Fresh off its big Golden Lion win at Venice, its hot-ticket premiere at TIFF, and Opening Film slot announcement at the upcoming at Sitges, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water gets this handsome charcoal-sketch poster that is a variant of sorts from the water-colour teaser design. Clearly articulating the ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’-as-a-love-story angle of the film and wearing its festival laurels in the corner, this one will be an eye catcher when it is hung (hopefully on paper, not on a screen) in multiplex lobbies in December. Me, I will be standing in the rush line in Toronto (hey, I’ve been here all week!) at TIFF hoping to see if the film lives up to its praise, or I will be waiting until December like the rest of you.
The Toronto International Film Festival has gotten underway as of yesterday, and I would be remiss if I didn’t offer one of my favourite posters, for one of my favourite films playing the festival. Valley of Shadows is a gorgeous modern version of a classic fairy tale. The story is basically simple: A boy goes into the deep dark woods to look for his lost dog, but discovers unexpected things in his journey. But the construction is impressively formal in how it conveys its images and tone.
The poster emphasizes what much of the film-making language tries tries to impart. Namely, is the lead character dreaming or is this wandering quest a reality? The large moon, and the long winding river both converge on the sleeping form of the lead character, Aslak. The boy, the dog and a boat offer the beginning of the journey at the bottom of the poster. The colours and texture is all gloomy fog, and imposing wilderness. But what is the most eye-catching is how of a piece, the sleeping body of the boy integrates with the horizon. It’s evocative, and original, like the film.
The trailer for the film is tucked under the fold.
Here is one way to stand out in a crowd. Take the imagery right out of the poster and go almost entirely with text. Looking like a paperback novel from the 1960s, the key art for Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird only graphic elements are a small crow on a white cross and a series of warm colour bars along the sides. It’s bold in its own way for avoiding the usual faces of the stars of the film (Saoirse Ronan has a particular striking visage). I doubt you will ever see this as a trend – note the missing credit block, which makes this more of a teaser poster than the ‘real thing.’ Nevertheless, I applaud the restraint and taste here. It works.
As key art goes, this latest poster for Blade Runner 2029 is about as assembly line as one can get. I only post it here to beat the dead horse of Orange and Teal one final time. For years since the Digital Intermediate became standard in the editing/post-production process, action film directors and producers (ahem, Michael Bay, Joel Silver) have been colour grading their films towards orange skin tones and blue tints, because science (SCIENCE!) says we like it. But we also get tired of it, and it has been falling out of favour (with a few exceptions) since Die Hard 5’s overkill use of it.
This phenomena has worked its way into posters as well, because Photoshop is pretty easy, but I’ve never seen it as prevalent as this one, which literally puts the orange on one half, and the teal on the other. Now this kind of syncs with the art-design of images and scenes we have seen in the movie. Roger Deakins is not really behind the curve here, rather he is actively moving between entire scenes of warm orange, cold blue, and steely grey, much the same way he used Yellow and Blue filters as a guide to where Emily Blunt’s character’s awareness/control was in Sicario. It is more just putting the same two halves (I suspect) of the movie onto one kind of standard one sheet.
Clear as mud? Righto.
World famous Chinese activist-artist Ai Wei Wei makes his film debut with Human Flow, and not surprisingly it is interesting from a visual point of view. My experience of Ai Wei Wei is limited to the pair of documentaries I’ve seen on the man, and the bicycle art installation he did in Toronto a couple years back, but one simple take-away, beyond the political, is that he like stacking, scattering or placing a lot of little things to make a big point. And that is exactly the design philosophy of this poster. The film itself is a documentary and has been selected for competition in the 2017 edition of the Venice Film Festival.
Usually reserved for thrillers, the ‘white border’ dividing photos design (See Heist, Triple Nine, Homefront, Red) a classic poster cliche. But as with many things Soderbergh, repurposing that cliche with a bit more care. For instance the borders here in some cases split a single image, rather than just lazily putting in on-set stills or head-shots of the movie stars (a major pet peeve of mine when it comes to poster design).
The black and white mix with sunset colours also really works, and is a stand out in a year of pink posters.
Further points for the side-mountain credit block to accomodate the race-car and drifting cash under the title.
After last weeks tirade against the lazy photoshopping of guns into movie posters, let us show some love for the rare hand-painted poster, be it digital or analog. Consider this gorgeous poster for Ted Geoghegan’s Mohawk which recently premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival. First off, using the reflection of the Mohawk warrior in the water to give the the poster an ‘upside-down’ feel, is supremely inviting to take a closer look. Second, the notes of red and white stand out against the dark shades of black that comprise much of the design. Third, the closer-to-the-middle credit block placement leaves space to have the forest and the moon in the frame, the lighting elements for the entire tableau. But also and indicator that this will be a film ‘lost in the wilderness’ both figuratively and literally. You simply do not see posters like this one very often, and it is a delight to seem them this well done when they come along.
