ScreenFonts: Zombieland, Where The Wild Things Are, Law-Abiding Citizen, The Vampire’s Assistant, This Is It

Aha, here’s the October episode of ScreenFonts. “But wait, Yves,” I hear our American readers say; “Wait, Yves, I must be hallucinating from stuffing myself with too much stuffing last weekend, because, you know, this is the first day of De-cem-ber, so aren’t you supposed to publish the posters of the past month, i.e. November? What is this nonsense? Wasn’t the October episode due, like, weeks ago?” And I say: “Why, how perspicacious of you, esteemed and valued readers – also from other countries, but those tend to suffer less from post-Thanksgiving-indigestion-induced hallucinations – I’ve always known you were a clever bunch. But, you see, to quote the obscure British songsmith John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I do still owe you the October episode, and after the frankly disappointing September episode this one has a bunch of better movie posters, and because of that it obviously was more work to write, and it just took quite a bit longer to get it online, and I had already done all the work researching the posters, and I didn’t want to let this work go to waste because I’m just plain lazy I guess.”

So now you are thinking, and righteously so: “Hey, are we supposed to just let this slide? Does this correspond with the high standards of online journalism we’ve come to expect from The FontFeed? And isn’t “righteously” used incorrectly here?” And I go: “High standards and correct grammar is what you can expect from Stephen and Jürgen and the rest. Me, I’m merely that silly Belgian waffle blabbing on. So sue me.”

I’d like to thank Craig Ferguson for providing inspiration for this introduction.

You may think that I am contractually obliged to positively review any poster sporting this particular colour scheme, but no, just because the movie poster for Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story is almost exclusively yellow and black with white and grey doesn’t make it a good design – unlike some digital font vendor’s visual identity ;) I have a feeling it tries hard and achieves little. There’s a bizarre geometry at play between the stilted C.E.O.-type figure and Michael Moore standing exactly under his right arm holding up a tiny flag. The visual style is a bit South Park-ish, but the poster’s narrative falls short. Yes, he has that American flag and hides a big bag of dollars from an angry mob, yet that doesn’t exactly make for a remarkable image or a funny one.

Also the hand-cut type doesn’t make much sense – aesthetically nor conceptually, nor how it’s integrated in the overall poster design. I’m all for using areas created by design elements to position the type and giving the composition a sense of purpose. However dumping everything in the suit’s back kind of negates the effect they might have been going for. And the centred “Michael Moore” at the top is rather pedestrian. No, this doesn’t quite work for me.

The alternative design on the other hand does work for me. By pointing to a number of cultural references past and present it manages to get quite a bit of mileage out of its striking design. It seems to reference the œuvre of Shepard Fairey in general and his recent campaign posters for President Obama in particular. Then again, historically aware readers will know it actually is inspired by the powerful Communist iconography much of Fairey’s work is based on. Because of this historical and ideological ambiguity the design elements in the poster can be interpreted in contradictory ways. Michael Moore looks like a defiant ersatz Lenin, leading the duped everyman in their revolt against the injustice caused by unbridled capitalism, and a total and utter disregard of human values by the financial sector*. Moore’s portrait is superimposed on a typical background composed of a radiant crest and laurels, covered with a five-pointed star that could be a Soviet as well as an American symbol. And his trademark red cap which personifies baseball, one of the United States’ favourite sports, can also be interpreted as a worker’s cap, favoured in Communist imagery. The ageing effect and the off-white border are icing on the cake.

(*)  Oh, am I being too harsh? Getting billions of tax payers’ money to bail them out after their blind and unchecked greed has brought the entire world economy to the brink of the abyss, and then using all this money to pay outrageous bonuses to the very people responsible for this mess in the first place is an example of responsible management? Agreed, I shouldn’t talk about things I know too little about.

The type on the poster is set in Alternate Gothic, not a very inspired choice unfortunately. No need to go as far as to pick a faux Cyrillic design, but I would’ve chosen something more constructivist, with some more bite, like a member of the extended Gagarin or Tasse families, or FF Water Tower that was recently used to great effect for Dernier Maquis.

