Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I Dislike Modern Movie Marketing Images

Let me put my point up-front for once: many modern movie posters - and especially their DVD covers - are disappointing. Big simple pictures of the lead characters have become pretty common. I get the feeling that it's marketing as psychology instead of advertising that's still an artistic expression.

Does that make sense? Posters and box covers are generally paintings, drawings, photos, or something like pop art (see left). They are supposed to build interest for a film, telling you its title and/or the people involved in making it; for cinema distribution, it's gotta have a release date. Simple, right?

But filmmakers don't go to the trouble of producing a picture to settle for bad or unsuccessful promotion; often, the director isn't even involved in promotional decisions. Every executive producer wants something that'll work, that'll sell. So they hire graphic designers or ad/marketing teams; those are the people are supposed to create something unique and effective.

A movie itself should be an artistic effort - and the same goes for the image outside a movie house, or on the DVD case. So why do so many rely on posters that feel like unambitious, cheap shilling?
I take DVD covers as the same as film posters, these days. Instead of giving you a tantalizing image of adventure or drama, you often just get big-ass pictures of the leads in a film. It gives the idea that you're not really watching a "narrative film" with a story and dialogue, you're just going to see "a character" or "the stars" in this pic.

It's annoying on one level, because it means that the poster itself tells us very little about the movie. Instead of helping to build the world of a movie, it's just promoting the actors who are the biggest box office draws, or the fictitious role that everyone wants to see. It feels inadequate and cheap, which are bad qualities unless you're mindless or desperately bored.

It's true that some pictures have many different posters. Sometimes there are multiple versions for the US market, and there are usually multiple covers for world-wide distribution. Sure, there's a 30 year-old US poster of A Nightmare on Elm Street that shows only Robert Englund's classic villain - but that's not what was outside movie houses in 1984. Simply compare the poster for the original aNoES with the one for the 2010 reboot.

Suggestive of a compelling story
Suggestive of deadly dude in yo face

Just Freddy. Because, I guess, it's not important that he's threatening teens, or to show people in some freaked-out impossible dream world. Nope, it all just comes down to, "watch the movie with the burned-to-hell guy with knives on his glove; we'll sell you a t-shirt with his picture on it later."

The poster on the right is a nice drawing, I guess, but it's completely superficial and... too knowing, while also being limp. And all that's at the heart of the other way that I find this trend problematic.

Even going by simple logic, why am I supposed to go to a movie because I see an image of some guy with Freddy Kreuger's look if I haven't already seen these movies before? The hat and the glove don't tell me a damn thing unless I live in a world where Freddy is super-popular.

So here we've got a bit of promotion that can't generate interest, because it assumes you already know what it's about. Honestly, it makes no sense - posters are supposed to be a cold sell... Or maybe I've forgotten I live in a cinematic world of remakes, reboots, sequels, and re-envisioneerings of any and publicly known IP.

And I can show you several more examples, but I don't want to be repetitious: a lot of these appeared in my What's in a Name post. Check it out to see the posters for Wolverine: Origins: Ugh, or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, or a side-by-side comparison of the posters for Star Wars Episodes 3 and 5. I take on a related topic there, and I really enjoyed writing it.

One after another, there's very little about these posters that pop. As absurdist and abstract as the original Nightmare above poster is, you've gotta admit it's actually interesting. And, actually, absurdist and abstract is perfectly appropriate for a movie about deadly dreams; weird is right.

Again, I sometimes get loud at Hollywood because I see a great big lowering of the bar in all their pandering to audiences too much and dumbing things down. If you ask them for less, they will give you less; especially if they receive the kind of profits that support their ridiculous ideas about film watchers. This is why I get pissy.

If I want to cut it short, I can just close simply: Don't settle - aspire to something better.

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