ScreenFonts: Fast & Furious, The Escapist, Crank: High Voltage, State Of Play, Obsessed

In ScreenFonts I always try to have a mix of mainstream movies and indie fare. My criteria for selecting posters to be discussed are simple. Either I have to be able to write something about the design, or it must feature interesting (in whatever way) type or lettering. And preferably both. This means sometimes “important” releases are glossed over, while some poster of an obscure Iranian documentary in limited release may get the spotlight. Also I try to have my appreciation of a poster not be influenced by the quality of the movie nor my personal cinematic preferences.

A good example was my review of the posters of The Fast & The Furious movies, back when Unzipped was still published in Dutch. I have absolutely no interest in those movies, yet two of the three posters looked really good. The release of the latest instalment – simply called Fast & Furious, no number here – made me decide to reprise my three year old review of the first three posters to provide context for the newest poster.

Just when you thought the franchise was done, comes Fast & Furious, the latest instalment in the brainless series about fast cars, “real” men, and bootalicious babes. Judging from the insane trailer I can imagine it is a thrill to watch those high-octane car chases. However I have seen glimpses over the monitor of my laptop while working in the living room, and what I saw convinced me the appeal of the movies is very limited.

The posters of the original trilogy are a mixed bag. This was my review on Unzipped almost three years ago:

Now this looks tasty. The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift successfully builds on the posters of the first two movies and does so with a lot of chutzpah.

The first poster in the series – designed by Crew Creative Advertising – defined the graphic style: actors in harsh black and white, with the cars providing flashes of colour. The structure is very efficient: the diagonal created by the cars and the movie logo in Antique Olive Nord Italic create the illusion of speed, and the streak of vivid colour suggests the barely visible flashing by of the superfast cars.

Vurv, who are responsible for the 2 Fast 2 Furious poster, unfortunately didn’t quite understand how it’s done. The outcome is a crude commercial interpretation. The centred structure produces a very static poster, just the thing you absolutely want to avoid. The cars resemble toy cars, and look like they were lifted from the poster of a straight-to-video flick in the 80s. The surface effect on the typography is inappropriate – cars say “chrome”, not “brushed steel”. Plus why on earth did they replace the original Antique Olive 2 by this clunky design? And I don’t even want to talk about those ridiculous shiny portraits of the actors. You can do cheesy, but you shouldn’t take yourself seriously then. Pretty embarrassing.

No, I largely prefer the poster for the third movie, designed with panache by BLT & Associates. All the ingredients are present – this time the harsh black and white picture of the actors and the skyline is augmented with flurries of colour. The position of the car enhances the sensation of being sucked in by the perspective towards the right side of the poster. By the way that car looks brilliant. De stylish deep red, brown and golden hues on the metallic black look very cool and attractive, and the painting on the door subtly references traditional Japanese painting and tattoo art. Sexy! I also find it fitting that the poster assumes the visual language of computer game packaging, because frankly that’s what the movie is. The only thing I regret is that they applied such a ghastly 3D effect on the movie logo. Simple solid black type would’ve looked so much more classy and sleek.
 
So you see – a movie can suck big time and still have a kick-ass poster. More please.

The new movie poster is disappointing. It abandons the contrast-rich imagery of its predecessors, and settles for a fairly standard close-up of Vin Diesel’s tuned car. Fair enough, the subtle reflection of the protagonists on the hood ties in with the tag line “New Model. Original Parts.”, but that’s not enough to save the design. Although the positioning of the text elements is a bit awkward, the chrome finish kinda fits as it interacts with the car’s bodywork behind it.

There’s also an alternate poster with better integration of the movie title in the image, but alas the design looks like a rip-off of the Planet of The Apes remake poster. The only redeeming factor both new posters have is they drive the point home that Antique Olive – with its top heavy stress and compact heavy weights – is one mother of a brilliant type design. Evert Bloemsma understood that as well and researched similar character structures in FF Balance, which was recently re-released in feature-rich OpenType Pro format.

It’s nice to have a French movie poster for a change. I am not always very happy with the designs from our southern neighbours. Especially the typography on their posters is often hit and miss. Yet the poster for Faubourg 36 (English title Paris 36) is just lovely. The shade effect on the geometric Art Deco caps may seem a modern gimmick associated with digital design, yet similar examples can be found on posters from the beginning of the previous century.

My type identification skillz must be a tad rusty because I can’t pin down the extended gothic/grotesque on the poster. Silas Dilworth‘s delightful Reservation Wide – a retooled and renamed incarnation of the Food Network’s custom typeface Majestos Wide – comes close, but not quite. I could find such a closed aperture on the cap “C” only in David Berlow‘s equally brilliant Titling Gothic Wide, yet that design is squarer, and the P/R ratio is different.

I also didn’t recognise the lovely sans for the credits, which is used very extensively on the movie website too. Tiffalicious Typegirl pointed out it is Hypatia, our common friend Thomas Phinney’s first foray in type design proper. Now I need to ’fess up a less commendable character trait. Contrary to most people I am always a tad sceptic whenever an acquaintance or friend of mine does something outside his or her area of expertise. I think it must be a reaction to seeing too many dreams of friendly but less-than-talented people brutally shattered in talent shows on the telly. One common thread is that those people are almost always surrounded by less-than-critical family members and friends who may have done them a better service confronting them with the fact that, no, singing reasonably well in the shower and at birthday parties doesn’t make you star material. In this specific case I know Thomas is an expert in (digital) typography and knows more about all its different aspects than I ever will, but I never saw him as a type designer. Despite my initial reservations I was delighted to discover how beautiful, elegant, and balanced Hypatia turned out. It is an ever so slightly flared geometric sans with humanist influences; a perfect mix of Gill Sans/Agenda and Metro/Humanist 415, and now I bow my head in shame for ever doubting Thomas could pull this off.

