Posterized Propaganda November 2011: Too Many Characters!

Originally posted on The Film Stage

“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.

Hark! The holidays are upon us!

While that signifies the beginning of what should be the glorious awards season flood of quality work only the lucky few of us attending film festivals have seen, it also means time for family-friendly matinees. Dancing penguins and Muppets return as DiCaprio cultivates yet another accent for a veteran director only to end up watching someone else take the golden statue next February.

Sadly, it’s a very poor month for posters, though, as the kiddies generally receive work erring on the less inspired side of caution. The rest of November’s releases do thankfully contain a couple of intriguing designs mixed in—hell, even those sparkling vampires learned what asymmetrical composition is …

Character posters, anyone?

Arthur Christmas 1 Tower Heist 1 Harold & Kumar 1 Immortals 2

I’m not really sure why studios insist on releasing character posters to promote their films. They do nothing but prove how badly Photoshopped the final artwork is by giving each piece it’s own display over an uninspired background. I’ve never seen any of my local theatres post more than one version whether the film is playing on one screen or all. If they’re not buying into the overkill, who is? Whether kid-fare, adult, or anything in between, the entire concept baffles me and unfortunately only keeps bad design alive.

Arthur Christmas 2 Arthur Christmas 3

I would hope an animated feature could hold the means to be creative, but if Arthur Christmas (open November 23) is any indication, it does not. A BLT & Associates client, the final one-sheet does a nice job at culling together the cast for a makeshift Christmas tree at its center. Not the most inventive idea in the world, but it does the job.

Why not let these caricatures have some fun in their character spotlights, though? Was the firm going on vacation when these designs were due? A white background with a translucent stylized tree covered by the exact same pose as the final is highway robbery. Does creativity even exist anymore? Creepy ol’ Santa Sr. looks way too much like Herbert from “Family Guy” to give me any hope of originality let alone the teaser’s blatant Independence Day rip-off.

Tower Heist 2 Tower Heist 3

And yet they are outdone by Creative Partnership’s campaign for Tower Heist (open November 4). Itself a bit of a joke considering Brett Ratner’s attachment and the film’s concept of a ‘black Ocean’s 11’ in 2007 evolving into Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick, the character posters made me audibly laugh.

The one-sheet is a badly collaged brooding posse of actors atop a blue-tinged glass skyscraper with windows that unrealistically go right to the roof. A boring cityscape in the background, the designers didn’t even deem the subsequent posters worthy of a shake-up. The skyscraper platform is skewed a bit and the exact character cutouts are placed one by one because we totally need to see Téa Leoni as The FBI Agent …

The worst part is how I can’t even give The Cimarron Group props for doing a better job since their new poster is just as staged.

Harold & Kumar 2

Cold Open tries to buck the trend on A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (open November 4) with its crass band of hooligans. And while each character receives its own background and tagline, the end result isn’t much better than the last two strategies. Putting Danny Trejo in an ugly Christmas sweater has some appeal in and of itself, but the question remains as to why he needs his own advertisement. This is Harold & Kumar—you’re either a fan or not.

Making matters worse is how I actually enjoy the final piece. Photoshopped? Yes, it is. But the wreath and holly crest has a nice holiday spirit to it and the phallically placed candy cane alludes nicely to the 3D that will be hysterically and unnecessarily employed.

Immortals 2 Immortals 3

BLT & Associates do try to make up for Arthur, though, on Immortals (open November 11). Capitalizing on Tarsem Singh’s own visionary prowess, the character shots here are surprisingly captivating in their stark contrast on pitch-black fields. I can see these placed on one of those multi-sided cardboard towers with a different actor every panel a la Harry Potter’s takeover a few months ago and not be mad.

Embarrassed to admit my acceptance for the final one-sheet’s combination of each in a spiral towards hell, I can’t deny its appeal. Rather than pose them all on a linear plane, we twirl around through the chaos that I’m sure will be mirrored in the film. A sea of tense muscles and angry scowls, its complete surrender to the design is welcome.

