It used to be that when you walked through a movie theater, you looked forward to seeing the posters of upcoming films. Years ago, poster advertisements used to be as fascinating as movie trailers. The art of most film posters seems to have since gone by the wayside. Now, it seems, posters are a last-minute thought for non-blockbuster films or indie flicks.
Blockbuster films like Harry Potter
and The Lord of the Rings
were able to keep the long-held tradition of poster storytelling. This aspect of promotion, the concept that sells the film poster more than the trailer, is the semiotic analysis it expects from all who witness it.
While many think that film itself is a moving, visual art, the posters are typically forgotten - even though they are stronger introspective pieces. They are stronger because they beg to be deconstructed by the film audience or passersby. A film poster's highest goal, the justification of its existence, is to tell the story of the film in a single image and sell the film. When glancing at a film poster, one should be able to deduce the genre, tone, major plot, and, questionably, the target audience demographic.
Here are two examples of classic film posters to illustrate the importance of a well-constructed poster:
The film "Jaws" has one of the most popular iconic film posters in cinema history. It is clear, and to the point, leaving little room for misinterpretation. This not only excites theatergoers who wait for this film, but also acts as a warning sign for those viewers who have, say, a debilitating fear of sharks...or naked female swimmers. Another obvious, and useful, point is that it highlights a scene in the film. What is on the poster actually occurs within the film. You also learn from the poster that it is a film based on a novel, and both the film and novel (if you didn't assume this already) are 'terrifying." While we won't go into boring detail about the deeper connotation of the font, poster colors, object placements, etc., suffice it to say it is all there. This leads well into the next film.
While this is not a classic film poster, it highlights the importance of posters for all films. We could describe the significance and meaning of this poster for hours (or for your sake, roughly 90 pages). First, from the moment you lay eyes on it you can see the intense layering of the imagery. From afar it looks like an x-ray of a human skull. Fine, that makes perfect sense for a horror film poster, but when you look closer the image horrifyingly unravels into something much more sinister - the skeleton is made from a Busby Berkeley-esque cluster of women.
The wording on the poster even serves as a frame, keeping the elements of the poster from escaping. The sepia color tones give an earthy, grimy tone, following the narrative of the film, as the women descend into a cave. Looking closer still, you can see that all of the women are linked together, and they are dressed in camping clothing. A major spoiler in this poster is death. Obviously, like any good horror film, the methods of death are within the poster (see above with "Jaws" or look at the "Halloween
" posters, really any horror poster). The women eventually kill each other, both emotionally and physically in some cases. Having one of the women, the only one facing front with her mouth open in a scream while placing her hands in a power position over two of the others, in such an out-of-control position shows that the danger was self-inflicted. This concept also ties well into the typically conservative nature of the horror genre, where the female is held to specific gender role restrictions or is punished.
In the end, posters are still a riveting, insightful tool to analyze the current culture of cinema, as well as the past. The next time you visit a theater, take a stroll around a video store, or even look up at a movie poster you use for a wall decoration, stop a moment and take a good look beyond the surface - you may enjoy it.
Story by Sarah Lafferty
Starpulse contributing writer
Follow Sarah on twitter at starbuckscout