Type Essays

ScreenFonts – February 2016

February 29, 2016 by
Yves Peters
Yves Peters

Our monthly review of movie poster typography looks at the posters for Diablo, Rabid Dogs, The Benefactor, Moonwalkers, 400 Days, Synchronicity, Lazer Team, Jane Got a Gun, and Greater.

© 2015 Orion Pictures – Click the image to see the complete poster on GoldPoster.
© 2015 Orion Pictures – Click the image to see the complete poster on GoldPoster.

I wouldn’t say the law of diminishing returns in sequels also automatically applies to dynasties of actors, but in this case Clint Eastwood’s youngest son Scott didn’t really soar in the critically panned western adventure Diablo. Neither does the pedestrian poster for the movie. It shows Scott as the young civil war veteran – forced on a desperate journey to save his kidnapped wife – in a pose made famous by his father: eyes squinting, determined look on his face, arm stretched out, pointing his Smith & Wesson slightly downwards to an adversary who is not in the frame. The painterly texture of the background and the weathered wood type tries to trick you into believing you are looking at one of those classic painted posters, yet this is merely a bleak imitation on every possible level.

© 2015 IFC Midnight – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 IFC Midnight – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

Enragés (Rabid Dogs), a French remake of Mario Bava’s cult classic Cani arrabbiati based on the Michael J. Carroll short story Man and Boy, does the ‘classic painted poster’ shtick a lot better. The retro artwork is from the exclusive international poster commemorating the movie’s January 22nd release through IFC Midnight. Ironically, it basically is a floating heads design, just not assembled in Photoshop. Rough brush strokes and simple color scheme establish the rawness and urgency of the storyline. The Compacta™ typeface stylistically matches the visual, referencing vintage posters from the 60s.

The original French poster by RYSK is barely worth mentioning. You can see the ham-fisted Photoshop composition tries really hard to establish the characters in the movie. It buckles under the weight of the massive film title set in the Neue Helvetica® Extended 93 Extended Black font looming overhead. I don’t get the reasoning behind horizontally splitting the type in two, other than a mere stylistic operation. Integrating the acute into the É however is an interesting solution, keeping the lock-up compact. I also applaud the use of Bourgeois as a supporting typeface instead of the customary Bank Gothic or Agency.

© 2015 Samuel Goldwyn Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Samuel Goldwyn Films – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

A change in painting style creates a very different atmosphere. While the artwork in the previous poster was done with comparatively dry brush, Blood & Chocolate over-saturated their brushes with paint, allowing the dripping to become an integral part of the portrait of Richard Gere for The Benefactor. Fun but completely irrelevant fact: working on a dark canvas and only painting the areas where the light hits the model was my preferred technique in my senior year at the art academy. The drips create a visual connection with the actor credits, film title and tagline set in ITC Franklin™ typeface, anchoring the portrait. The main theatrical poster reprises the typography in a photographic setting, adding some gratuitous texture to the film title but otherwise failing to convince.

© 2015 Alchemy – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Alchemy – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

We shift illustration techniques from painting to line drawing for Moonwalkers, a comedy riffing off one of the most preposterous conspiracy theories in history. After failing to locate the legendary Stanley Kubrick, an unstable CIA agent must instead team up with a seedy rock band manager to develop the biggest con of all time: staging the moon landing. The teaser and the pay-off were designed by respectively Coby Gewertz and Jeremy McTiermann for LA-based boutique creative agency Leroy & Rose. Their artwork references the psychedelic graphics of the late sixties. The teaser recalls David Bowie’s Space Oddity – an astronaut is entangled in six pink strings, with the moon and the colourful graphics at the borders of the artwork morphing the starry sky into a guitar. The pay-off combines Yellow Submarine-like illustrations and photography into a joyful, vibrant collage. The extreme extra bold display sans nicely complements both designs. French type designer Albert Boton’s eponymous Black Boton was customised by adding small circular counters to the ‘A’ and the ‘R’, similar to the ‘O’.

© 2015 XLrator Media – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 XLrator Media – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

Through my continuing research in film posters and subsequent conversations with Christophe Courtois I learned that many film poster designers use a codified language, be it with images, colour scheme, type selection, etc. This helps the posters reach their intended audience more efficiently. As soon as you’re aware of this, it comes as no big surprise that the three following posters for science fiction movies share the same palette of white, grey/silver, and blue. Their imagery and typography further distinguishes them in their sub-categories. For example the strict symmetrical/mirrored aspect of the photography and the archetypal sans serif capitals of Gotham indicate that 400 Days is a science fiction thriller of the more cerebral kind. Even though I like the poster, it somehow looks a little too familiar to me. Also, having an underscore in the title to reference computer code is not consistent with using a typeface that is inspired by classic architectural lettering.

© 2015 Magnet Releasing – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Magnet Releasing – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

Synchronicity may also be a science fiction thriller, but its poster leaves no doubt it is more action-oriented, because it uses the visual vocabulary of action movies. The main motif of the poster is the silhouette of the mysterious woman trying to steal a time machine from the physicist who invented it. Inside her contour a whole universe seems to unfurl, with two shady characters, standing legs apart, with their back to the viewer. Depicting characters in this pose is a well-know trope in action movies, as is the use of the square sans serif Agency. The artwork is gorgeous, and the white typography matching the pristine background enhances the lush richness of the multi-layered image.

© 2015 Rooster Teeth – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Rooster Teeth – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

The final science fiction film in this series is Lazer Team, a comedy about four losers who are thrust into the position of saving the world after they stumble upon a UFO crash site and genetically bond with the battle suit on board. The clueless expression on the faces of the four protagonists makes abundantly clear this is a comedy. Here you could argue the Futura® typeface has no relation to the big red sans serifs commonly seen on comedy posters and may look too stiff for this purpose. The stencil treatment breaks up its geometric rigidity. It may be unintentional, but their daft metal finish also helps bring the message home.

© 2016 The Weinstein Company – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2016 The Weinstein Company – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

You always have to be careful with how exactly you alter a typeface, as you should remain consistent with the style of the poster, the subject of the movie, and the time period. This goes a little awry in the western drama Jane Got a Gun, the story of a woman who asks her ex-lover for help in order to save her outlaw husband from a gang out to kill him. Nothing wrong with the typeface selection. John Downer’s Brothers was inspired by a letterhead designed around the turn of the century for the Cole Brothers traveling shows, an extravaganza of acrobatic and circus acts. This type of ‘circus letters’ were a staple on bills and buildings in the old west, making Brothers a sensible choice for this poster. Less sensible is digitally slanting the letters, the equivalent of noticing a wristwatch on a Roman soldier in a peplum film. There is no amount of texture that can fix this faux-pas.

© 2016 Hammond Entertainment – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.
© 2016 Hammond Entertainment – Click the image to see the complete poster on IMPAwards.

More texture on the poster for sports biography Greater, the story of Brandon Burlsworth, possibly the greatest walk-on in the history of college football. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t immediately associate sports with weathered type, so I have no real explanation for this modification. Instead of the Aachen™ Bold font – recently expanded to the Neue Aachen type family consisting of 9 weights with matching italics – one of the options in our collegiate athletics may have been more appropriate.

Header image by Antony Ruggiero
Trademark attribution notice
Neue Helvetica is a trademark of Monotype Imaging Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Aachen, Compacta and ITC Franklin are trademarks of Monotype ITC Inc. and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Futura is a registered Trademark of Bauer Types. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.

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