Touched up

Jack & Jill 1 A Dangerous Method 1 London Boulevard 1 J. Edgar 1
Jack & Jill 2

Who thought Jack and Jill (open November 11) was a good idea? Whoever had the unfortunate task to advertise this debacle at ARSONAL should be given a reprieve and as far as the American entry is concerned, they deserve it. What else could you really do with a concept of Adam Sandler playing his twin sister? Slap the faces on a sheet, throw the credit list in the middle, and take a nice long shower to wash that unclean feeling away.

Well, ARSONAL’s Spanish branch decided it wasn’t good enough. They decided to not only put some characters into a scene that screams fabrication, but also airbrush the hell out of them. Sandler A is way too giddy in the pool and Sandler B is shrugging his shoulders like it’s the punchline expression to a horrible laugh-track sitcom. And what’s with Katie Holmes? Could they have made her head look any more out of place on that body?

A Dangerous Method 2

If only they could have used a bit of the class from this intriguingly gorgeous sheet for A Dangerous Method (limited November 23). It really is amazing what can be accomplished with simple effects like transparency filters.

Two posters with the same subject—a shot of Keira Knightley flanked on either end by Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen—and yet they have completely different feels. Whereas one barely escapes the horror of floating heads by its simplicity of concept, the other nails the psychological angle of the film perfectly. Still floating heads on the surface, the combination of each actor’s head into Knightley’s speaks volumes for the film itself. And it doesn’t look too shabby on the artistic front either.

Lock Stock Crank

And moving along to another of the actress’s films, while people will harp on about artists’ over-use of filters and aesthetic reappropriation, I do believe the poster for London Boulevard (limited November 11) succeeds in both. Exuding a Guy Ritchie vibe and utilizing the long angled barrel of a gun for in-your-face effect, the dirty and crude design works to grab your attention alongside a color palette that somewhat subverts the subject depicted. I would have liked the font at the top to embrace the style more than its skewed sans serif, but perhaps it would have become too busy. Either way, the cliché works for me.

But if you are looking to see how filtering and digital manipulation can truly alter an image’s tone, look no further than WORKS ADV and Bill Gold’s J. Edgar (limited November 9 and open November 11). Coupling the intensity of Leonardo DiCaprio’s face with the gentle slopes of the title’s cursive gives the poster an interesting dynamic.

J. Edgar 2

Despite that, though, it still is merely a photograph covered with text. So why not make it a little more patriotic? Yes, it is fully on the nose in terms of topic, but I kind of like the old halftone/newspaper feel of the image and the roughly textured stripes of red and white behind it. The text drowns a bit in comparison to the white on dark of the untouched design, but that’s okay. The purpose of the work is to scream America and the CIA’s father. To that end it is directly on the mark.

Kids love Thanksgiving

Happy Feet Two 1 The Muppets 1 Hugo 1 Breaking Dawn 1

As far as the more mainstream children’s fare this month, the selection is diverse both cinematically and poster-wise. Some tried and true options hold strong while other generic stalwarts find a way to freshen their look a bit.

Happy Feet Two 2

Anyone has read my reviews since I started writing them over four years ago will be familiar with my absolute hatred for George Miller’s Happy Feet. Taking a cutesy, music-filled—albeit oddly suggestive songs for young viewers—‘ugly duckling’ tale and making it a forum for liberal brainwashing rubbed me the wrong way. Hopefully Happy Feet Two (open November 18) finds a way to make up for the unsolicited political debate by giving audiences what they paid to see—a fun, innocuous romp with penguins.

If eclipse’s campaign is truthful, maybe it will be all about the smiling birds. Playing to the film’s strengths, we see penguins having fun and sliding about the ice ready for a dance number. I really like the sweatered treatment to the ‘TWO’ but can’t say I’m impressed by the litany of voice-actor names at the top. The industry has been forced to market through celebrities so much that this firm went so far as to add a couple Krills in a little bubble to use Matt Damon and Brad Pitt’s names … shameless.

The Muppets 2

At least with The Muppets (open November 23) we’ll get a dose of marketing sans self-gratification. Right? Well, FIVE33 started it off in the right direction by stuffing as many of Jim Henson’s creations as he could in the frame. Adults my age and older have fond memories of the characters and the current generation of kids will surely be as enamored as we were. There is no need to do more than give us that feeling of nostalgia and leave it at the aptly minimal name itself.