From previous posts you may have gathered that I am partial to period spoofs, historical references, and a healthy dose of camp. However for it to work all the details must be correct, lest I am brutally yanked out of my vintage design-induced stupor. And this unfortunately is what happens on the poster for the consciously B-grade sci-fi/comedy Alien Trespass. Nothing inherently wrong with the stencil face used for the movie title, but why Arial? The whole marketing for the movie is centred around the subterfuge that the movie is a lost sci-fi masterpiece from 1957. Even if the poster is supposed have been made today, at least they could have tried to get the typography consistent with the time period.

The Escapist has a great poster in retro style, with high-contrast black-and-white portraits of the protagonists on flat colour areas. The black bars between the pictures of course refer to prison bars. The design has a very nice 60s/70s vibe to it, which is enhanced by the cut-up and worn quality of the graphics, and the barbed wire through the movie title, which is set in one of those typical wood type compressed sans serifs. I have started new FontCases for Skyline type designs: very narrow display faces with straight sides.

Both the posters for The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh and State Of Play use coloured-in black-and-white pictures and the same style of compressed sans like The Escapist, with Basic Commercial for the credits: the regular on the former and the condensed on the latter. The difference in tone of the two movies is very obvious in the posters. The white background and faded candy colours match the romantic drama of The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh, while the almost monochrome pictures in greyish blue with a whiff of pink on the black background provide the perfect atmosphere for State Of Play. This difference is also reflected in the design of the posters – the three pictures on the former poster refer to the love triangle in the story, and the complexity of the thriller is reflected in the structure of the poster for the latter.

Another coloured-in black-and-white image. No need to waste any words on this: it is what it is, and it does what it does. A perfect visual for Crank: High Voltage. This one is a no-brainer, in more ways than one. Helvetica Extended? Frankly, who cares at this point?

The poster for Every Little Step however is a good design trumped by the typography. The images are well chosen, yet Engravers Gothic doesn’t say Broadway to me and looks unglamorous in this context. I’m not saying it should literally be Broadway, but even though I do like these extended gothics/grotesques this treatment clearly isn’t working. Busorama which is used on the website for example does a far better job.

Is the latest design hype adding creases to your poster, as if it had been folded? Both the poster for Observe And Report and the poster for Enlighten Up! use this gimmick, and I fail to see for what reason. Akzidenz-Grotesk Extended and Gotham respectively. Could somebody please wake me up when it gets a little more exciting/interesting?

The image on the poster for Sleep Dealer is very efficient. The anonymous back infuses the design with a sense of alienation, and plugging the “machine” straight into the human body lends it the right amount of unease. The movie title is a bit of a surprise. I didn’t expect to see the disco/70s ITC Avant Garde Gothic on a sci-fi movie poster, more a tech face. Yet it fits, and the slight static provides the finishing touch. The setting and spacing is quite thoughtful – notice the alternat A –, and the fake small caps don’t bother me that much. By the way I have an old skool tutorial for luminescent type with static which I should translate to English one of these. I’ll see when I can get to it.

I really wanted to end on a positive note, but of all the releases in the last week of April the only one worth mentioning is the poster for Obsessed, and not for the right reasons. We’ve seen a number of posters in the past where the elements in the design – most often pictures of the actors – interact with the typography on the poster. This example with Alternate Gothic isn’t a particularly good one. The composition is forced, even a bit messy. The positive-negative play in the movie title looks so-so, and the actors’ names look like they were positioned arbitrarily. Nah, it’s a shame.

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11 Comments:

  1. Hypatia as seen in the Faubourg 36 poster also reminds me of Penumbra Flare.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on May. 18, 2009
  2. Indeed — if it had had a lowercase I would’ve offered this one as an alternative.

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 18, 2009
  3. you seriously like Antique Olive? i *hate* it’s lowercase a and can’t get past that. plus the weird terminals… i dunno… it’s just an ugly face to me.

    Posted by Simon Robertson on May. 21, 2009
  4. Hahahaha, I hear you. :) Well, if everybody loved the same typefaces, almost all type designers and foundries would be out of business, and we’d all design like Massimo Vignelli.

    I think it’s a cultural thing, having roots in the French-speaking part of Belgium (both my grand-mothers were Walloons), and spending most of my holidays in France.

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 21, 2009
  5. Simon – I’m not an Antique Olive fan either, but context can also be important. I find it’s palatable in the Odwalla logo. And the the horizontal stress works for the masculine motion of Fast & Furious.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on May. 21, 2009
  6. Posted by Yves Peters on May. 22, 2009
  7. Sharp & brilliant, as usual!
    Isn’t Freitag logo set in Antique Olive Nord too?

    Posted by tungsteno on May. 23, 2009
  8. Yes indeed. Well spotted, tungsteno. :)

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 24, 2009
  9. Hello Yves,

    Thanks for this enjoyable piece.

    The extended grotesque on the Faubourg 36 poster appears to be good old Trade Gothic Extended, but you’re right, it looks like they did a little something to the aperture of the capital “C”.

    Cheers

    Patrick

    Posted by Patrick Barber on May. 27, 2009
  10. Great analysis of Fast&Furious franchise posters. Though the poster featured for the latest movie is different to the version which has appeared here in Britain –

    http://img145.imageshack.us/img145/4021/velozesefuriosos4poster.jpg

    I find this design a bit more exciting and the bold typographic ‘FF’ treatment is quite pleasing!

    Posted by Rydo on May. 28, 2009
  11. Does anyone know if the Art Deco caps in Faubourg 36 are custom drawn, or are an actual typeface?

    Posted by John Mullins on May. 28, 2009

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