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Posterized May 2017: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,’ ‘Alien: Covenant,’ ‘Risk,’ and More

Written by on May 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.

You have to love a summer month where there are just five tent-poles and a bunch of little things surrounding them. Here’s a time where you have Wonder Woman refusing to even advertise until after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 bows a month in advance. Competition is fierce and box office glory comes but once. So you need to pick your date wisely and hope one of the small budgeted flicks that exude quality rather than gimmicks don’t rain on your parade.

There are two big questions arriving out of this situation. One: will you have the constitution to avoid those blockbusters and support the auteurs instead? (Not that James Gunn, Ridley Scott, and Guy Ritchie don’t have the track record to say they deserve the paydays.) Two: who wins Memorial Day weekend? Baywatch comes in on the 25th, Pirates 5 the 26th, and a slew of holdovers remain on screens. The war of studio attrition begins wherein theater owners are forced to decide which will grace their coveted screens.

Disney (and Disney adjacent) rules May

Out of those aforementioned five behemoths, three come from Disney or have a link to Disney in their past. If all goes to plan this trio could combine for almost a billion dollars worldwide in one month. That’s insane.

I’ll start with the “adjacent” title in Warner Bros.’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (opens May 12). It could just be my youthful adoration for The Sword in the Stone, but I had to stare long and hard at the distributor name to realize it wasn’t Mickey Mouse and pals. And who knows? Maybe WB gets lucky and a few million people go simply because they believe the same.

The ad campaign by B O N D isn’t anything to write home about, but it gets the job done in a concise manner. Whether they put Charlie Hunnam against white or gray, they keep him in an almost black and white high contrast monotone so the splash of color in the Old English-y font pops. The blue works best against the stark shades, but the gold proves more relevant and gritty in its textured sheen. Neither sells me on the product as much as the star since Ritchie’s name (one that admittedly gets me excited still to this day as a fan) is non-existent.

P+A is responsible for sheet number three and it’s very similar if less effective. A bit more color is added, motion blurs completely remove the pop art feel of the first that the second already distanced itself from, and the glow of the sword is silly—although that’s on the film and not necessarily the designer. We’ve gone from stylishly generic to simply forgettable in a matter of one, two, three. And don’t get me started on the character sheets’ text over portrait lameness. Art Machine is lucky that gold is nice.

I’d like to say the fourth advert above saves the day, but it too isn’t perfect despite there being plenty to like. Finally we get more than one actor at the same time, the playing card vibe an inspired choice what with “kings” and everything. The “KA” logotype is attractive if also a clunky read, the coloring really embraces a Warhol aesthetic, and the repetition of its “coming soon” text is a welcome example of dedication to the card structure. If any would turn my head, this is it.

Where mouthful Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (opens May 26) is concerned, the head-turner is number one: BLT Communications, LLC‘s teaser. I love the detail of the skulls’ ornate artistry, the gorgeous line work beneath it making up a map, and the fact that we need nothing else to see this as the newest Jack Sparrow chapter. Disney has been feeding us this motif for almost fifteen years cinematically and more through their amusement parks. The Pirates brand is strong.

Depp’s face is a part of that too so it’s no surprise B O N D, with help from photographer Frank Ockenfels, ensures we get a tease of his mug too. In lieu of the Pirates name we get the subtitle—again enough when coupled with the visuals. The character is iconic, the make-up and hair on point, and the tattoo a reinforcement of Jack … except not. Does his hand say Jake? Or even worse: Jakc? I feel like we’ve stumbled into Garry Gergich territory now.

As for the final posters: meh. Here are some characters—familiar and new; some artistic, painterly flourishes; and the latest CGI-fueled baddie in Javier Bardem’s cracked face of death. The way that hair flows I can only think of Ursula from The Little Mermaid, a comparison that admittedly cuts some of his potential bite (something the comical change in dialogue tone during the teaser trailer does too).

Oh. Don’t pay enough attention to the gold leaf names on the character sheets to wonder who copied who between Pirates and King Arthur either. B O N D had a hand in both. They copied themselves either way.

All is not lost on originality as far as the biggies go, though. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (opens May 5) saves the day somewhat. No one is breaking any molds, but at least every poster isn’t merely some rendition of the same thing. B O N D (boy are they busy) is actually allowed a little fun with mix tape spines and hand-drawn names. It’s on brand, informative, and memorable in its distinct lack of photography.

LA comes in with a full sheet that riffs on every big budget collage, adding a “groovy” element that does little to combat its lack of ingenuity. It’s chock full of details whether enemies, monsters, or spacecraft, but I’m not sure many will stick around long enough to get close and discern each one. That’s why I’m all-in with the black and white “cool kids” Calvin Klein space ad from BLT. Sure it’s heavily Photoshopped, but it looks real via proportion and place. You get to even have fun searching for Baby Groot.