Make no mistake – I am a fan of and champion for contemporary type design. Times change, our visual language does accordingly, and type design must follow suit. Yet this doesn’t mean I can’t still feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I see a vintage typeface used well. The delightful movie poster for A Serious Man is a beautiful example. The composition of the retro-looking black and white image with the greyish blue sky and off-white background is sumptuous, very suitable for the movie’s late sixties setting. Its is beautifully complemented by Monotype Handle Oldstyle, a lesser known all caps serif face that seems to come to us straight from the era of silent movies. Its wide and generous character shapes exude warmth and convey homeliness. They reveal some delicious surprises, like the subtle little nicks at the apex of the “A” and the base of the “M” and “N”, the playful curly leg of the “K” and “R”, the wide bar of the “G”, the weird protrusion at the start of the curve of the “J”, the backwards tail of the “Q”, … It is the perfect choice for this elegant and simply lovely poster.

To be honest, when I saw the thumbnails for the October releases on IMDB the movie poster for Zombieland didn’t really jump out. It is a regular mainstream design, with added attitude. The desaturated colours of the image do a nice job bringing out the movie logo set in Helvetica Condensed. The treatment of the type is quite peculiar – the characters are some kind of letter-shaped electrical grills, glowing red, orange, and yellow.

As I checked the International Movie Posters Awards website for alternate poster designs I was struck by this great teaser poster. In this design the incandescent glow of the movie logo nicely reflects the molten lava emerging from the cracks in the globe in the otherwise dark and colourless image. How the different elements on the globe have been scaled up adds a sense of mischief to the image – it becomes almost cartoonesque, like a promotional image for the Looney Tunes from Hell, a diorama showing a sick and twisted fairground. It nicely translates the atmosphere and theme of the movie onto the surface of the poster.

Although I doubt the reference is intentional, both the miniature globe with the type circling around it and the the red glowing quality of the image reminded me of Vaughan Oliver and v23‘s iconic Pixies album cover for Bossanova. I don’t think there’s a real connection, but I thought it would be fun to point this out. Plus it allows me to name-drop one of the most influential and prolific music industry designers from the past thirty-odd years.

The series of associated teaser posters is rather amusing but stylistically they don’t fit very well with the other designs. Why they switched to Futura Extra Bold caps is not clear.

Together with Gill Sans Ultra Bold/Gill Kayo, Flyer, Impact, and other extra bold designs, Futura Extra Bold is often used in the promotional materials for comedies, like this movie poster for The Invention of Lying. The bits of blurb and actors’ names are set in the inescapable Trade Gothic Bold. I must say I have seen better executions of this mosaic type of poster. What I actually wanted to show was …

… this horizontal version set in the original ATF Kabel. It may look familiar because it bears an uncanny resemblance to the poster for the Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man. It is a bit disconcerting to see such a similar image – the protagonists joyfully jumping up in the air with their arms and torso in identical positions – for movies with such similar themes – Jim Carrey says yes to everything, and in the world of Ricky Gervais nobody can lie. The type on the yes Man poster is G-Type‘s Houschka – which also exists in an Alternate en Rounded version.

I have a confession to make – I am not exactly a sports fan. When people start talking to me about soccer, cycling, or tennis (the most popular sports here in Belgium), or whatever other sports discipline, my eyes glaze over and I am bored out of my skull. It simply isn’t something for me. This however I can relate to. The poster for the basketball movie More Than A Game is a very exciting piece of design. It perfectly captures the power and grace of the player caught in mid-air, just as he’s about to score. The picture is made to look like strobe photography, yet it is a composition of several different players executing the fluid and uninterrupted movement across the poster. Energetic black scribbles accentuate this movement, and isolating the very last player by giving his outfit a golden hue in the otherwise entirely black and white composition adds drama and dynamism. That golden colour is repeated in the movie logo set in Helvetica Black, singling it out as the movie logo in the sequence “More Than A Team”, “More Than A Coach”, “More Than A Game”. This poster sure does hit all the right spots. I was going to whine about the choice of type, but imagine that – even the IMPAwards users are starting to get fed up with Helvetica! Says user Nerez: Ignition only owns one font!” Word.

From gold on black-and-white to gold on sepia tones – the movie poster for Bronson almost looks like a classic Dutch clair-obscur – or Italian chiaroscuro – painting. Somehow I keep seeing an obscene parallel between the delicate melancholy of Johannes Vermeer’s masterwork The Girl With A Pearl Earring and the visceral depiction of Bronson, the character Tom Hardy portrays in the eponymous movie. The centred composition enhances the intensity of the image, with the beam of light interrupted by the prison bars masquerading for the sun rays breaking through the clouds – a recurring motif in classic art, often symbolising divine presence. A gritty, three-dimensional stencil sans was used for the movie title, as if it were sculpted in stone.

