The Movie Poster Conundrum
Earlier today, I came across a marvelous sight, a De Lorean zapping across a grid, complete with a complimentary Ghostbusters logo slapped over a caution tape pattern and an “Ecto 88” license plate, all of which was bathed beautifully in neon pink and blue, very 80s! Hell, it’s more 80’s than most 80’s posters and it’s cranked even further with the title written with the decade’s stylish (and often-emulated) typography.
“It can’t be,” my mind screamed from a nostalgia-fueled poster that popped with vibrant color and fanboy-ish inspiration. “There’s no way this is the official Ready Player One poster!”
It wasn’t, but it should’ve been.
The fan-made poster was created by an artist named Brian Jack Farris, who prefaced this image on a Facebook post with “This is not key art!!” He further elaborated, “In my line of work, one of the things I learned early on was that ‘the coolest artwork never gets picked,’” and went on to state that he created a piece of art that was rooted in the style and vibe of Ernest Cline’s novel, from which Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation comes out on March 30th.
Farris is right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been blown away by fan art, rejected artwork, and collectible posters from IMAX showings, but have had “meh” feelings toward key art and home video covers. The first time I was truly hit by the “rejected cool versus official lame” poster conundrum was back in 2004, when Hellboy was coming out. I was interested in the film, but felt the promotional materials were so-so. And then one day, Ain’t It Cool News posted a majestic image passionately created by the legendary Drew Struzan. (Surely, I don’t have to tell you this is the man behind many iconic images, such as Back to the Future, Hook, The Goonies, and a number of Star Wars and Indiana Jones films..) And here’s the kicker, it was rejected and for what? A bland image of Hellboy standing. It doesn’t grip you, it doesn’t get your attention, it just says, in a Philip Seymour Hoffman voice, “Hey, this is Hellboy. Whatever.”
Look, I get it. You gotta sell the movie, marketing this, marketing that, blah blah blah. But how are posters supposed to do that? By grabbing your attention.
The official poster, which debuted not too long ago, is pretty decent in its own right. I believe I even shared it on our Facebook page, but shortly after that, I forgot nearly everything about it. I couldn’t even remember what it depicted. At all. Farris’ poster, on the other hand, grabs me, slams me against a wall, and screams, “This is the freakin’ 80s and it’s frakin’ awesome!” More importantly, I couldn’t stop thinking it. The image is embedded into my brain. (It could be argued that it’s too on the nose and relies purely on familiar images, but this is very much true to Cline’s novel, which indulges itself on the reader’s fond familiarity of 80’s movies, music, and video games.)
Suffice to say, the image is unforgettable and had me thinking, shouldn’t that be the goal, to make promotional images people can’t stop thinking about?
Now, I’m not saying Warner Bros., the studio behind Ready Player One, should use this fan-made poster. It’s a great image and would make a fantastic steelbook edition, but it works better for Back to the Future Part II. It’s the potential that hooks me. Why shouldn’t a film such as this have cooler posters along these lines?
To play devil’s advocate, theatrical posters no longer hold the weight they used to carry. They no longer need to, as we’re constantly assaulted by social media with motion ads, sponsored previews, 360-degree videos, and so many other gimmicks, up to and including the cast of the new Jumanji lip-syncing to Gun N’ Roses. It’s practically impossible not to know about the movie before it comes out. They’re just another thing amongst many other things.
With that said, I still don’t see a good reason why films shouldn’t have more inspired, stylized art. Complacency and lack of motivation on their part aside, it doesn’t hurt to go the extra mile. Posters and displays at the local cineplex are still a valid form of advertisement. Whether it be provocative or just plain cool, a good poster is a unique image that stands out from the rest. It’ll catch our eye and, bam, hit us on a visceral level. It might even send a message, “this movie is different, this movie is unique,” fueling our need to see the film even more.
While I can’t imagine it’s a marketing goal for a fan’s artwork to trend better than your own, at the end of the day, good art is good art regardless of who it comes from and posters, and other such promotional knick knacks, are purely complimentary to the actual film, which is the true main event.