Talking Movies

June 6, 2012

From the Director Of…

Few things are more amusing than the vicious kick in the ego routinely delivered to big-shot directors by their lowly marketing underlings in poster campaigns.

Prometheus’ poster heralds it as a new movie from the director of Alien and Gladiator. Usually this is the funniest thing about posters, when marketers have to scramble into decades past to find a hit (from back when the director actually had hits) to shove on the poster. Alien is legitimately mentioned to clue people in to the fact that this is an Alien movie, and semi-prequel status be damned. The mention of Gladiator though is properly amusing because it demonstrates the second funniest thing about posters. Gladiator is apparently regarded by the marketers as the last movie Scott made that people actually have any affection for. Scott has made 8 movies since Gladiator. Ouch… Scott may have sweated blood over Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, Kingdom of Heaven, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies and Robin Hood, but they are unceremoniously swept into the dustbin by the marketers’ realism that those movies might as well have never happened… The Great Scott isn’t the only heavyweight director to suffer this sort of indignity. One can imagine Fincher wailing sequentially “That was 7/12/14/15 years ago! I’ve made other films since then!” as Seven continued to pop up on his posters like a bad penny. “Yeah, you’ve made other films, but no one liked them….” the marketers would reply as they gleefully jettisoned The Game, Panic Room, Zodiac and Benjamin Button from his resume as not being worth a damn. How Fincher must thank Sorkin that he can now plaster The Social Network on his posters instead of Seven.

This albatross of a mid 1990s landmark movie hanging around his posters also afflicts Roland Emmerich. No matter what he does, he seems destined to be forever trumpeted as the director of Independence Day; and latterly The Day After Tomorrow. If he makes another movie with Day in the title that’ll probably get on to his posters too. The marketers aren’t screwing with these directors for the sheer joy of it; they’re trying to entice cinemagoers. Critical acclaim counts for naught when it comes to posters, all that matters is your back catalogue’s box office receipts. That’s why Peter Berg’s Battleship is from the director of Hancock, not from the director of Friday Night Lights or The Kingdom. It doesn’t matter that Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom are far better films than Hancock. Hancock did the biggest box office of the three. Battleship is a big summer blockbuster, and the posters need to emphasise that the man behind the lens has delivered that before with Hancock, rather than emphasising the critical acclaim he won with Friday Night Lights, which is defiantly not a big summer blockbuster. But there’s a further complication in the box office stakes which is what makes many posters an incidental satirical commentary: box office success without residual affection. This is where things just get hilarious; when a director makes a lot of money with a film that everyone hates, and mysteriously its name gets dropped from his subsequent posters in favour of films that people universally adore rather than bear grudges against. 2012 made a lot of money, not least because Emmerich always keeps his budget down, but its apocalypse extravaganza was just too much for most people compared to the measured apocalypses of his Day hits, and so it gets chucked from Anonymous posters.

Poster watchers observe these shifting sands of popular taste; probably determined by a combination of careful casting of the runes from focus groups and perusal of final box office takings that never lies. Sorry, Ridley…

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