I have become completely enamoured with the live action incarnations of the wild things from Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze‘s cinematic adaptation of the beloved 1963 children’s picture book by American writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Having them partially reveal themselves in the teaser posters works very well to incite the curiosity of the fans. The elongated hand-drawn caps, simply reversed in white, add to the poetry of the images.

Personally I think the official movie poster reveals too much. The mood is still right, but it lacks that feeling of mystery and anticipation. The image also looks too much like a Photoshop composition, as the wild thing seems quite dark and lit from below, which is inconsistent with the rest of the image. Interestingly, IMPAwards user Alex remarks:

Because this movie got delayed so much, you can tell that they had a different kid play Max in the poster.

We all know that a movie can stink and still have a well-designed promotional campaign. I for one am a fan of the teaser posters for Law Abiding Citizen. Their use of typography is quite bold and makes for striking images. By lighting from one side the actors’ contrast-rich black-and white portraits a considerable shaded area is created, in which the movie title in red, and actor’s name and tag line in white are dynamically arranged. These frenetic compositions suggest urgency and suspense, exactly what’s needed for this type of movie. The tag line is set in a worn and weathered version of Helvetica Condensed; the other distressed sans was identified by FontFeed reader Cameron as Roadkill Heavy.

Although the main poster is less powerful, the red half/white half composition and added noise keep the design sufficiently interesting.

Both New York, I Love You’s European movie poster and its American counterpart are interesting examples for how to accommodate a host of actors’ names plus all the ancillary type on a single poster. The blue version showcases some solid solutions, with the actors’ names above the movie title, and the small type next to the Statue of Liberty’s outstretched arm. This leaves sufficient room for a considerable open area and the movie title. Its naive curly hand-lettering fits the illustrative style of the poster quite well. It looks charming and pops out just enough without overpowering nor disturbing any other element in the design.

In the red version version the actors’ names are arranged like a frame around the heart-shaped main image. I like this solution less, because some names become hard to decipher. By the way, just like there are contractual obligations for the order in which the actors’ names appear, would there also be guidelines as to whose name can or cannot be displayed vertically? Just wondering … The heart-shaped mosaic consisting of stills from the movie and topped by the New York skyline may seem too much of a concept within a concept within a concept, yet for some reason it actually works. Having the movie title below all of this was also a good idea, because the bottom of the heart shape quite literally points to it. The half script, half casual sans type of lettering reversed out of the red background adds a nice idiosyncratic, dare I say typically New York flair.

I must already have mentioned that I really like camp when it’s done well. The promotional campaign for the blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite fires on all cylinders. The main poster is a powerful design, reminiscent of contemporary re-imaginings of pulp literature covers. The dramatic cropping of the picture and its simple, bold colour scheme lend the poster a lot of impact. The outlined Aachen Bold above the small illustrations adds exactly what’s needed to convey that typical pulp atmosphere.

Two of the alternate posters clearly reference other iconic movies, from James Bond (the girls clinging the protagonist’s legs on the left poster) over Star Wars (the ensemble cast on the right one) to Bruce Lee, and everything in between. And the three-dimensional extruded type is so deliciously wrong it becomes good again.

As for these last two horizontal designs; I don’t have anything clever to say about them except that I find them really beautiful. And they kick serious arse. By the way, the geometric sans used for the funny taglines is the inescapable ITC Avant Garde Gothic. But to be honest in this case I really don’t mind.

I don’t have anything clever to say about the movie poster for Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant neither. It basically is a run-off-the-mill Photoshop hack for a mainstream movie – “Oops, forgot to stop in time while resizing Chris Massoglia’s eyes!” The reason I mention this poster is the movie logo. It is set in Kruella by Los Angeles graphic designer Margo Chase. She is known amongst others for her striking hand lettered logos, often sporting spiky neo-Gothic character shapes. Some of her designs were expanded into full alphabets and released as digital typefaces, like Talon and Shogun which were both featured in our Post-Halloween Scary Fonts Special.