Unsurprisingly, Jason Segel and company finally is included on the second poster. I don’t mind the three stars’ names at the top, nor Segel’s goofy face and Amy Adams inclusion. The fact the designers were able to retain the mass of puppets alongside them is commendable and keeps the fun going. It’s just a shame we as a public don’t care as much about the Muppets’ voices as Elijah Wood in Happy Feet. But then Frank Oz and others had some issues with the script and didn’t lend their iconic vocals anyway.

Saftey Last!

And while those two are more conventional entries to the holiday family feature trend, Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated Hugo (open November 23) is a bit more unique. BLT & Associates could have gone the easy route by throwing some actors up, maybe highlight Sacha Baron Cohen’s mug, and make it boringly obvious. Instead, however, they utilized the aspect of the story that most intrigues me—the careful use of cinema history at its core.

In that respect, we are treated with a visually stunning reenactment of Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! The perspective shows a nice grasp of the 3D tech used and the ethereal quality of the snow shrouding the frame is a delightful use of atmosphere. Playful, magical, and beautiful all at once, this is a poster that knows what its goals are and isn’t afraid to stick to them without dumbing down.

And speaking of dumb, how about those Twilight movies? When you’re a phenomenon like Stephenie Meyer’ film adaptations you can pretty much get away with anything. Over-wrought emotion and tween squee are I’m sure what the designers think of first, so I must applaud The Cimarron Group depicting that theme in a striking manner with Breaking Dawn (open November 18).

Breaking Dawn 2

Yes, it’s all about Bella and Edward with their new wedding rings. Yes, hers seems to be on the wrong hand. But if we look beyond their ‘lost in love’ expressions for one second, we will see a carefully crafted composition of figures. The embrace fills the page and the actors bleed off all edges. It’s a design that shows forethought and a flair for movement, so bravo to them.

Even the teaser captivates as it’s engulfed by red sky, a couple cropped trees our only inference of a horizon. Maybe this newfound care in artistry means good things for the film? Wouldn’t that be a surprise?

Emotional minimalization

Melancholia 1 The Descendants 1 Another Happy Day 1 The Artist 1

One of my—if not the—favorite films this year somehow falls victim to the character poster too. And it isn’t done well.

Melancholia 3 Melancholia 2

Melancholia (limited November 11) is fantastic in scope and aesthetic with an opening prologue that contains a slew of brilliantly composed images ripe for the picking. But rather than go that route, OTMentertain decides to frame the actors in a thin white line while they look into the sky—the same tagline used for all. I see absolutely no use for these when you have great shots like Kirsten Dunst in her wedding dress.

And while the foreign poster uses the umpteenth example of covering an image with sans serif white text—an element that is slowly eating away at me no matter how much I enjoy it—the original one-sheet for Cannes uses the still perfectly. I love the bright white background, the small windowed image, and the black border at its edge. Resembling a book cover, I can see it blown up on easels outside the theatre door, beckoning you in for its tale of Biblical-scale apocalypse.

Another festival film’s poster—Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (limited November 18)—comes to mind as far as minimal scope is concerned. Diving into the mental aspect of the film’s central plotline of a father dealing with his two young daughters after the death of his wife, Mojo beautiful constructs an image with his pensive hope to understand their needs as they play in the distance. The movement into the image is powerful and the simplicity of its elements a wonderful example of economy by using only the necessary pieces to portray its message.

Mad Men

But if you really want an economy of design, look no further than my favorite two adverts of the month. The first being for Another Happy Day (limited November 18), its blank canvas with only a silhouetted male figure falling at top right is magical in its use of space. Reminiscent of the title sequence from AMC’s “Mad Men”, the black and white palette gives it a sophisticated style that uses its bright yellow intertube as a playful reprieve. With your eye drawn automatically to the colorful flourish, it slowly falls like this man to eventually settle upon the title below.

And with that comes one of the most stunning examples of artistry this year in the classy sheet for The Artist (limited November 23). Portraying its silent film aesthetic through the brightly lit chiaroscuro of its lead actors’ faces, the contrast is riveting. The font of ‘Artist’ is sophisticated as it mirrors the contours of the faces above it and the use of red is a beacon for attention. I abhor Scriptina as a font—well, at least its overuse—but even it’s ‘The’ seems right at home. More a testament to the design than the font itself, this poster helps me remember that effective art does still exist in the industry.

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