Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What's Safe to say About the Poster for 'Safe'

There's a lot about this poster worth noting.

Starting with brass tacks and moving to the more aesthetic:

1: No tagline

"There's only one safe way out." "How far would you go to keep your loved ones safe?" You know. That kind of thing. It's missing. By itself, it doesn't mean that much, but for a Statham flick it's a bit conspicuous in its absence. Most action flicks, and definitely most Statham action flicks, have taglines on the poster. For 'Killer Elite' it's 'May the best man live'. 'The Mechanic': Someone has to fix the problems. 'Crank: High Voltage' went with: He was dead...but he got better. 'Transporter 3' used: If you need to arrive safe and in one piece -- hire a professional (more of a tag paragraph). 'Death Race': Get ready for a killer ride.

Does the lack of a cheesy tagline on the poster for 'Safe' mean anything? Maybe not. But, taken with other indications, could be.

2: The title

'Safe'. Not very Statham-y (refer to the titles in item #1). Back in 1995, Julianne Moore made a movie called 'Safe'. It was a very intellectual talky indie flick with a very indie title that Moore was perfect for. It's fair to say 'Safe' is atypical for a title of a Statham movie.

3: Hiding the star

Usually, Statham is front and center on his posters. Of course. He would be. He's the star. What are you going to do? Hide him. However, that's exactly what they do in this poster. There is a guy there, and we know that's Statham but, if you didn't know, could you identify him? No way.

That definitely says something about the plot of 'Safe'. It's so different from the Statham flicks we know and (mostly) love they didn't even want to put the guy's face on the poster. This is unusual enough as to qualify as making a statement.

4: Vertical alignment of the title

Why is the word 'Safe' in such big letters and aligned vertically? Because...that precludes a large graphic or still from the movie from being used. With the lettering going from top to bottom, filling almost the entire poster, there's no room for anything else.

Okay, why do that? The most likely candidate: There's no appropriate Statham-esque imagery. The movie might not have an exploding car, crashing helicopter, or fireball of any kind. There might not be a suitable visual to use on the one sheet.

The other problem with imagery is: just how do you convey what the story is about when you have a slugline like: A former elite agent (Statham) endeavors to rescue a 12-year-old girl (Chan).

The 'Safe' poster does have an image that sort of conveys this storyline but it's tiny, The only movie with a similar storyline I can think of is 'Man on Fire' and I've always chuckled looking at that poster, which showed Denzel protecting Dakota Fanning thus:

Not bad except, in order to get Denzel's hand that low on Fanning's body (to keep it off her chest -- just not the look/feel they were going for), they elongated Washington's arm by several inches. The result is a tad unfortunate.

A poster with this design may have worked for 'Safe' but, all things considered, I'm glad they didn't go that route. Imagine where Statham's right hand would be if he reached out and put it on the girl's body (like in the 'Man on Fire' poster). Now imagine how bad it would look if his right arm were stretched out like Denzel's.

As is, his hand is safely in his pocket and his arms are the same length. Call it a lesson learned.

5: Color scheme. Black just doesn't say 'action'. The red lettering does, maybe, but a solid black background says 'serious', 'heavy', even 'dramatic'.

6: Graphic design. Taken separately from elements like color, font, layout etc., there's still something left over. The 'look' of the poster. It has that retro feel. It looks like folded paper. The edges are 'dirty', like they were white at one time but that was years ago.

Why? Could the plot be a more character-driven affair like a 70s movie? Could they be signaling us this isn't a typical Statham flash-bang plot-driven movie?

Now, let's look at stuff not on the poster.

1: Genre:

'Safe' is listed by IMDb as a crime flick. Not usual for Statham. A lot of his movies are about criminals, but they're action flicks with criminal elements. His movies are almost always action thrillers that may also carry a crime tag. As far as genre goes 'Safe' doesn't fit with Statham's other movies.

2: The release date.

October 28th. We don't get a lot of pure action over the Halloween weekend. There's horror (of course) and counter programming, usually a comedy, something foreign or period, nothing for kids. Pure action plays best in the summer, and cruddy action after the first of the year.

This year, at Halloween, there's 'The Thing', 'Paranormal Activity 3', and 'Red State' (horror for sure) taking care of the scares. 'Anonymous' delivers period intrigue. 'Johnny English Reborn' has the yucks covered, and 'Like Crazy' has counter-programming firmly under control.

Also opening is 'In Time'. That's sort of action, but it's got a sci-fi element so it's not the 'rob banks, crash cars, and blow things up brand' of action. But it's close, and this is another clue. If 'Safe' is a run-of-the-mill Statham action flick would it go up against 'In Time'? Why do that? Why not pick another slot? There has to be something about 'Safe' that makes it different enough from 'In Time' not to split the target demographic and, thereby, shoot itself in the foot.

I don't think the fact that one has sci-fi elements and the other doesn't explains it. I'm thinking 'Safe' has something else, maybe a depth, or a character thing, or even a dialogue-driven feel that 'In Time' won't emphasize. Something...just don't know what. 'In Time' may have some stiff competition.

3: Lastly, but certainly not least, the director.

Boaz Yakin. He has some action in his background but most of it was done a long time ago and it doesn't quite fit the bill genre-wise. The closest one to pure action (I haven't seen it) is 'Fresh' from 1994, which he both wrote and directed, but that looks more like a dramatic thriller. It was distributed by Miramax and they just didn't do pure action.

He co-wrote 'The Rookie', directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, with Charlie Sheen, but that's comedic crime. There's a co-story credit for 'From Dusk Till Dawn 2' but that's hokey crime/comedy/horror. He co-wrote 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time' but we know that ain't action. It's more fantasy with swashbuckling action/thriller elements.

So, what does Yakin like to direct? 'A Price Above Rubies', drama, with Renée Zellweger, which he also wrote. 'Remember the Titans' with Denzel Washington -- pure sports drama. 'Uptown Girl' with Dakota Fanning and Brittany Murphy -- comedy/romance. Yakin is not an action director. He's much more a go-to guy for dramatic, character-driven stuff.

Judging from the poster and other things, 'Safe' may have some action, but it's not your typical Statham movie. It may represent a branching out by the actor. He might be preparing the next phase. He's not getting any younger. Of course, he's not leaving the genre just yet. His next three projects listed at IMDb are 'Parker', a crime/thriller "centered on a thief who lives by a code of honor that includes never stealing money from people who need it," 'Echelon', about "SAS agent Nick Stone (who is) caught between the Russian Mafia and western agents trying to get their hands on the Echelon computer program," and 'The Expendables 2' -- we know what that's about.

Nonetheless, there's nothing in the poster for 'Safe' that says 'pure action' and lots that might indicate a departure from Statham's usual fare.

I think a lot of people would like to see a Statham movie that wasn't just another blow-em-up, and I think he's an underrated actor who could carry such a film. Here's hoping.

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