The IMAX sheet is memorable too with its dark silhouettes and seemingly vector based animation. It puts a “comic book” spin on the whole that becomes a good change of pace considering the source medium is just that. I’m not a fan of the straight-line title, though, especially if the “of the” remains stacked. The two-liner version is compact, easier to read, and perfect for the “Vol. 2” overlay.

Sadly, I could do without the character sheets completely. LA’s English versions are excruciatingly boring in their wanted-posters-but-not tone. B O N D’s Japanese versions are better in that they’re stripped down (black and white photocopy faces against a color gradient, no lame frames or marble backdrops), but no less interesting. Rather than attitude (see BLT’s work above), I can only discern constipation.

Tale of two directions

InSync Plus‘ poster for Chuck (limited May 5) is okay. There’s a bit of the fun that the trailer hints at with the fighting stance in huge coat—pugilism meets style. The black on red gives your eye a break from the chaos of the blockbuster photos and it’s graphic enough to be just left of obvious. It’s also a good example of a marketing rebrand both in title and tone.

What it’s not, however, is better than the original sheet from when the title was The Bleeder. This one is more serious with Liev Schreiber in the ring, bloodied and perhaps defeated—something his supposed counterpart in Rocky Balboa never was (despite the result). The coloring is reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s franchise as well, the layout similar to that of Rocky III. It’s old school in sensibilities, gives a glimpse of content, and intrigues regardless of it. The comedy is missing, but its addition in the above doesn’t outweigh this one’s captivation.

While the poster for Hounds of Love (limited May 12) isn’t anything special with its color, torn bisection, and juxtaposition of sexuality and perhaps torture, I really like the title font. It gives it a sense of era, the mood set as one perhaps not of today (it takes place in the 1980s). There’s a horror vibe coming off of it too, the bold letters blinding us as the additional curves at its points look like daggers.

Is it better than the festival sheet, though? I’m not sure. There’s something really nice about the watercolor aesthetic and metaphor of actual hounds instead of people even if it may give you the wrong idea of what the film is about. The color fields could connote blood, the look of the dog in the foreground perhaps a stare of malice as the one looking away sees it has nowhere to go. One maybe I’m only reading that because I’ve seen the other. Both ultimately have pluses and negatives, their success hinging on your affinity for literal depictions or expressive ones.

The Dinner‘s (limited May 5) shift is interesting not because it proves either super dark or super light, but because of each version’s origins. Stereotypically it’s the foreign markets that embrace edgy material with domestic tastes skewing more palatably mainstream.

When you see the dramatic sheet from The Refinery you think it’s going to be a doozy on the emotional scale. These actors look ready to kill one another or at least suspicious that another wants to kill them. The word “thriller” is present with a tagline “How far would you go to protect your children.” I’m thinking Prisoners level suspense here—actions and thoughts that make you as protector just as cruel and unyielding as the predator waiting to pounce.

And then you spy the German poster. It possesses many of the same elements as the first: prominent title, a solid color background, and four boxes housing one character each. But look at how these attributes have changed. The title goes from thin, stoic sans to a playfully decorative script. The deep black moves to a brighter red, the actors from stern looks to enjoyable small talk with a smile. So is the film a comedy now? Are the supposed lengths these parents will go barely mischievous let alone criminal and Americans simply believe things are worse than they are?

If nothing else I want to buy a ticket to find out which poster got it correct.

For Berlin Syndrome (limited May 26) the difference between version A and B is aesthetic. The tone is rather consistent in its dramatic mystery even if the first is darker than the second’s gaze of romance, but the color, text, and imagery are night and day.

As a whole my favorite is the “In Production” ad because of its complexion. It goes from black to dark blue with a bright name devoid of flourish. We see two actors either fearful or pensively unsure, the crop as captivating as the scale is suffocating. There’s a sense of intent, consistency, and emotion.

I do really like the image in the second better, though. How could I not? It’s this weird scene of woman and man separated by translucent shower curtain, his mouth coming in for a kiss as she watches with the thought of reciprocation. The angle is interesting, the coloring a strange green tint, and the power of its freeze-frame palpable.

But it’s ruined by typography that completely subverts its image’s success. The angle calls attention to the off-kilter slant, rendering it moot. The cross of the “R” doesn’t appear to have purpose, the scratches a product of a free download rather than a conscious texture. This font unavoidably augments the film’s budget and makes you question whether it will be worth your time.

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