When Ant-Man was being publicised this year, its poster showed the predictable phrase ‘No shield, No armour, No problem’. This release sparked a series of parodies on the internet, indicating that the world of cinematic advertising has become somewhat stagnated.
It’s not controversial to assert that film posters are mostly all the same: sci-fi thrillers featuring dark colours with streaks of blue light, perhaps with a massive semi-transparent face superimposed over the top; action films featuring the main character’s torso facing away from the camera, turning their head towards it, gun at their side, probably a dramatic explosion or inaccurately-coloured sunset in the background; ‘lad’ comedies featuring four middle-aged men standing looking baffled under the frame of someone’s bare legs; adventure fantasies featuring a character standing on a rock looking out at some vast CGI landscape; romances which simply feature a conventional man looking slightly downwards into the eyes of a conventional woman, gold title below – every film featuring its stock characters standing in their stock poses on a stock background.
Of course, not all of these posters are bad. Plenty were iconic in their day, and it was these posters which set the standards upon which the vast majority of today’s posters are based. The Star Wars model was once not a model, but simply Star Wars, and the use of legs in the foreground was perhaps more original and effective for 1967’s The Graduate than for 1992’s California Hot Wax.
So from the torrent of film posters released in (fairly) recent years, here are a few which have gone further than simply being a big photo of someone’s face floating in mid-air – click the pictures themselves a few times to take a closer look…
This film follows the story of a college student who, under the influence of a bullying teacher, becomes completely obsessed with and taken over by his desire to be one of the world’s best jazz drummers. The poster shows him standing on the edge of a drumstick, showing how his drumming pushes him to the edge of life, or at least, of what could easily be swallowed as healthy. The bright orange and cream give the poster a sketchy, college-born style, but the character and the ledge he stands on are not drawn, but real photos, showing that the film spares no grit or realism.
This film is as bizarrely and quirkily thatched together as its poster. Watching it is akin to being aboard a rickety and unstable rollercoaster, hurtling you through a story which only haphazardly makes sense. The superb cinematography, often featuring layers upon layers of digital compositing, frames everything in a bright, colourful world which always fits together at interesting angles and presents the viewer with large amounts of information every shot. The poster does likewise – frames within the frame of the poster, colours, quirky costumes, lots of characters, lots of information, all at once. This is the character of Wes Anderson’s most recent feature film, and the central image of the hotel itself gives a hint as to the aesthetics of this constantly exciting film.
The intention of this poster, which might appear fairly normal at a glimpse, along with its film’s intention, is to satirise. National Lampoon’s Vacation features the archetypical family man, Clark Griswold, who longs to take his family on the perfect ‘Griswold family vacation’. Of course, in his dreams lie his dysfunctionality, and everything he touches turns to disaster. The poster shows this character drawn in a style which portrays him as outrageously muscular, satirising the idea of the perhaps a bit too masculine action hero. He wields the glistening tennis racket in lieu of a sword, and his spectacular limbs are employing their full strength to hold some suitcases. The bag of golf clubs strapped on his back parodies the gun sling, straps of ammo, or perhaps even the noble quiver of arrows. A helpless miniature woman clings to each tree trunk of a leg, satirising the depictions of femininity which tie into these tropes, and hell, there’s even an eagle flying around above him to make the poster truly all-American. The skeleton of a dead fish hanging from his fishing rod acts as a final touch in making this poster look completely ridiculous, revealing the true ridiculousness of the subject matter upon which it comments.
Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb… More akin to a political cartoon in an edition of Private Eye than a film poster, this simple, angular design depicts the backs of two somewhat grotesque politicians, one with the subtle detail of someone else’s arm draping over from behind, clutching a wine glass – a hint at the perverse corruption of these two telephone-happy bureaucrats. Between them sits a globe divided simply into America and Communism, apparently the two opposing sides of the Cold War – and out of the active front line of this conflict comes simply an endless hoard of cold grey warplanes which fill the majority of the poster’s space, showing a clear opinion on what these gentlemen are producing. The title, which at first appears short, then goes on, and on, and on, and on, similarly shows us the self-perpetuation, the madness, the bureaucracy, of war.
Say what you like about The Phantom Menace, but this poster has something. Perhaps that something is (literally) foreshadowing, perhaps a comment on the theme of the inevitability of destiny in the Star Wars films. Perhaps, when an innocent child is shown with their terrible future pinned behind them where everyone but they can see it, it’s simply very, very sad. Dramatic irony is the key phrase here, and while this film would perhaps be more accurately represented by an image of the face of Jar Jar, open mouthed, tongue flailing out, spit flying about his Gungan lips, this poster lets us into what the the saga’s beginning could have been, had it been a bit more tender.