The good, the bad, and the ugly posters of the week
This week leaves me a little empty again in terms of discovering any inspiring or eye-popping new poster releases (and on the week of Halloween, I’m left longing for some good old-fashioned horror movie aesthetic). Speaking of that classic horror look (which was executed oh-so-well by the one sheet for THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, which I wrote about before back in September), in my on-going research of all things visually delicious, I came across a great collection of classic illustrated horror movie posters, and I procured all 100 of them for you all in a Flickr set HERE. (There’s some sci-fi sprinkled here and there as well.)
You’re sure to recognize many of the movies, there are many classic favorites in the collection. This brings up the notion of sheer nostalgia versus genuinely well designed/directed/illustrated work. Some may argue that every single piece is a work of poster design genius. I have to disagree. Where every single poster is indeed wonderful, it’s not necessarily because it’s a piece of critically or fundamentally acclaimed art/design. I’d venture to say that a majority of folks will absolutely love a poster (or several) not because of how well the type is crafted, the color palette, or the illustrator chosen to portray the hero/villain, but because of the subject. They’ll love it for the movie, not the poster representing it. It’s jerks like myself that can dissect a perfectly “suitable” poster and poo-poo on it because of the way the type is crafted, the color palette, et cetera, et cetera. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those jerks too. Let's be friends!
All jerking aside, the idea of proper portrayal when it comes to the movie and content a poster is representing is the usual theme here, which, even beyond design fundamentals, is just as important. After all, the typical purpose of these posters is to get your attention, to create a desire to see that film. Yet, we often see posters that either over-sell or completely miss the mark (this is done a lot with trailers; you know, it’s how a movie can have different trailer edits which showcases different aspects, resulting in different takeaways, leaving you feeling either excited, intrigued, wanting more, or revealing all the worth-while parts of the movie in a mere couple of minutes).
Let’s use the following as a classic example:
We ALL know that PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is regarded as one of the worst movies ever made (which is why I love it so), but gosh, would you look at this poster? Compared to other horror/sci-fi/B-movies of its time (circa 1959), it really is quite elegant and tasteful, from the composition, the nicely handled modern typography, and even the modest color palette, all while still maintaining its sensational sensibilities. If you’re familiar with this classic movie, you’ll recognize that everyone and everything portrayed in the poster is, in fact, in the movie. Though, you will also recognize that this poster makes PLAN 9 seem pretty slick and almost epic, which is decidedly NOT the case. It's almost laughable to compare this well-made, well-designed poster to the movie it represents. Imagine if you were a sci-fi-horror-phile back in the 50s, and saw that poster proudly displayed at your local movie house. Egads! You’d be saving your dimes for opening day. You probably would have wished you saw ANATOMY OF A MURDER instead (oh, but you passed on that one because you thought the poster looked boring, right?) (Tell that to renowned art director and designer Saul Bass, who designed it, along with some other memorable classic film posters and opening titles, not to mention directing the bathroom murder scene in the original PSYCHO, with his buddy Alfred.) (I’ll do an article about Saul in the future, stay tuned...)
So you can clearly see how it’s so important to properly portray the content, otherwise you’ll end up with unhappy viewers, and potentially worse yet, disenfranchised viewers who may be hesitant to pay admission for a subsequent film by the same studio or director (“Oh yeah, we saw that one, the poster looked cool, so did the trailer, but damn that movie sucked...”). Hard lesson learned.
This brings me to this week’s current poster, and the only one I’ll be talking about that was released since last we met here.
PAVED WITH THE BEST INTENTIONS? - poster for THE ROAD
What is going on here? This is, if I’m correct, the fourth domestic version I’ve seen. It doesn’t help that the release date of this much anticipated film has been postponed a few times now, dragging out the process of promotion. Now here’s the pickle, on a personal level, I’ve been anticipating the release of this film simply because I LOVE the book. Secondly, I LOVE the film version of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, by the same author, Cormack McCarthy. When I read the Pulitzer Prize-winning THE ROAD, I imagined it to be quite an astounding film. When I found out that one was in the works, and Viggo Mortensen was perfectly cast as the main character to take the journey, I was convinced that it would be, in fact, astounding. Upon the trailer debut, and a couple of posters later, I began getting a little worried.
With each poster version, there was more concern for me. When I viewed the trailer, I was deeply concerned over the handling/packaging of the content. I know this story already, I read the source material. I went down the road itself, myself, and it was, at the risk of revealing too much, harrowing to say the least, yet undeniably beautiful and masterful. What I’ve seen as of current as we approach the release hasn’t been particularly beautiful nor masterful, in my opinion. I just can’t help but feel that THE ROAD has taken a turn for the worse, opting for shock, awe, and the obvious, leaving subtlety and Cormack’s purity on the curb. I’m now at a crossroads (you knew I was going to say it, eventually).
I really hope this is just your typical case of a movie studio not knowing how to sell such difficult and challenging content (read the book) while keeping the film itself true to the source. When you look at the evolution of the posters, though, I fear that the ultimate destination won’t be a direct reflection of the map we’re following here.
So, you’ve guessed it, I’ve tackled this one myself. As much as I like the original teaser poster (which is culled from some of the variant book jacket designs of the novel), and how I feel like it best suits the content, I decided to split the difference. I created a version that, in my opinion, still holds the stark, desolate, empty, quiet foreboding that is captured in the initial teaser poster, but, without trying to turn it into an “action movie” poster, which I feel these latest posters (and the trailer especially) are attempting to be.
I would hope that other fans of the book, like myself, would feel that this version is “worthy” of the content, and those who are unfamiliar would still be intrigued on some level. There’s of course the chance that one might interpret it as a racing film, but, there isn’t a working automobile in sight, just an empty, cracked, hardened road, and not much else. Don’t deviate off course...or else.