The House Of The Devil also has a retro movie poster; this one inspired by the look of 70s horror movies. The hand painted text is nicely integrated in the (painted?) image, and the text at the bottom set in ITC Serif Gothic fits the bill.

From fantasy horror to true-life horror – the despair is almost palpable in themovie poster for Antichrist. All those hands and arms emerging from the cluster of tree roots make for a chilling image, and although the couple appear to be making love they are in fact desperately clinging to the final strands of their sanity. The raw hand lettering by internationally renowned artist Per Kirkeby (thank you Florian) translates the alienation permeating the image into clumsy, inadequate gestures.

And I know just enough about the contents of the movie to find the alternate poster almost unbearable to watch. The type here is Adobe Garamond.

Now this is a weird image. I can’t make heads or tails from the movie poster for (Untitled), (and I’m too lazy to find out what the movie is about), yet I like it on a purely aesthetic level. There’s an amusing sense of bemusement emanating from the protagonists standing in front of that giant card reading (Untitled). Fortunately – like I mentioned in the introduction – we have readers who are way smarter than me, and who occasionally visit an art gallery, like Chris Rugen:

(Untitled) is a shot at contemporary art and the people surrounding it and making it. The joke in the poster is that they’re looking at a work of art that is a representation of a title card for an untitled work that has been sold (the red dot indicates this). Including the red dot hints at the money angle underlying the world of art, which I believe the movie touches on.

Thank you so much for clarifying this, Chris; I owe you one. The typeface is either News Gothic or Trade Gothic, but honestly half of the time I can’t tell them apart – unless it’s weights that are only available for one of the two.

And we finish this rather long episode with This Is It, the movie documenting the preparations for Michael Jackson‘s final tour that never happened. The movie poster is quite clever. Serving as a window through which stills from the rehearsals are seen, the King of Pop’s empty silhouette symbolises the absence of the star and the void he left for his fans. The saturated colours beautifully contrast with the cloudy white background, and the spotlight flares add nice touches. One might expect Trajan, yet we’re treated to an all caps setting of Requiem, Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ renaissance letter inspired by an illustration in a sixteenth-century writing manual.

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  1. wonderful episode! thanks!

    Posted by schui on Dec. 1, 2009
  2. well the posters from zombie land with the rules is not so good as it is used in the movie itself…


    Posted by Bart on Dec. 2, 2009
  3. Enjoyed the analysis. Keep ’em coming.

    Posted by R Thomas Berner on Dec. 2, 2009
  4. I enjoy these reviews so much but today I haven´t finished reading the first paragraph and I´m already tired from the type, it´s really hard to read on screen.

    Posted by Guada on Dec. 2, 2009
  5. Untitled is a shot at contemporary art and the people surrounding it and making it. The joke in the poster is that they’re looking at a work of art that is a representation of a title card for an untitled work that has been sold (the red dot indicates this). Including the red dot hints at the money angle underlying the world of art, which I believe the movie touches on.

    Nice roundup, Yves! (Though i agree with Guada about the text type in the first block.)

    Posted by Chris Rugen on Dec. 2, 2009
  6. well the posters from zombie land with the rules is not so good as it is used in the movie itself…

    Yes, somebody else sent me this today as well. It’s well done indeed – making the type physical is unexpected and fun, as it allows the actors to interact with it. For example the female zombie pursuing Columbus bumps into the O of CARDIO and makes it drop to the ground. Really neat.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Dec. 2, 2009
  7. Guada and Chris, I got rid of the many italic quotes; maybe that’s what was so hard on the eyes. And thank you Chris for explaining the poster for (Untitled). Clever concept, now I like it even more. I should visit art galleries more often I guess, so I’d understand stuff like this. :P

    Posted by Yves Peters on Dec. 2, 2009
  8. Hehe, it seems I’m not the only one who noticed the resemblance between the Zombieland teaser poster and Pixies’ Bossanova album cover.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Dec. 2, 2009
  9. Another art link: the painted chapter titles in ‘Antichrist’ (and also the poster lettering, as it seems) are by internationally renowned artist Per Kirkeby.

    Posted by Florian on Dec. 2, 2009
  10. The other distressed sans in the ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ poster is Roadkill Heavy.

    Posted by Cameron on Dec. 3, 2009
  11. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the first horizontal design for “Black Dynamite” reminds me of Milton Glaser’s iconic Dylan poser.

    Posted by Holly on Dec. 5, 2009

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