Friday, July 08, 2011

The New New Poster for 'Straw Dogs'

Before I get started, here's the first poster for the remake:

Most bloggers thought it was a failure. Alexander Skarsgård's reflection is just too hokey. That's the kind of imagery you see on posters for low-budget, straight-to-video B-horror. James Marsden's face is too clean looking. It's also too shiny, greasy/sweaty. Highlights are blown -- don't know why they went there. You can control that.

To me, the composition seems off. I remember thinking it was too 'up-the-nose'. Also felt splitting Marsden's face down the middle was wrong. I know that sounds convenient as Hoffman's face is not split exactly, but it did feel wrong at the time. I thought there was too much negative space on the left -- that seems related.

It has little of the pointed quality of the original poster for Peckinpah's film:

This poster always got to me. In fact, I didn't want to see the movie because of it. Not because I thought it was a bad or boring poster, but because it was that good, that edgy. I could feel the splinters of glass around my eye. It sent shivers up my spine. I thought the movie would lock my brain. (In my defense, I was a kid when Peckinpah's film came out in 1971).

Poster has that 'up-the-nose' camera angle thing too, but it doesn't seem to matter here. Maybe it's Hoffman's expression, maybe it's all that sharp glass -- nobody's looking at the nostrils.

Also, I like how his face isn't centered, but isn't split down the middle. It's totally off -- the composition is very wrong, but that adds a dynamic quality that fits with the movie's plot. This framing works, but Marsden's doesn't.

Then, there's Hoffman's expression. That's quite a foundation for the other elements. It's so still, confident. Like he's got four aces and you're holding two pair. It's so: 'Your move, whattaya got'.

And, lastly, the glasses frame is totalled. Bent, dented in the part that connects the two sides, split and broken on (our) left side, and the ear piece is bent up away from the ear. Lotta damage there. Takes a lot to do that to a pair of glasses. Still, though, the guy is wearing them. It's a characterization -- what kind of guy does it take, under what circumstances, to wear a pair of glasses that tore up? Character defined in a poster -- not bad.

Anyway, the boys in Marketing took the hint and came up with a new poster for the remake:

This is easier to look at, to be sure. Cleaner around the eye, obviously, but at what cost. All that broken glass is gone, but this is what made Hoffman's image so powerful in the first place. The imagery is cleaner but the poster is weaker as a result. On the plus side though, now we can see Marsden's pupil, which makes it more humanistic, as was Hoffman's. In the first poster (for the remake) you couldn't see Marsden's eye at all, which made it harder to care what happens to him.

Another problem is the face is still split down the middle which, admittedly, isn't necessarily a flaw or technical error, however, now there's more negative space on the left side. How'd that happen? Answer: they made Marsden's face smaller (yes, I checked with a ruler).

Hello. You don't shrink your star's face to make room for...more black space. No way. So dumb. Well, apparently -- way. Dumb or not, they did it.

Also, the glasses aren't broken, the frame isn't bent. It's way too clean. Compare Marsden's glasses to Hoffman's. One guy has been through something pretty rough, the other maybe dropped his glasses on the kitchen floor while making a salad. Not very effective. Doesn't convey the sense this is a violent story about getting to know your primal self. Hell, those frames are fine. 'Honey, I'm going to the one-hour eye place to get new lenses for my glasses. Be right back.'

Next element -- Skarsgård's reflection is now in black and white. A good thing. Helps it blend in. Makes it less noticeable,, insidious, more 'I'm watching'. But, the imagery is still hokey.

So, they made some gains but lost a lot of edge and they still have Skarsgård's reflection in the guy's face. Reminds one of some silly horror movie motif where a monster is growing out of a person's head.

It makes me think of Nurse Gollum with the conjoined fetus in her head from that episode of South Park. Sorry, just does.

And a bad side effect of going B&W is people are going to think the movie is in B&W. They are. On some level. Combine that with the conceptual title, 'Straw Dogs', and when people see the poster they're gonna go: "Don't wanna see a black and white movie about dogs made of straw. Thanks anyway."

There's another, way more subtle problem, and I realized it's one of the key things about the original poster that made it so effective.

Not only is Hoffman's eye surrounded by broken glass, but the lens is shattered just so. Glass is sheared away from the lens almost exactly in front of the center of the pupil. That has a definite psychological effect and is the core of what makes this poster so powerful. You feel so 'jabbed in the eye' when you look at it. You get the impression there is a razor-thin disc of broken glass sitting in the center of Hoffman's pupil like a contact lens from hell. The viewer can't help but feel it on an instinctual level. After the trailer, this has to be the main reason people wanted to see the movie -- the feeling they got looking, whether they were aware they were doing it or not, at Hoffman's eye behind that shattered glass. (In fact, I'll bet the poster had more to do with drawing an audience than the trailer).

Which brings us to the main reason the Marsden remake poster fails.

The most shattered part is in the lower half of the lens and is nowhere near Marsden's pupil. Big difference. And, the fact that the broken pieces of glass have been removed doesn't help. Compared to Hoffman's image the soft points of the new graphic are glaring: No broken glass around the eye, no shattered lens in front of the pupil, reflection of Skarsgård's face that totally takes you out of the moment, and the framing/placement of Marsden's face isn't as dynamic as that of Hoffman's.

The poster for the remake is very photoshopped looking and kinda sterile and a bit silly, and the monochrome is off-putting. The one for Peckinpah's version is much more tense, has a quiet yet powerful vibe. Makes you wonder what this guy is thinking about doing. Grabs you, stops you. Totally works. I've never forgotten it.

They need to throw in the towel on the 'Skarsgård's reflection in the broken lens' idea. Doesn't work. Redo the poster as it was done in the first place. Render in color. Use practical elements -- a real shattered eyeglass lens as opposed to the too-clean photoshopped approach.

There's still time. Toss this poster, start over. Get to work shattering lenses with hammers.


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