I am not meaning to pick on Atomic Blonde, a film I am very much looking forward to for both the amazing Charlize Theron and the impeccable camera work and fight choreography on display in the trailers. But take a moment at this poster as ask yourself does it really need a gun on display in it? Look closer. Now ask if it really needs an obviously photoshopped gun at an awkward angle. Wouldn’t the poster be better to showcase the movie star, the neon, the films title in a more minimalist way? I know marketing works best at a glance, not a deep closer look, but seriously, you almost get the lazy addition at a glance.
Putting guns on movie posters (and DVD/BLU-Ray box art) has been one of those time honoured traditions that is taken for a given that more people will buy or see your movie if violence and action are promised. But is this really the case? I am not aware of any exact research correlating the appearance of a fire-arm on the poster and box-office. I suspect just as many films bomb with the star holding a gun as not, but marketing puts them in the hands of the lead on the poster as a ‘just in case.’ It is often done really carelessly. Business Insider did a piece in 2016 on guns on posters and came to the conclusion in American wide release, 20% of all films have guns on the poster. That is not 20% of action films, or even 20% of ‘genre’ films, but everthing including period pieces, comedies, kids animated films, dramas, et cetera.
1 in 5!
If I may hazard a guess, it is likely that in action blockbusters it is more like 8 (or even 9) in 10. For a film like John Wick or The Expendables it makes sense to have a gun in the poster as the film is about assassins and soldiers on the warpath. It even makes sense in Atomic Blonde, which has been labelled sight-unseen as the ‘female John Wick.’ But does it HAVE to be there? Are there no smarter, better ways to make a movie desirable than without a gun? Particularly when you have to get a designer to retroactively smoosch one into the deign. See also: Robert Rodriguez’s vampire/heist comedy From Dusk Till Dawn. Or Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted which has Angelina Jolie branding a pistol in the most awkward way. Or the poster for Andrew Niccol’s In Time, where Amanda Seyfried looking longingly into Justin Timberlake’s eyes isn’t enough, she must be strangely holding a gun while doing so.
The Thailand poster might have used the original image to make their poster for In Time, although the rest of the photoshop colours are ugly, Seyfried is just lovingly resting her arm on Timberlake’s chest. Or maybe Thailand just don’t like guns. Take the poster for the American remake of Bangkok Dangerous, it looks like it is the exception (that proves the rule?) insofar as Nicolas Cage’s enormous hand is so awkward WITHOUT a gun.
In conclusion, maybe the world needs less lazy-photoshop, but part of good poster design involves demonstrating the idea or feeling of your movie without resorting to cliches (unless you are imploding them.)
We are only halfway through the year, and there sure have been a lot of posters shaded pink. I noted this a few weeks ago when The Beguiled and Baby Driver, and I bring it up again because a LetterBoxd user, Matthew Buchanan, handily assembled a host of 2017 posters to underscore the point. Now I am sure with certain shades (Blue or Grey for instance) you can easily just grab a pile of posters in any year and infer that it was a banner year (pun intended) for a certain shade, but pink is an less than typical colour to do a poster with across the history of cinema, and the trend seems real. Even war films, like the latest Planet of the Apes feature got in on the action with bright pink trees providing the backdrop. Horror films, like Raw and the above Dead Shack, science fiction parables like Okja and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, gross out comedies like Rough Night and The Wedding Invitation, all genres seem represented in this trendy phase.
Hat-tip to The Film Stage‘s Instagram feed for pointing out this Japanese poster for The Coen’s 1984 debut film, Blood Simple. It feels that the foggy ‘scene; pictured might have been the inspiration of a scene from P.T. Anderson’s The Master, as well as the opening shot of Green Room. And the ‘dwarfed’ police car in an indistinct landscape may have also inspired the opening shot of Fargo. The bold orange stencil type kind of chews up the negative space here with the caption “The Thriller” is probably an unintentional cultural flourish, but it kind of works. If you would like to see a more minimalist take on this design, a DeviantArt user went for the same image but maximized the minimalism, as it were. I must admit that I like the composition of the Japanese poster a wee bit more though, with the prowler off-centre.
Many of the posters for Christopher Nolan’s war-rescue picture Dunkirk have been of the super-wide banner variety. Here is a classic vertical design (and nothing gives a vertical impression than a sailboat) that emphasizes the scope and chaos through depth of field rather than panorama. There are a lot of elements and things to see here, shadows of air planes, fishermen working frantically, soldiers drowning in the water, or floating on objects. The fire offers a few flashes of colour in an otherwise desaturated ‘grim seas’ palette. It is also noteworthy that the IMAX specialty releases of films tend to be a bit more adventurous with their poster designs, probably because they are not distributed as widely.