Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No Time for Subtlety, Dr Jones

The final one-sheet for this summer's eagerly anticipated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has been released. Anything new and official from the Indy camp is good by definition. However, as with the teaser trailer (brilliantly dissected by Ted Pigeon here), the poster lacks that old-timey quaintness, which was promised by Spielberg et al in the recent Vanity Fair spread (and was captured perfectly in the teaser one-sheet). There is way too much happening in the poster - it's very crowded.

It is understandable, if not downright essential, that the poster be dominated by Indiana Jones's giant noggin, and his equally huge fedora. The hat is a crucial part of the character's iconography, more so than the wip, and in the image, its size occupies the same amount of space as Indy's face. That might seem like stating the obvious, but it goes to show that whenever we see the character in action, our mind is taking in the same amount of information with regards to the hat as to the head. In The Last Crusade, the curious boy-scout only becomes the character we know when he puts on the hat. In all the films, the motif of the character's losing his hat, and his subsequent attempts to retrieve it, are repeated, thus solidifying the inseparability of the head and the hat.

Drew Struzan has framed the poster with the silhouette of jungle flora and Aztec(?) relics, appropriate since the film takes place in the jungles of South America. This is also a better use of Struzan’s usual penchant for constricting his posters with thick borders – his work for the Star Wars prequels featured increasingly expanding black frames. It’s a valuable, if slightly simplistic, technique – one which calls the viewer’s attention to the centre of the frame. It also has the misfortune of constricting the image, making it look too cluttered, even before the addition of other elements. Since Struzan likes to cramp in a lot of detail, one of the greatest devices of his trade also becomes one of its worst enemies (the large snake on the top right hand of the frame points directly at Shia LaBeouf’s character. If it weren’t so obvious that he plays Indiana Jones’s son, I would be inclined to suspect some sort of treachery).

The not-quite centrality of the eponymous skull is also necessary in the theatrical poster. Struzan likes to scatter the various elements of his designs somewhat haphazardly, which must be born out of his rush-hour-in-Cairo-like nature of his compositions. There have been some rumblings that the revelation of the skull’s obviously alien origin is given away too early. Well, this is an Indiana Jones film. The title says the skull is crystal. I think people would have made the connection to some sort of other worldliness, and not Damien Hirst (yes, I know his piece was made out of diamonds, but still). Besides, the skull is a MacGuffin, just like Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stone or The Holy Grail – its nature is incidental to its purpose. One of the things that drives me wild about genre fans (and there’s a lot that drives me wild) is their obsession with explanations – they are suckers for literalism, which the better examples of genre fiction very deftly avoid.

The remaining figures in the poster are dispersed slapdash beneath Indiana Jones’s face, with Shia LaBoeuf and Cate Blanchett's characters’ taking prominence. They are both featured with the one accessory that seems to define them in the film (this based on production photos) – LaBoeuf’s character’s motorcycle, and Blanchett’s sabre (she seems to have adopted a pose similar to the one Obi Wan did in the Attack of the Clones' theatrical poster, also by Struzan). Underneath Blanchett, we see the floating heads of Karen Allen and Ray Winstone, the latter looking like a cross between Rembrandt and Dom DeLouise. My favourite part of the poster is Indy legging it from the angry tribesmen behind him – a nice visual homage to the beginning of the first film. I just hope there aren’t too many of those, visual or otherwise, in the film.*

Compared to the other three posters, this one feels way too crowded, even though it features around the same amount of characters, or elements, as its predecessors. It’s just that the composition has made it look clunky, and amateurish; kind of like those fan posters where everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in for no other reason than the ├╝berfan’s central philosophy of “more is more.”I still can't wait for the flick, mind you.

And just a reminder: I will be hosting an Indiana Jones blog-a-thon to coincide with the release of the film in May. Come one, come all...

*OK, OK, maybe just the one:

(Photo credits: USA Today, and Indyfan.com)

7 comments:

jim emerson said...

Why is there a glowing Darth Vader in the middle of that poster?

Ali Arikan said...

Drew Struzan must have been tired of painting kitchen sinks, no doubt...

Oz Kanka said...

Off topic but any chance of you doing a review of The Wire. I love the show.

Kevin J. Olson said...

I'm down for a blog-a-thon. I cannot wait for this movie. When I was 7 I went and saw "Last Crusade" five times in the theater with my older brothers. It was my first real summer blockbuster experience.

Kevin J. Olson said...

The first thing I thought of when I saw this poster was that the glowing skull reminded me of the poster art for "The Descent".

Ali Arikan said...

oz kanka -

Here is the funny thing: I don't "get" The Wire. You might remember they started showing it on DiziMax last year at ten o'clock on Fridays. I taped all the first season episodes, as well as a few of the second season. I have only seen the first three or four of the first season, and the tapes are gathering dust on the shelves. I appreciated the skill that went into it, but, on an emotiobal level, I felt a disconnect.

Having said that, everyone whose opinions I value highly, think it perfect, even better than The Sopranos or Deadwood. I am definitely going to give it another chance. I have ordered the first four seasons on DVD from the US, which should arrive in the next month or so. I'll write on the show then.

In the meantime, please check out Jim Emerson's blog for an analysis of the show's first shot, Edward Copeland's blog for reviews of all the seasons, and Matt Seitz's The House Next Door for extensive coverage on all aspects of the show. The links are on the main page - a quick search in each respective blog should wield the pertinent results.

Anonymous said...

There's a huge selection of kitchen sinks available in all styles and materials. Take a look and I hope this helps people out!