Type Essays

ScreenFonts – July 2016

July 04, 2016 by
Yves Peters
Yves Peters

Our monthly review of movie poster typography looks at the posters for A Bigger Splash, Money Monster, The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, The Lobster, High-Rise, What we Become, Nice Guys, The Angry Birds Movie, Chevalier, and How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town.

© 2016 Fox Searchlight Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for A Bigger Splash on IMPAwards.
© 2016 Fox Searchlight Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for A Bigger Splash on IMPAwards.

Summer’s here, making the Italian poster by All City for mystery drama A Bigger Splash the perfect way to start this episode of ScreenFonts. The fact that the movie features Matthias Schoenaerts, one of our rare Belgian breakout film stars, is a nice bonus – move over JCVD! It is interesting to see how different localisations of the poster select and rearrange the visual components to create different narratives. This Italian version is a sunny and exuberant affair. The composition of the image is inspired by tattoos, as the snake slithering down the center and the movie logo in a banner-like shape lock all the image elements together. There is also an element of naive art in the painted leaves and flowers. Finally the sun-drenched photos of the four main characters add a suggestion of candid-shots-at-the-riviera.

The international poster is quite different. Now that I look at it, I get the impression we may be witnessing a new phenomenon. Remember the floating heads? An alternative for featuring the faces of all the major stars in the artwork could be the faceted poster, where the surface is divided in geometric shapes and filled with their portraits. I have seen a couple of examples in the past few months; let’s see if this becomes a trend.

Call me biased, but I expected the Italian poster to be more like the Thai version. It squarely focuses on the daughter of the old friend whose unexpected visit disrupts the vacation of the famous rock star and the filmmaker. Young blonde woman in bikini, hair all wet, laying in the pool propped up on her arms to reveal her cleavage – exploitation masquerading as sensual sophistication.

The last version (I couldn’t find what it is for) interweaves big yellow letters of the movie title with the images of the four protagonists. This typographic treatment reminded me of the poster for another movie by the same director, Luca Guadagnino. Six years ago I discussed I Am Love (also featuring the great Tilda Swinton) on The FontFeed. Its letters are similarly intertwined with the actors, but the end result is much more refined than this solution, even taking into consideration the kerning problem.

The typeface in all four posters is Darby Sans Poster, the stressed sans serif by Dan Milne and Paul Barnes. An alternative in the grotesque style would be Imperial; Accent Graphic takes the model into a more humanistic direction.

© 2016 TriStar Pictures – Click the image to see the teaser poster for Money Monster on IMPAwards.
© 2016 TriStar Pictures – Click the image to see the teaser poster for Money Monster on IMPAwards.

I never heard of Jon Manheim before, but his posters for the thriller Money Monster are clever in their simplicity and good-looking to boot. Let’s start with the teaser poster. It is a gutsy move on Manheim’s part to cover most of the face of such a big movie star as George Clooney, and kudos to Sony for allowing this. The television test pattern – very familiar to those of us who grew up before 24 hour broadcasting – signals the broadcast was interrupted due to a problem. This simple but effective device foreshadows the storyline: financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor takes over their studio. Even though the test pattern obfuscates most of Clooney’s face, he remains recognisable, and this storytelling device puts extra emphasis on what little you see of his facial expression and the other visual cues in the image. The concept of a television broadcast is applied to the type as well. Having Basic Commercial™ break up in horizontal lines like on a cathode ray tube television set lends it a nice texture, yet on a conceptual level it makes little sense in these current times of high-definition television.

The character posters apply the same visual elements in a different way, suggesting the rotating image you used to get when there was interference on either the broadcast or the reception (that was the signal to get up and start wiggling the antenna – eat this, YouTube generation). Again, splitting the faces of George Clooney and Julia Roberts have you focus on their eyes and mouths, the portals to their emotions. Jack O’Connell’s poster diverges from the concept to be able to show the gun is his hand, a compromise I can live with.

It’s a shame the main theatrical poster compromises even more in an effort to show all three protagonists in one design. The vertical bars work against the horizontal test pattern, considerably weakening the concept.

© 2016 TriStar Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for Money Monster on IMPAwards.
© 2016 TriStar Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for Money Monster on IMPAwards.

