether deviantArt or TeeFury, etc.—to understand the fanboys and girls clamoring for superhero popcorn flicks would eat it up.

There’s how many?!

Seriously, though, just look at this quartet of blockbuster sequels needing no advertising at all to sell copious amounts of tickets. More and more writers and directors have become part of everyday conversation as the level of storytelling hitting television screens each fall increases. Who would have thought a name like J.J. Abrams could garner the same universal appeal of George Lucas when speaking about a new Star Wars trilogy? The game has changed and genre flicks not only attract auteurs but create them too.

You don’t have to look further than Abrams’ own Star Trek Into Darkness (open May 17) to understand. The guy who gave us Felicity before hitting true mainstream credibility with Alias is now one of the film industry’s most bankable assets. A master at viral marketing and forcing cast and crew to adhere to non-disclosure agreements, one would think he’d also attract an abundance of creativity in the realm of poster art. Sadly—no matter who gets the credit above the title—the studio still reigns supreme and lackluster design follows closely behind.

Not only does the film’s teaser sheet completely rip-off Ignition Print‘s work on The Dark Knight Rises, but BLT Communications, LLC shows almost no original thinking with the series of adverts that follows. They ride the rising star of Benedict Cumberbatch and his role in Sherlock instead of showcasing the stunning visuals a three-year old could conjure up when thinking about the infinite possibilities of space. Switching from a burning city to its three heroes in horrid, smoky collage omits no excitement whatsoever.

Only a plummeting Enterprise cut off at the edge of the page gives us something to applaud. This is an iconic aircraft that frankly has been indestructible these past few decades through countless TV shows and cinematic iterations. To show it bloodied and beaten is to make a statement. If only more designers were willing to do so too.

You can’t really blame BLT, though, since they keep getting the good work. If you don’t have to fight tooth and nail, why not stick with what sells? They did it with Star Trek and they do it with Iron Man 3 (open May 3) as well. Whether its full Photoshop overlap—I love that Ben Kingsley retains the background of his photo to ensure we don’t mistake his inclusion as realistic—or cartoon water droplets falling from Robert Downey Jr.‘s head painted on a robot’s body in weird perspective, boring is the only term that comes to mind.

The teaser intrigues with its darkness and refusal to place the words “Iron Man” in frame, but I can’t help remembering the brilliant power-outage “3” from the trailer and how much more effective that would have been as a poster. It’s also no surprise the one that kind of works involves our hero plummeting through space, bloodied and beaten. Why have two pitch meetings when you can use the same motifs for every movie?

And while we’re talking about pitches, who even needs a creative idea when you can go to Warner Bros. and simply say, “Remember when Tyler Perry and Ignition spoofed a bunch of acclaimed movies’ posters for Madea’s Big Happy Family? Let’s do that!”

WORKS ADV thought, why not? I’ll admit I chuckled the first time I saw that they had spoofed their own design for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I in order to tease The Hangover Part III (open May 24). But then to go and do a pieta with Ed Helms and Ken Jeong as well as a boy band sexy sheet with mallets and crowbars is too far. It’s The Hangover series—you could go completely metaphoric and paint wolves on the poster a la Alan’s famous speech and people would still show up.

So how then does a sixth installment of a series built from what was practically a remake of Point Break deserve the best posters of this bunch? Kudos to cold open for delivering some starkly attractive one-sheets through their Fast & Furious 6 (open May 24) campaign. Yes, the main design with all the characters brooding at an angle is lame. The rest are not.

Why not give us what we expect from this franchise? Muscle-clad actors and their beefier automobiles. Who needs to see Vin Diesel or Paul Walker‘s faces when we know it’s them? Their careers skyrocketed upwards to undeserved heights following the original and both came crawling back after egos popped and jobs dried up. Fast Five was an action gem and I hope this is too. cold open brought back the expansive sky in the poster so fingers crossed the filmmakers retained the fun onscreen.

Star power sells

If you don’t have the luck(?) of being a sequel with an already built-in fan base, it’s generally beneficial to drop some names and faces on your poster.

BLT tries to be cool with Now You See Me (open May 31), adding a little optical illusion to its mix of black-clad celebrities. Being a film about a group of magicians, this is a relevant trope to utilize. Couldn’t they have done more to spice things up, though? Cutout characters on a gray background aren’t riveting subject matter whether the use of negative space makes it appear to be the work of MC Escher or not.

It’s a muddied contrast that mixes together into an indecipherable soup save Mark Ruffalo‘s bright white shirt giving us the polar opposite of this year’s other magic movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I get that these illusionists are criminals too, but does everything have to be so on the nose? And what’s with the lowering of half the title? It just looks like a mistake—especially when the full name is also displayed from top to bottom. Why bother putting it with the credits at all?

In another display of forgetting your film is a high concept, futuristic actioner, After Earth (open May 31) finds BLT focusing on the father and son team of Will and Jaden Smith instead of cool artwork. Smartly removing all trace of co-writer and director M. Night Shyamalan—a once golden moniker, presently the kiss of death—putting its lead actors front and center doesn’t sell the premise. No one wanted to see Tom Hanks in a sci-fi last year; they may not want to see Smith in one this year.

And while the background projected through the bodies of those in the foreground is over-used these days, it’s still light years better than half faces flip-flopping to prove paternity. The dead eyes on display make me wonder if we’ll find out these two are the same character in a converging past and present plane of existence. It’s just all too polished for mystery and too generic for interest.

The same can be said for the sheet attached to Peeples (open May 10), a movie I simply can’t stop calling Meet the Peeples. Probably a confused mixture between the similarity of Ignition’s design to Meet the Parents and the title of Peter Jackson’s cult classic Meet the Feebles, anything to make me forget Tyler Perry is producing is a good thing.

I like the crazy amounts of white space and the color scheme, but there is something about the dual facial adverts of the teasers that appeals to me. Yes, the one with Kerry Washington is creepy as all get out, but Craig Robinson cringing is pure gold. It does nothing to tell you what the film is and yet that face has me utterly fascinated to check it out. A rare appearance from David Alan Grier helps too.

Less in your face than Craig’s full-frame crying is Concept ArtsThe East (limited May 31) with its tic-tac-toe of floating heads. I’m not sure who the winners are in this game, though, because the horizontal trios of plastic masks are much happier than the middle row of Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, and Ellen Page. This is the kind of lazy entry for a film possessed with an air of mystery I was so happy the filmmakers’ previous Sound of My Voice rightfully avoided.

I like the graffiti-esque title treatment and the masks—why not go with a Banksy inspired piece to enhance those attributes? No one is going to see this film because Marling’s face is on display. While my own interest is her involvement, it’s as a screenwriter not actress. Indie films should market with indie sensibilities. This looks like a firm’s failed attempt to dupe audiences into thinking it has a bigger budget than it does.

See more of this month’s Posterized Propaganda on the next page >>

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