Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Define 'Generic': Source Code's Poster

Look deep into the poster...
Duncan Jones' last film, Moon, had one of the most brilliantly eye-catching posters I can remember. Strongly, anachronistically distinctive, it recalled a time before every poster was just a heavily photshopped image of the cast posing, or smoothed-out close-up of the star. It made your eyes go funny if you looked at it for too long. If you ever saw the monstrous wall-to-ceiling ones on the tube: those concentric circles... I mean, just look at it!

Source Code, meanwhile, gets this:
Pow! Smash! Cool!
Yawn. There is another poster, the internet suggests , but this is the one spamming the side of every bus I see, making it easier for this to settle into the role of mental wallpaper. I didn't even notice how bland it was until I'd actually seen the film. Why?

A little hard thinking, a lot of Googling, and these were my findings:
i. Colours
It leans most obviously and heavily on the blue-centric (with a touch of red for contrast) palette of almost every sci fi/action/thriller poster of the last few years: The Dark Knight; Serenity; Next; Repo Men; Surrogates; Inception , to pick a few examples of variable quality.* It's the current default colourscheme for any and all films of its stripe, these days, and - playing fair - it is perfectly functional. The red does contrast perfectly nicely against the blue to pick out details. In this case...
ii. Title
Spelt out in red text and blocky, square-edged letters. Wait a minute... this feels familiar.
COMING SOON: Hitman of Lies (from the director of Inceptaken)
iii. Logo
Under this lies the slightly less striking orange bloom of an exploding train, aimed right at Gyllenhaal's heart like a bullet, implying this might be some kind of Unstoppable-esque runaway train type film. The logo for that film, in case you were wondering, looks a little like this...
The biggest cinematic deception since 'The Never-ending Story'?
iv. Background
Under all of it is that is the grid. Which can't be helped: the effect is relevant to the film, depicting the eponymous source code. So naturally...
TronGrid
Ah, damn... That's Tron Legacy, there, in case you were wondering. It's just about excusable - sci-fi is sci-fi, after all, and there are certain bits of iconography that help get that across- - but...
v. Photoshop
Ignoring all that, ignoring how anonymous it all is, my problem with the poster is thus: it just looks so incredibly tacky. With the exception of Gyllenhaal's manly white-noise stubble, everything just looks so plastic: contrast with the sharp lines of Moon's concentric circles. And that doesn't fairly represent the film at all. It's not Speed Racer**.
Even the gun looks poorly Photoshopped: which it might well be, given that the total screentime of our hero with a guy probably adds up to about 5 minutes. It's just so tacked on, as if to assure you, no this is action-packed!
This always made me feel like a man, you know. Now all I got is my enormous genitalia.
...Which is the main problem, really. The marketing seems determined to convince you this is an entirely different film.

The shadow of Inception hangs heavy, and fairly: the comparison is going to be drawn repeatedly. It might be coincidence, but Inception seems to have set the stage for big budget intelligent sci-fi in a similar, Philip K. Dick reality-questioning vein, and Source Code feels like the first great post-Inception film.

And Source Code does draw from, or recall, a whole constellation of other films: Minority Report to to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind all the way to Groundhog Day and, yes, Inception. But the film itself takes all those elements, and makes something coherent and individual. They're merely spices that give its flavour edge: strong-tasting, true, and as you bite down on each you wonder to yourself where have I tasted that before, but it's expertly mixed, so that each rises, piquant, and falls into the background over the course of the film.

Source Code mixes up the serious and light-hearted elements of those films with a deft touch, to make something that feels more human than Inception, but just as baffling a puzzle. It's a better film, frankly.

...Not that you'd know it from the poster.
...Did I fall asleep?

*An interesting thing happens, by the way, if you search for, in particular, sci fi or thriller posters. The results will be vast, ranging from Michael Jackson to b-movies... until you filter by colour. Changing to the blue-only filter flashes up almost entirely recent example of exactly the kind I was looking for. Try it yourself at home!
(You'll probably also notice how similar the main
Watchmenand Inception posters are. A little research suggest I wasn't the first person to spot that, though
**A film of which I am one of the few admirers, incidentally. I just dig the ridiculous cartoon ambition of the thing

1 comment:

Tim said...

The "blue sci-fi poster" is part of Hollywood's teal and orange obsession.

Check out these two blogs for some insight into the digital colouring epidemic that now plagues us (dun dun DUN!)

http://www.slashfilm.com/orangeblue-contrast-in-movie-posters/

http://theabyssgazes.blogspot.com/2010/03/teal-and-orange-hollywood-please-stop.html

Once you start spotting it, you'll never stop...

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.