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Posterized September 2014: ‘The Zero Theorem,’ ‘The Boxtrolls’, ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ and More

Written by on September 2, 2014 

“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.

It’s festival season time—a time when I scour the internet for posters of films I’ll be seeing at TIFF only to come up empty-handed for a lot. That’s okay, though, as there are still movies being released at our local multiplexes as well. (And sometimes the two categories overlap.)

Surprisingly this month’s releases actually look pretty great (regardless of poster). So if you can’t make it to Toronto, Telluride, or Venice, you shouldn’t be too bored at home.

Laika trolls

No one is going to say Ignition‘s posters for The Boxtrolls (September 26) are original or unique—at least not any more than the gorgeous visuals Laika creates for the films themselves—but that’s not to say they aren’t effective. There’s no shame in using what’s already there when it’s that good.

2012’s ParaNorman tried something new by getting a bunch of artists to create their own interpretation of the subject matter. It resulted in a few fantastic looking pieces that showed some ingenuity beyond the screen. I kind of wished The Boxtrolls would have found a similar campaign strategy, but instead they went the route of character posters for each little monster.

These separate images leave something to be desired as their main appeal is their background motifs revealing some unknown detail to help give each shape. If anything, their best use is to familiarize the hoards of children they’re targeting with the goofier side of what could be construed as nightmare inducing if you didn’t know any better. “Cute” rules the day here and that can only assist their cause for box office success.

While the two full cast iterations at right show compositions more akin to Ignition’s main ParaNorman sheet with their symmetry, separated hemispheres, and collage of every character that may show up in the movie, my favorite of the bunch is the first one above. It’s a teaser simply showing a wall of boxes and the few trolls sticking out to laugh, smile, and step on each other’s heads. Quite possibly rendered in real life through maquettes (Frank Ockenfels is credited as photographer), this is both the most fun and most indicative of the animation style itself.

All smiles

It’s officially festival season when the posters hanging in theaters—minus family films—are devoid of smiles. No independent work worth a damn can be caught showcasing a grin because it might not be taken seriously enough for Oscar contention if so. I seriously wouldn’t doubt a few of these might have found their way to the producers before coming back to their art directors with one simple note: “Make it less cheery.”

The first culprit is The Two Faces of January (limited September 26). All of its adverts make sure Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst remain as severe as possible. The latter verges on faltering with her lips ever so close to turning up in wryness, but that may only be because she’s stifling a laugh while looking Viggo’s way.

Facial expression aside, this sheet by The Refinery is a beautifully composed frame. The film could have gotten away with sticking to the one with everyone standing against a washed out background of columns, but they chose to go a little artsy instead. I love how Issac is framed between his costars in a way that lends depth and intrigue as far as how each interacts with the next. The grainy texture recalls and company‘s The Counselor too with its photorealism providing a look the glossy, plasticity of Hollywood simply cannot match.

God Help the Girl (NYC September 5) utilizes a similar approach in how it showcases its stars without lending a fabricated collage feel. Rather than solely relying on scale to project distance, the responsible firm plays with focus as well. Olly Alexander is clearly farthest with his softness, Hannah Murray slightly before him, and Emily Browning crisp and clear at the foreground—each staring straight, daring us to continue peering back.

It’s light years ahead of the ugly two-tone secondary sheet displaying high contrast photocopy-like renderings of the trio. Talk about a poster that would get completely lost in the shuffle of more vibrant work. The first is simply better, sumptuous in its textures and color as our eyes are forever drawn into the red of Browning’s lips at the bottom before moving slightly right into the bouncy serifs of its stark white title font.

Where 20,000 Days on Earth (NYC September 17) is concerned, I don’t really know if Nick Cave has the ability to smile. His glare pointing our way from the center of the page is exactly the sight conjured while listening to his dark lyrics and brooding vocals. This is the devil of music lulling you closer, transfixed by his sharp eyes burning a hole into your brain.

Beyond his visage, though, this poster is also well designed. The black at top and bottom is expertly faded into the photo so there is no trace of its edge; the colorful office is muted just enough to not overpower the otherwise starkness of lights and darks mimicked in Cave’s wardrobe; and the bright Futura lettering is stepped inside the whole so we have another reason to enter cautiously, weary of any sudden movements by the man everything else appears to revolve around.

If September has one shining example of man caught in the throes of existential crisis as the world crushes his soul, it has to be Memphis (NYC September 5). The Kino Lorber release is given the most simplistic poster of all and yet it somehow proves to be one of the most powerful as well.

The coloring renders it into duotone although I’m quite certain it’s not actually so. The dark blacks and watered-down yellows simply permeate the image until it’s all you can see. Unafraid of fitting the pieces together wherever they look best, the designers refuse to follow any specific grid or justification. They wanted Willis Earl Beal‘s profile to fill the frame first and foremost, his silhouette creating an aura around him as water drips become suspended from his face. The text is mere afterthought, fit in not at the center like the bottom block, but in meticulously chosen areas meant for the greatest impact without sacrificing other crucial details to ensure legibility.

Running mazes

Teaming up on The Maze Runner (September 19) is Ignition and cold open. Well, I guess they’re actually competing, but one could say both are winners since both were selected together by the studio.

The latest attempt at cashing in on dystopian YA fiction, the brains behind the scenes of the property rightfully took a page from The Hunger Games‘ book by allowing themselves some sleek abstraction above glamour shot photography (Divergent decided on the latter). Just look at Ignition’s teaser. Was this ever hung in theaters considering no date is shown and only a tiny title at top and logo at bottom hidden in the right angles of the maze filling the page proves it’s a film at all? Do we care when the visuals are as iconic as this?

cold open looks to do similar things with their red and white counterpart recalling the oppressiveness of a swastika at first glance. It’s a totally minimal rendition of what the trailer showcases: empty expanse of safety against an unknown maze in the distance with one boy willing to enter despite the warnings. Like Ignition’s Buried before it, the geometry itself makes it stand out from the pack.

It’s not all lines though as the next two photo-centric examples are just as captivating. The first uses scale in a way that can’t help but wrest your attention from anything else it may have been honing in on. The walls are rising into the sky at an 80-degree angle—just askew enough from straight to warrant an uneasiness of balance while a shadowy figure leaps the gap. Again it’s just a title and logo, everything else seemingly inconsequential.

Hell, maybe it’s because the others are so good, but cold open’s motion-blurred piece of actors running horizontally is even worth mention. Between the stone texture of the title, grittiness of the imagery, and smoothness of the lines shooting across the frame, there’s a realism that shouldn’t exist with four characters at drastically different depths all appearing in-focus. Yet somehow my brain doesn’t seem to care.

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