Sunday, December 28, 2014

QftWo 12/22-12/28 - Imposters #78: Interstellar

So, between October and early December, I kept running past posters for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. By now, you should have read my review of the movie, as well as the follow-up entry about flaws in the film. And whether or not you loved the film, I think we'll agree that this poster on the left is neat.

Despite the four main roles listed at the top, McConaughey's spacesuit with the Arctic-style background fills up the frame and makes for a compelling image. Nolan's name is left off (how humble!) of the bottom, but his pedigree is listed in bold (Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception) to draw people in. Then, the different formats are noted with the release date below everything. Above all that text, you get the nifty tagline, "The end of Earth will not the end of us." I think the all-caps makes the line sound appropriately urgent.

What was even more interesting was spotting the next poster. Sorry for the reflections in some of these, but it was impossible to avoid - and sometimes I had to shoot in the street, when a red light stopped traffic.

Instead of overcast conditions and snow, we have a bright sunburst and distinct cloud lines. Ocean fills the bottom third, making up the horizon, although the sky dominates this second image. And instead of just one astronaut, we have two - walking to a ship that's landed in the water. Most of the text is identical, save they're placed in the blank space at the upper-right. A new addition is another tagline, a very promising and intriguing statement - "Mankind's next step will be our greatest."

Then I noticed the third poster. A cool-looking circular space station next to... I don't know what, a gas giant? The colors are purples and blacks, distinct from the scheme of the prior graphics. Everything visual is placed on the far right, with the text again in the empty space - but this time, it's in the center of the ad.

And we get yet another tagline, "Go further." The words chosen for these posters remain engaging and cool, working well with the images they're set to. I mean, judging by the space station and celestial body, yes, "going further" will happen.

But the fourth poster changes it all again. A completely new color palette gives us browns, yellows, and whites for the lower half. Black and deep blues make up the rest. And, instead of the fantastical images we've seen so far, we get the more mundane sight of a father and daughter staring up at a field of stars. The upper-left of the image dominates again.

The text is returned to the upper-right corner, and we see still another tagline: "Mankind was born on Earth, it was never meant to die here." So we not only get a new (and still cool) catch-phrase, it suggests something about the story even more strongly than the earlier ones.

I also like that the language is gender-neutral, which implicitly makes the story applicable to everyone - please note that we have exactly two male and two female names on the poster. The impact of the words is heightened by the inclusion of the second poster's (also gender-neutral) tagline at the bottom of all the text.

And then I discovered the fifth poster, and wondered if the marketing department was f--king with me. Totally different image this time - we're back in Arctic conditions, but people are walking on snow and have ice hanging over the top of the frame. We also have three astronauts instead of two. No faces are clearly visible, but the second astronaut is looking back at the third one - and it might be Matthew's face.

This time, the action of the image is on the right side, with the text and film title taking up most of the space. And it's here where you really notice the cool thing that they're doing with the title. The repeated letters in its name are staggered in size, so the initial "T" is thicker than the following one, while the second "R" is thicker than the first. The designer clearly has a love of balance, as the double letters are set in opposing colors. You also detect the balance in that both "E"'s are identical in size, if not color: one big vs. small, one small vs. one big, and two that are equal.

The color behind the two halves of the word - "inter" and "stellar" - also displays balance. It changes to provide a strong contrast with the background colors surrounding the word. The contrast is pleasing to the eye, but it's most impressive and noticeable in this fifth ad. "Stellar" has white lettering with black coloring behind it, but set against a white background. So cool.

In fact, I was almost surprised that they reused the tagline from the first poster.

By this point, I'd only seen one portrait-style image (thin and tall). Everything else was landscape-style (wide and short).

So, sorry for the two black poles that slightly block the photo, but I really wasn't expecting to find a sixth poster, much less that it displayed the most mundane sight yet: daughter on the left, staring at her dad, on the right. She's looking up to him, and he's gazing down into her eyes. The close-up includes the head and torso of each person, despite the size different between child and adult.

Even weirder, Paramount's marketing department decided to leave off all of the cast names, and the director's prior hits. The bottom-center here offers the title, "in theaters and IMAX" instead of listing the three format options, and... Yeah, and a body of text: "Prepare for the journey/For whatever adventure life takes you on, get ready. Get Hamilton. And discover the world of Interstellar."

