Congratulations to Whitney from Dear Jesus for guessing the theme for PART TWO of Scorsese's Posters: the dreaded FLOATING HEADS. She's earned an extra entry in February's Thanks for Writing contest.
Nothing screams "lazy art direction" like a floating head. But to keep things on an even keel, these seven posters will be ranked against one another. Sort of like the Special Olympics of posters.
Shutter Island: Whoever designed this poster must have had a list from the studio of things he had to include. 1. Leo 2. The island institution. 3. The title. 4. The tiny-type movie credits. Knowing that he had to include everything, he simply went down the list, checking off each one as he finished, and lined them down the center.
Whitney pointed out that, without the island, the poster would be much more dramatic and intriguing. All the poster needed was DiCaprio with the match lighting his face. The bulk of the poster would be pitch black and way more eerie. Also, we both love the simple tagline.
The Aviator: "Some men dream the future. He built it." And here, we have a giant, bulbous head to prove it. He looks determined, doesn't he? This poster is ludicrous. It's the worst poster of Scorsese's career. There's only one explaination for a poster this hideous: Miramax didn't trust their audience. Don't worry, I have a theory about that.
In 2004, Miramax found themselves in an unfortuate situation. They had just spent (a lot of) money on a Howard Hughes movie and then decided that no one would probably care about a Howard Hughes movie. They had just made a huge Christmas release about someone whose name people wouldn't recognize. But Miramax had a plan. Moviegoers might not recognize Howard Hughes but they would definitely recognize Leonardo DiCaprio. So that's how the decision was made to cover 2/3 of the poster with DiCap's big mug. I have a second theory. They put an airplane on the poster to help their "uncultured viewers" figure out what the word "aviator" meant.
Poster Rating: D- (only because I like the font used for the title).
Gangs of New York: The bottom three quarters of this poster is great. The ragged American flag forming the New York skyline is incredible. The tagline is badass. This is an example of a strong poster that's rendered almost ineffective by the floating heads. Just because you can't figure out a way to incorporate your characters into the poster's current design doesn't give you an excuse to just plop on their faces at random. And if you are going to use the floating heads, try to use photographs that don't make your lead actors look ridculous. Diaz is almost unrecognizable and Day-Lewis looks like some sort of JibJab creation.
Poster Rating: B
Casino: What do you think Sharon Stone's looking at? She's like a cat that just saw a laser beam. Other than the floating heads, the poster has a lot of strengths. First, I love the font. It's rare to see the word "casino" written with a classy, thin typeface. This casino doesn't have any flashing lights or neon letters. It conjours up a different set of imagery, doesn't it? The tagline makes sense and says a lot about the film's conflict. But the most impressive element of the entire poster is the tagline's spacing. It makes you read "No one...stays...at the...top...forever" and says that the fall is slow and absolute rather than a fast plummet.
The Age of Innocence: Imagine this poster without Ryder's head. What's left is a strong image of a lovers embrace. The tagline shows that it's a forbidden love. The title, "The Age of Innocence," sharply contrasts against the lovers' actions. All in all, the poster works. The idea gets across. But then there's Ryder's head. She's placed in the foreground, in front of the lovers, which leads us to believe that she's more important than the people behind her. I'm convinced that the studio felt that Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer weren't enough to sell this movie. They added her pretty young face to the poster to sell more tickets. And that's all they did. She clearly didn't fit with the other people on the poster, you know, the ones entangled in one another's passionate embraces. So, how do they fit her in? They just crop her head off and plop it on anywhere with some blank space. And that's exactly what's wrong with the Floating Head art direction.
Poster Rating: C+
Cape Fear: Technically, this one features Floating Eyes rather than an entire head. As it turns out, stylistically, that makes all the difference. This poster is pretty damn cool. Sure, it's pretty dated (peep the Polaroid) and looks more like a grocery store paperback than a movie poster but there's something about it I like. Robert De Niro was the biggest star in Cape Fear and they felt comfortable only putting his eyes on the poster. That's gutsy. Look at every other De Niro poster. He's front and center (see below) and you always know who you're looking at.
Poster Rating: B-
Goodfellas: Compare the Goodfellas poster to the Casino poster. The pose makes all the difference, doesn't it? Instead of three unconnected Floating Heads, Liotta, De Niro, and Pesci are postioned with one another in a way that speaks about their characters' relationship both with one another and with the audience. Three tough men standing in the darkness. That's cool. Three Floating Heads with no reference to the other Heads surrounding them? That's lazy.
The complexity of the poster's bottom half compliments the simplicity of the top half. The sharp contrasts between the darkened bridge and the lit city buildings are beautiful. Overall, this is a really strong poster--even with the dreaded Floating Heads.
Poster Rating: A-