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Posterized October 2013: The Faces of ‘Gravity,’ ’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘The Counselor’ & More

Written by on October 2, 2013 

Smug faces / Scared faces

I really like what Bemis Balkind did for The Fifth Estate (open October 18) as far as teaser sheets go. Using a rather innocuous image of both Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl, they’ve created a campaign begging for silent audience participation once the words “traitor” or “hero” is superimposed above them. This is the exact tug-of-war that has been playing out since WikiLeaks debuted—did these men serve the citizens of United States or put them in danger?

The grayish muting of the images themselves allows the glowing pixel-based type to pop out while also making a creepy Julian Assange look even more like an alien. Brühl—unlike his make-up for Rush—conversely looks normal despite it. The low monotone saturation should also help it stand out against other posters at the multiplex, receding deeper than their bright colors and in effect allowing the blinking cursor to appear even closer to us than it already does.

BLT Communications, LLC was enlisted to place both men together and do an admirable job considering their avenue of compartmentalizing the page. Both Cumberbatch and Brühl receive an equal share of space while the center houses a nicely rendered field of depth via subtle text shadows and color changes. I’m not so sure about the green tint, though, as it screams “money” to me rather than the moral battle the film is supposed to portray between the two men.

Finishing off the myriad October character sheets is The Refinery redeeming itself from the rather forgettable entries they designed above. If you’ve seen Gravity (open October 4) you’ll know how immersive Alfonso Cuarón‘s newest work can become and therefore how appropriate the in-close shots of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are to sell it. We go into those helmets a couple times throughout the movie so the feeling of claustrophobia will not end with these posters.

There is some really stunning lighting at play with burned whites and pitch-black darks to lay the sharp, angular text atop, but it’s the actors and their reactions that matter. Each singular eye is scared to death, starring down the wide expanse in front of them that we can only imagine until sitting down to watch. If you were to take just these sheets as a description of the whole, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking a second horror flick was coming out in October after all.

The firm’s original poster is good too, adding a sense of dread by depicting an astronaut becoming unhooked, flailing around to grip whatever he/she can to remain tethered against the vacuum of space. While the tagline and actor names holding a gradient for effect has them disappearing into the black background, the minimalist characters have been replaced by more information—too much in my opinion. The whole thing looks painted, the blurring is excessive, and the sense of danger is rendered false. Less is definitely more here.

No faces / Dramatic faces

I cannot help myself from thinking about Life of Pi when looking at this Asian one-sheet for All is Lost (limited October 18). A stripped down sister to The Refinery’s work on last year’s Oscar nominee, the sense of isolation on the water here is overpowering. Between the foreboding sky, the covered raft with no signs of life, and the absolute absence of anything else, you can tell you’re be in for a harrowing journey for survival.

Sadly, we don’t really get any of that with Bemis Belkind’s American advertisement. Instead of dread we get Robert Redford‘s mug seeming rather calm considering he’s being pounded by rain. The showering water is cartoonishly perfect in its high-speed slant, the color appears unnaturally drained, and we honestly shouldn’t be able to make out the actor that well if the storm was that bad. And to top it all off, the almost uniformly sized type above him again hurts my eyes more than help them to decipher what’s more important than the rest.

Keeping nautical, the fantastic use of a film still for Captain Phillips (open October 11) blows All is Lost out of the water (pun intended). The crop possesses brilliant empty space, the image is distressed ever so slightly for drama, and the condensed font keeps the kerning tight for the blocks of text to exist alongside the slanted boat side rather than cut through it.

To see how something so attractively distilled to its barest sense of tone can be destroyed, however, we don’t have to go too far. The second version of the poster sees its central image becoming more photographically pure; the rope line that covered the top pirate has been removed; the balance of all text being centered at right is ruined with top and bottom blocks spanning the width of the page despite the title remaining where it was; and Tom Hanks gets his face added to what was an invitingly empty area.

I don’t know the details, but it isn’t hard to guess this is a perfect example of studio interference. I can see the conversation now: “We love it. It’s great. But what about putting our star on there somewhere really big? And maybe add some more color to the water so it doesn’t seem so depressing? After all, it’s not like this is about a kidnapping and hijacking …”

Karine Savard‘s poster for Blue is the Warmest Color (limited October 25) went through an alteration from a previous iteration too, but its changes have less commercial motivations. We all know about the film’s NC-17 sexuality by this point, so if the studio were to interfere, they probably wouldn’t have let its two actresses remain in the midst of a kiss.

Admittedly, I like the original better due to its more naturalistic coloring. Savard’s puts a bit too much of a fantasy spin on it with its blue background, painted red lips, and crayon-like brushes of blue on Léa Seydoux‘s hair. To me this second version is an American’s idea of French aesthetic—that whimsically colorful Jean-Luc Godard style. For a movie so intrinsically bonded to its authenticity, however, the bare reality of these two young women is what resonates the most.

While that one is great, the true winner of the month for me is Ignition’s 12 Years a Slave (limited October 18). This thing is like a Best of compilation of techniques utilized above. They cut Chiwetel Ejiofor out of his background scene like A.C.O.D. did Adam Scott. They put a list of actors at the center above his shadowy shirt a la Kill Your Darlings. And they enhanced the palette by oversaturating the colors to pop his dark skin off the bright white while also letting him melt into the glow via his highlights.

Its shining moment is the placement of the 12 though, colored so deliberately that it simultaneously meshes with the shirt as it escapes it. The number is dead center on the page, stealing our attention once our eyes spiral around the frame from outside in, revolving clockwise from Ejiofor’s face down his left arm and up again through the point of his knee and pumping right hand. It’s a mesmerizing journey where we run with the character as the text sits deliberately structured above.

If everyone is telling the truth about the film’s quality, we should have expected nothing less from its marketing.

What is your favorite October release poster? What could have used a rework?

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