And this is when it gets even more weird, because you realize this is a portrait-style watch advertisement (for a "pilot's" timepiece) intentionally combined with the movie poster to make one combined landscape-style graphic. I mean, sure it's product placement, but a space movie poster that stresses a father-daughter relationship is... it stands out as a choice, y'know? It's also very appropriate to the themes of the film.

By then, I was just kind of stunned by the number and variety of these promotional materials. It came as no surprise that I found the seventh poster above, a portrait-cropped version of the third poster.

It really does right by the image - we see more of whatever that is that's behind the space station, and it looks gorgeous. The reds and bluish-greens are very eye-catching, in addition to the mystery of wondering what you're looking at.

The most unexpected thing is that the full cast, title, etc text was included. But maybe that's a change they only make when the poster doubles as product promotion. I don't know what kind of logic guides that decision, but hey, fine.

Nor was I shocked to see an eighth poster, below - I was just impressed that they went with a portrait-crop of the fourth poster, with Coop and Murphy staring at the stars.

As ordinary as the sight is, this poster also benefits from the narrower focus. The golden and brown tones look beautiful on the lower third of the frame. The whites and blues of the sky are breath-taking. And the way the clouds fade into the indigo and black of space? It's glorious.

My heart-felt congratulations go out to the people that worked on these graphics. They're great, and show a lot of thought in every aspect of every poster - save maybe the watch ad.

The almost-annoying part of it was finding out that there were at least two more posters that I missed. One of those has three astronauts looking around by the ship that landed in the water. The other, though, has a silhouette of dad and daughter staring at the title of the film, which is arranged to look like a rocket being sent up into space. So bloody cool!

And yet the strangest thing about all this, though, was where these posters have or haven't been found. For starters, I saw not a single one in NYC's subway system. Seriously. Someone thinks that straphangers have no desire to check out (a) a Christopher Nolan blockbuster and (b) an outer space pic.

As much as I love this town, let me tell you: NYC's subway system makes most folks wish they were somewhere else, preferably as far away as possible. Even more so, lots of commuters wish they could don a spacesuit - if only to keep from touching or smelling anything. We could've used the escape, guys!

In fact, the Interstellar posters were only visible - to my eyes - on the Upper West Side, and throughout Midtown Manhattan, from 2nd Ave. on the East side all the way over to 10th Ave. on the West. I didn't see them near the top of Manhattan or by Macy's or Union Square or the East Village, nor down by Wall Street, nor in any of at least four Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Again, I have no idea what goes on in the minds of Paramount's marketing department, but why leave out the whole rest of the city? What gives? Did they think people in those sections of town were either (a) more likely to see the movie, or (b) more likely to need an ad to tell them to see the movie? It's almost as confusing as some of the film's plots...


  1. The no-subway campaign for Interstellar is interesting. I wonder if the paucity of ads outside of mid-Manhattan has to do with the distribution of phone booths in NYC (I'd be hard-pressed to identify two phone booths in my corner of Brooklyn, or to walk from one to the other in less than 15 minutes).

    When you pointed out the Interstellar posters to me, and I went looking for them, I was shocked at how many active phone booths there still were on Broadway in the Upper West Side. In this age of cellphones, who's using them? I suspect their main value to whoever runs and maintains them at this point is as billboards.

    As for why no subway ads, maybe they wanted to stand out? I don't know about subway ad pricing--I always assumed it was relatively inexpensive, which is why you see ads for major motion pictures next to ads for technical colleges and Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Z. It could be, however, that the Transit Authority tried to gouge the studio for subway poster space on Interstellar. Or it could be an exclusivity deal gone wrong.

    For what it's worth, having such a number of backlit movie theater-style posters really showed off the beauty of Interstellar's ad campaign, even if only a fraction of the potential audience actually got to see them.

  2. I have no idea what the deal with the subway is. ironically, though, I have seen people using pay phones over the last two days! It's easy to forget that not everyone has a cell phone, and that cities should accommodate this fact...

    I will say that the MTA trying to gouge the big ticket film makes the most sense to me.

    You're dead right that the backlighting is fantastic. It's just a shame that I had a hard time getting photos of them without the lighting messing up the picture.


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