ScreenFonts: Nightwatching, Kung Fu Panda, The Dark Knight, The X-Files

I can guess what the original intention for the poster for Czech movie Empties (Vratné Lahve) must’ve been. The movie title in Futura Condensed was to look as if it was painted onto the hot air balloon, but let’s say it didn’t work out like it was supposed to. Furthermore the poster suffers from horror vacui, with the three main elements in the design awkwardly filling up every bit of space.





To claim that Hollywood likes remakes and re-imaginings is a slight understatement, and it occurred to me lately this applies to the posters for the movies as well. We recently had the almost literal copy of the The Skeleton Key poster for The Return, and now there’s the poster for Shutter ripping off the concept for 2007’s Halloween, which itself already was a copy of 13 Ghosts. Which was a lousy poster to begin with.

I must say though that I’m pleased they used Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ classic Jenson digitization Requiem instead of the inescapable Trajan.



On a similar note the poster for Then She Found Me corroborates my theory that Hollywood keeps rehashing certain concepts. Last year I noticed this trend of alternating horizontal bands of white and pictures, with either a Bodoni- or Didot-type face in red or black for romantic comedies, and here’s yet another one. Fair enough, in this case it’s olive green and red, and the movie title is set in Century Schoolbook, but you catch my drift. By the way, I think they should rein in all those mad Photoshoppers working in the advertising industry. Really, Bette Midler looks like she escaped straight out of Madame Tussaud’s. Creepy…



And while we’re on the subject of remakes, re-maginings, copies, rip-offs and whatnot, I’ll throw in this last example. The design industry sure is getting a lot of mileage out of Corey Holms seminal logo designed for Frankfurt Balkind for the television series The Sopranos. The iconic substitution of a pistol for the ‘r’ has become engrained in the collective consciousness and who knows how many times it has been parodied and copied (see for example my comments on the poster for Triad Election).

In the original Sopranos logo the gun shape is carefully balanced and perfectly complements the character shapes of Compacta. On the poster for My Mom’s New Boyfriend it sticks out like a sore thumb, breaking up the movie title in a very clumsy way as it is completely miscast against Helvetica. Although upon closer inspection you notice the poster which carries the working title Homeland Security features Helvetica indeed, but for some inexplicable reason the final poster uses Geneva.

As for the image… Well, I’m all for sensual imagery and don’t mind cleavage, but this image strikes me as gratuitous, not of very good taste and suggestive in an inappropriate way. Nope, this poster really is no good.



Of much better taste are the poetic posters for French movie Deux jours à tuer. The theme of the movie – the exploration of an event that causes the protagonist to give up his wife, children, friends, house and money – is beautifully translated into these quiet images. As for the type, granted, the choice of Helvetica is not very inventive, but movie tile, actors’ names and credits are thoughtfully laid out on the page.



The illustrative quality and texture of the poster for Estômago somehow reminds me of the work of Dave McKean, one of my favourite comic book artists (he’s much more than that of course, but I learned to know his art through Violent Cases, Black Orchid and the stunning Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth). One might think the movie title is hand lettered, but the identical repeating characters in the taglines reveal it is in fact a font – Kid Type Crayon, which is part of the Kid Type 1 package.





The movie title on the poster for Nightwatching on the other hand really is rendered in calligraphy, not a font. This makes it interesting to examine which solutions are used for localized versions. The Russian poster forsakes the r
ough edges of the original for the calligraphic energy found in Zapfino, while the Spanish version favours the similar texture of Aquiline. Only the Taiwanese poster resorts to genuine calligraphy, and although the script is completely different the overall impression is the most faithful to the original.



While it may not be the most original design, the poster for Kung Fu Panda simply oozes joyfulness. Po’s heroic pose and the classic sun ray motif are wittily offset against the mischievous smirk on the panda’s face. The 3D treatment of the movie title mimics the typical graphic style of classic martial arts movies.



It is disheartening to see how the movie industry markets its movies in such a stereotypical way. The poster for St Trinian’s is an unfortunate example of teen-oriented design, with it’s magenta and black graphics tagged onto a bizarre Photoshop assemblage of the movie’s main actors. It all looks very artificial and out of synch. The movie logo in faux graffiti uses the equally artificial looking faux blackletter Blackmoor, one of David Quay’s 80s aberrations.



While the movie title on the poster for French biopic Sagan is quite conventional – FF DIN must be one of the most widely used sans serifs these days – the design is less so. By lowering the movie title to the horizon, about halfway the height, and stacking the rest of the type on top of it, the sky creates a sense of openness which makes the poster breathe. The nonchalant pose of the actress against the convertible sports car reinforces the relaxed atmosphere.



This is about as schizophrenic as it gets. When comparing these two posters for Leatherheads it appears as if the marketing people couldn’t decide whether this movie should be advertized as a romantic comedy or a screwball sports movie. In the version on the left George Clooney’s head somehow looks too big and out of place due to incongruities in the lighting. Plus a bit more attention could’ve been paid to the typography. Lazily slanting some Kabel is not very interesting nor appropriate when trying to evoke the classic 1950s movies. The type on the right is better suited: Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ Knockout No. 71 Full Middleweight, a design inspired by American woodtypes of the late nineteenth century. Another gorgeous example of that style is Rhode by David Berlow.



What makes the advertising for The Dark Knight so successful is not so much the poster – although it is quite beautiful and very effective in conveying the sense of menace and chaos – but the impressive viral campaign around it. Examining this campaign would lead us too far, but I’d like to show some of the teaser images that preceded the actual posters and some alternate posters. By the way, all type is set in Franklin Gothic (except for the hand written stuff of course).



One of the most successful teaser images is this stylized Joker face, combining his typical eye make-up with the Batman symbol as a mouth. Very clever in showing how the sworn enemies are in fact both sides of the same coin.









During the campaign the original posters were at some point replaced with identical versions which had scribbles all over, as if the Joker and his cronies had been going around overwriting them.



This gorgeous multi-layered image has Batman’s portrait composed of a multitude of Joker cards. The little bits of tape, the blood, the scribbles, the scalpel all add to the creepiness of the poster.



But it all pales compared to this disturbing image of the Joker standing behind a steamed-up window and painting a bloody smile on it. Brilliant.



When it comes to suggesting South East Asian script I think the poster for Hotel Very Welcome is spot on. Instead of slavishly trying to recreate the exact character shapes – which never works out quite well – they went for a similarity in structure with crude sans serif letters that look like they were cut out in paper. Combined with the brown posterized images on the textured background in warm ochre and orange tones this results in a very nice and convincing poster.



The image on the poster for Secret Sunshine (Milyang) superbly translates the feeling of loss and alienation embodied by the film. The movie title is set in Scriptina, a horribly spaced and kerned free script which I was forced to use recently for a trade fair catalogue. Not only does Scriptina set quite poorly, it also doesn’t have any alternate glyphs, which means the exaggerated swashes on some lowercase characters mess up the setting time and again.



Hey,
the early nineties are back in full force. The poster for X-Files – I Want To Believe – the second movie adaptation of the 90s cult television series – uses the original series’ signature typeface Industria – another 90s icon. The poster itself is a tad ridiculous, as the macro shot of the snow texture makes it appear as if Mulder and Scully are really really tiny.

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