And the two versions created by Ignition are a complete letdown. In the design with a red vertical bar separating Clooney and Roberts, both their faces were airbrushed within an inch of their lives. The typeface is URW Topic, also known as Steile Futura®. This straight-sided narrow sans serif was modernised by Guy Jeffrey Nelson who turned it into the Tasse family, and Zuzana Licko used it as one of the references for Solex, still one of my favourite classic space-saving sans serifs. As for the diagonal design with its squooshed fake small caps and equally smoothened faces, that one looks like the cover for a straight-to-DVD release.

© 2016 XLrator Media – Click the image to see the alternate poster for The Curse of Sleeping Beauty on Sens Critique.
© 2016 XLrator Media – Click the image to see the alternate poster for The Curse of Sleeping Beauty on Sens Critique.

During my search for film posters for this episode I accidentally stumbled upon this rare teaser poster for fantasy thriller The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, a creepy contemporary re-imagination of the classic fairy tale. The gorgeous artwork is mesmerising. Briar Rose is suspended in nothingness, frozen in time, with a tree growing out of her back and roots anchoring her to the ground as a metaphor for her centuries-long sleep. White veils symbolise the curse that binds her, and black, swirling hair like ink dissolving in water visualise her dreams. How beautifully can you encapsulate all the elements from the Sleeping Beauty tale in one haunting image? Even though they are a bit gimmicky, the blood red thorny letters work well in combination with the – literally and figuratively – dark visual. Just that spacing needs to be fixed, a sign this is probably some free font. A better quality substitute would be FF Merlin™ from our Scary Fonts Fontlist.

© 2016 A24 – Click the image to see the posters for What We Become on IMPAwards.
© 2016 A24 – Click the image to see the posters for What We Become on IMPAwards.

These are some of the most appropriate, most sensitive and most touching posters I have seen in a while. According to the laws of The City in the dystopian near future where The Lobster takes place, single people are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days. If they don’t succeed, they are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods. The images of the principal actors hugging the void exude an immense sadness, making their emotional isolation and helplessness almost palpable. The strong visuals by Vasilis Marmatakis (thank you, Florian) only work in isolation: their effect is negated when the two are combined in one poster with the credits filling the empty areas. Without the nothingness in their arms, it just doesn’t ring true. Because such a heavy weight was not available in the original family I initially believed this was Tobias Frere-Jones’ iconic Gotham, yet it is Avenir Next which. The extra bold sans performs the same function as Futura Extra Bold in the posters for Stanley Kubrick films. Call me cynical, but I wonder if this was done on purpose to add legitimacy to the movie. For more options in this style take a look at our Fonts from The Big City.

© 2015 Magnolia Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for High-Rise on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Magnolia Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for High-Rise on IMPAwards.

Another surreal drama, High-rise, chronicles the life for the residents of a tower block as it begins to run out of control. Empire Design produced a very strong series of collaterals bathing in that peculiar atmosphere of 70s science fiction films. The triangular motif in the main theatrical poster is used to great effect to show all the characters in the movie and even some scenes hinting at the storyline without crowding the poster real estate. A variation on that poster cranks it up a notch, multiplying and rotating the triangle to create a kaleidoscopic effect. I also really like the subtle teaser poster that makes you look twice before you notice that it is not really about the blue car.

The movie logo set in FF Clan® is equally clever and well done. The left stem of the H was extended upwards, suggesting the high-rise and providing an anchor point to lock up the credit line at the top. The generous width and massive weight of the capitals make the logo look very strong and convincing without feeling crowded. This example displays the qualities that made Łukasz Dziedzic extensive sans serif family such a blockbuster success.

The character posters for Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, and Jeremy Irons take the triangular geometry one step further to extend the concept into a dazzling kaleidoscopic series. The four-ways reflection creates a sense of disorientation and unease, turning the portraits into menacing presences.

© 2016 IFC Midnight – Click the image to see the poster for What We Become on IMPAwards.
© 2016 IFC Midnight – Click the image to see the poster for What We Become on IMPAwards.

Whereas the posters for High-Rise rely solely on imagery and colour scheme to create a retro look, Danish horror thriller Sorgenfri (What We Become) emphasis this with typography. The nice photographic composition on the poster by Phantom City Creative wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery of classic posters from the 1980s, yet it is the use of Friz Quadrata™ that resolutely brings the concept home, conjuring up that specific atmosphere from the heydays of horror films. Having Trajan™ – the current favourite for horror movies – would have janked the design straight into the current day and made it look cheap.

