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Posterized October 2015: ‘The Martian,’ ‘The Assassin’, ‘Steve Jobs,’ and More

Written by on October 1, 2015 

“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.


Fall is officially here and with it some great festival releases rocking memorable poster designs alongside a decent slate of blockbusters too. Not everything is great—see Pan (open October 9) whose poster here is as opposed to the awful character sheets and mash-ups spawned in the Jolly Roger’s wake (I especially like the pan flute logo)—but I have to say I’m happy with the majority of them.

This time of year is all about awards-hopefuls and it can get pretty crowded as a result. So when most people can only catch at most one a week, advertising plays a big role in ensuring which films are cataloged in our memory banks to conjure aloud at the box office. It’s good to see the effort to really compete on the printed page as well as the moving picture.


Blockbuster hopefuls

Ignition is trying to take some notice away from the indies this October with their sheet for Jem and the Holograms (open October 23). A far cry from the animated series of old—but not so far with the starred “J” remaining—this gritty(?) glimpse at pop superstardom has some aesthetic appeal in its coloring and bright light. I could do without the giant head surrounding the concert scene, though. It would be much better with just the audience and singer in stark silhouette.

The logotype is also nice on its own. It sort of looks like someone drew it out with one of those white-out markers, but the crisp white pops off the background and the shading lends it a 3D feel too. Minimalize the imagery overlap and you’ve got a real winner.

The Refinery does exactly that with their Bridge of Spies (open October 16). Tom Hanks‘ face is a staple on all variations of the theme, but this one with the Mad Men-esque black and white on red geometric style is a welcome contrast to the photography. It’s much better than the firm’s other entry with the titular bridge rendered in a comic book sense of reality underneath Hanks’ floating head.

LA‘s isn’t horrible either with a high-contrast Tom between the darkened colors of America and USSR’s flags, but it does scream “too much”. Maybe it’s just the weird way in which Hanks’ head dissolves into shadows naturally at bottom right but into red against the flag. The shading on the left makes him clearly above the stars and stripes, but the hammer and sickle look like they’re tattooed to his noggin.

For The Martian (opens October 2) Ignition leans on the tried and true motif of placing a tagline large above the lead’s face. It works in this context since Matt Damon‘s character is a man alone on Mars in need of saving. The words “Bring Him Home” almost lend a “Wanted” poster theme to the whole—an advertisement not to pitch us seeing the movie as much as a grassroots campaign to have NASA or whomever find the resources to get him back.

I almost wish they went further down the rabbit hole of this idea—a Shepherd Fairy-like immortalization/battle cry image for the public in the movie to rally behind. Even if there was no question that the government would at least try (I haven’t seen it or read the book), people love artistic representations of heroes and it could still work regardless.

Either way, clichéd design trope aside, Ignition’s piece is much cleaner than Art Machine, A Trailer Park Company‘s monochromatic yawner. It’s crazy how removing the full color spectrum can make it so boring. The giant head ready to consume the wide shot below doesn’t help and neither does the tossed in shuttle launch.

While I had hoped BLT Communications, LLC‘s Steve Jobs (NY/LA October 9; expanding October 16; opens wide October 23) would come out as the best of this bunch, it sadly proves the worst after talking about the others. I like the idea—anything is better than psychedelic Ashton Kutcher—but it’s too drab. The reason is because the text is so big. We’re supposed to want to look at Michael Fassbender at bottom but he’s merely lost in the shuffle.

Not only is the type overpowering in size, it’s also mimicking a word processor program wrong. The pipe at the end of the title doesn’t come across as a blinking cursor the designers hope because there’s more text below. Instead it crowds the letters and makes our brains want to add it as an “L” to the end of “Jobs”. The way to do this right would have been to put the cursor after “Coming Soon” farther below the text block. Maybe even play with translucency to give it a sense of the animated blink.

Look at the camera

There’s a lot of eye contact happening this month and The Dream Factory and The Posterhouse‘s Victoria (limited October 9) is no exception. It’s a relevant choice to the movie too as everything we see revolves around this titular barista getting involved in an insane bank robbery. We don’t watch it through her eyes, but the one-shot does keep her in frame for its entirety (almost, but when she isn’t onscreen she’s in the room). She’s daring us to come along for the ride.

Its American counterpart is similar but less effective. For some reason they’ve muted the colors and lost a bit of the club excitement the film possesses in the process. The title is less transparent to steal our gaze and the quotes at top force the crop to loosen up. Its polish renders it false whereas you can feel the warmth of the light on her face in the other.

Jeff Maunoury tries a different direction and loses even more impact. The design itself isn’t bad, but side-by-side it’s definitely weaker. We’re supposed to think she’s beckoning us forward as the two men lead her, but the hazy texture gives the whole a Photoshop feel that calls into question the image’s validity. As for the title, his racing videogame aesthetic is perhaps too mainstream. I don’t mind the time stamps, but they don’t quite explain the “one-shot” technique.

cold open‘s Suffragette (limited October 23) multiplies the stares to three. It works as a natural addition rather than seem to over-compensate despite the title’s singular form because this fight took an army. I like the grungy visual style and the spray-painted stencil typography—both lending it a grittier feel to understand this was war and not bureaucracy.

The other two versions project the exact opposite. These two look more like a museum set-up with finely dressed women waiting for a board meeting. They lose the former’s intensity and replace it with regality—not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely less effective. While the first promises an unknown intrigue and maybe a more contemporary style, these scream stuffy period piece. To each his/her own I guess.

He Named Me Malala (limited October 2; wide October 9) is less intimidating than the previous two films—as it should. This young woman is an inspiration and thusly a smile is necessary. She must be approachable and everything about this poster is that from the bright colors, whimsical book pages to bird animation, and unimposingly sketched title.

I’m glad they didn’t try and render Malala through a graphic filter too because I think a photo does the job best. They played with the image to get the color complementary to the scheme and the sari’s saturation helps merge her into the illustration. Bright enough to stick out on the wall, it’s hard to not sneak a peek and return her smile.

LA’s Knock Knock (limited October 9) is similar in this respect, but with different motivation. It makes me smile at its simplicity and stripped down imagery to expressive eyes and cheeks. There’s a playfully sexual vibe from the top photo with teeth cutting tape and a mesmerizing sense of trouble in the third’s piercing stare. And more than that is the motion from top to bottom of that playfulness to Keanu Reeves‘ calm acquiesce to the stare promising more than he may have bargained for.

Its formal composition reminds me of a well-designed title sequence—flashes of the house, characters, and title to set the mood and pique our interest. The campaign’s character sheets lose this by coming off as laughable instead. Playful sexuality turns to campy nonsense.

And don’t even get me started on The Refinery’s attempt. Horrible Photoshop aside on the wire binding and spatial proximity, there isn’t a shred of atmosphere. Rather than polished horror, they make Knock Knock look like a Lifetime original.

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