Friday, November 5, 2004

Revenge of the Movie Poster

View the poster for Star Wars Episode III: Revenege of the SithView the posters for the original Star Wars trologyView the posters for the prequel Star Wars trology
This fall Lucas Film Ltd. released the movie poster of the final chapter to the Star Wars sagaEpisode III: Revenge of the Sith. For many die-hard Star Wars fans (we at Fight.Boredom know nothing about die-hard Star Wars fans…heavens no…) this poster was as much anticipated as the subsequent trailer and final film. Indeed, this expectation made the poster’s design that much more disappointing.

With almost thirty years of marketing behind it, the Star Wars film saga and its expanded media universe has an impressive catalogue of well executed and inspiring design. Focusing on the film series alone, the original trilogy and the two previous prequel films all profited from well-designed and exciting movie posters.

The movie poster for Return of the Sith immediately stands apart from its predecessors for two reasons. First, it is far more abstract. A survey of the series’ previous posters shows few that employ interpretive design elements – they rely directly on photographic or photo-realistic representation of characters and story elements. Second, it treats the Darth Vader character uncharacteristically. While three of the five previous posters have featured imagery of the series’ most notorious villain, each had done so without as much distortion and, arguably, as much distraction.

The combination of these elements alongside the imagery of the Vader-to-be, Anakin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christianson) proves complicating. While the illustration of his inner demon finally erupting forth is conveyed, it is not executed with the same graphic simplicity utilized most of the previous film posters. The final result is an uncharacteristic and clumsy execution – one that feels unnatural in its presentation of the Anakin character and irreverent in its depiction of Darth Vader.

But it’s just a movie poster, right?

Movie marketing relies most heavily on the cinematic trailer – movie posters, print advertising, television, and Web promotions rating a distant second. But of these secondary media, the movie poster figures perhaps the most prominently. It is often the initial marketing media, appearing in theater lobbies, conventions, and publications before principal filming is even complete. The poster is often featured over the film stars’ shoulder during press junket interviews. Secondary marketing material, including newspaper ads, billboards, web sites, and licensed products, often reuse the poster’s key art and logo – it forms the design foundation for much of the subsequent media – the trailer included.

Hollywood poster designer John C. Allen was quoted in a interview on the subject, saying, “Generally, most movie posters tend to be conservative, an effort to appeal to the broadest (and lowest) common denominator. It's important to remember we're not necessarily out to create a “cool image” – we're trying to market/sell a film.”

He goes on to define two “rules” about movie posters:
  1. "Can you tell what it is if you were driving by at 40 mph and saw it in a bus shelter"?
  2. "Would your mother understand it?"
So how does this Star Wars poster fare against these two rules? While the imagery is quickly recognizable as Star Wars – even at 40 miles per hour – my mother did not understand it. Despite decades of Star Wars paraphernalia and videos in her home, she failed to recognize the Vader mask awkwardly integrated into Anakin’s billowing cloak.

But despite these grumblings, don’t think that this is Star Wars’ first marketing disappointment. I encourage anyone with access to the Original Trilogy DVDs to watch the original film’s trailers. A more awkward and disastrous three minutes of science fiction has rarely been seen by this writer (with the possible except of any three-minute selection from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes – or any one-minute selection of From Dusk Til Dawn).

And it should be pointed out that other marketing material for the film is more laudable. The film’s logo, revealed almost a year ago, is a wonderful, if sinister, reflection of Star Wars’ previous climatic film, Return of the Jedi.

One can only hope that this poorly executed film poster is actually the harbinger of good things to come. Episodes I and II both had wonderful teaser posters – it was the films themselves that left much to be desired. Perhaps this time the luck of millions of Star Wars devotees will be the other way around. fb

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