© 2016 Warner Bros – Click the image to see the poster for The Nice Guys on IMPAwards.
© 2016 Warner Bros – Click the image to see the poster for The Nice Guys on IMPAwards.

More vintage type on the poster for crime comedy The Nice Guys, in which a mismatched pair of private eyes investigate the apparent suicide of a porn star in 1970s Los Angeles. The main theatrical poster by Concept Arts features the Bauhaus-inspired Pump™ Triline, one of those typefaces that are intrinsically tied to the disco era. Harry continues the theme as the supporting typeface. For more disco fonts try our Multilinear Fontlist.

© 2016 Columbia Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for The Angry Birds Movie on IMPAwards.
© 2016 Columbia Pictures – Click the image to see the poster for The Angry Birds Movie on IMPAwards.

We enter juvenile territory, but what else can you expect from a movie based on a video game? Well, not just “a” video game, but allegedly “the largest mobile app success the world has seen so far”. In the animated comedy The Angry Birds Movie, fans finally find out why the birds are so angry, and why they are so hell-bent on destroying those green piggies. The poster by BLT Communications reprises the iconography of the game, finessing it to match the CGI visuals in the film. The typography was also discreetly altered. The original logo of the game uses comic book-like casual caps in a dry brush style, similar to some of the fonts collected in our Pulp Fiction Fontlist. For the movie logo, the rough edges were smoothened and made to resemble feathers, and the letters enhanced with subtle highlights and a drop shadow to better harmonise with the CGI imagery.

© 2015 Strand Releasing – Click the image to see the poster for Chevalier on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Strand Releasing – Click the image to see the poster for Chevalier on IMPAwards.

However much I’d like to end on a high note, I have to warn you – it all goes downhill from here, with increasingly juvenile artwork. The poster for Greek comedy Chevalier – about six men on a fishing trip on a luxury yacht in the middle of the Aegean Sea who decide to play a game, comparing each other’s manhood – leaves little to the imagination. The game aspect is visually translated as scores in Bauer Bodoni® around the ship’s wheel; the maritime aspect is alluded to by the ship’s wheel itself; and the manhood… Oh boy. Let’s say I could make all kinds of jokes of very poor taste involving “wood” and “firm grip”. But I won’t. An eye roll and a sigh will have to do.

The film title is set in Bodoni Ultra Bold, also digitised as EF Bodoni No.2. Extremely bold serif typefaces with high contrast like this one are commonly called fat faces. This design is noteworthy for the straight lines and square angles in its counters, and the heavy triangular serifs. On a side note – the typeface Chevalier™ might have looked better, with the added bonus that I could have added the poster to the LTypI group.

© 2015 Gravitas Ventures – Click the image to see the poster for How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town on IMPAwards.
© 2015 Gravitas Ventures – Click the image to see the poster for How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town on IMPAwards.

I am conflicted about the last poster. In the risqué comedy How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town a group of eccentric town folk in a small town try to convince the former “town slut” turned sex columnist to organise an orgy. I know, it’s as bad as it sounds. The artwork goes out of its way to transform an illustration of said small town into the suggestion of a woman’s vulva. I know, it’s as bad as it sounds. Is this a misguided attempt at being clever? Is this humour of rather poor taste? Or is this just very childish? The typography is equally poor, with a cheap (free?) knock-off of Ballantine’s Script and a dodgy digitisation of a woodtype-inspired slab serif (similar to Filmotype Wand). And let’s not mention those curly ornaments between the lines of text…

Well, there is a silver lining – it can only go up from here. Let’s see what next month’s episode brings.

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Header image by Antony Ruggiero
Trademark Attribution Notice
Basic Commercial, Merlin and Chevalier are trademarks of Monotype GmbH and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Clan is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. FF is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Friz Quadrata and Pump are trademarks of Monotype ITC Inc. and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Futura and Bauer Bodoni are registered Trademarks of Bauer Types. Bodoni is a trademark of The Monotype Corporation and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Trajan is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated which may be registered in certain jurisdictions. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.

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