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Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" DVD is coming out this week and I strongly encourage you to watch it if you haven't. It's a fantastic film with incredible cinematography and it reaches for some deep meaning. Although I'm not sure if it ever finds it, it certainly tries hard, and that's more than can be said for many films these days.
The DVD was a must-have purchase for me until I saw the DVD cover:
What the hell is this crap? Studios don't seem to understand that for many people who buy DVDs (not everyone, but many), DVDs are considered collector's items. It's a good feeling to have a DVD on the shelf with some nice artwork on it, just like it's nice to have a good painting/photo on the wall. Unfortunately, many studios seem to slap whatever heads and/or names they can find onto the cover in the hopes that passersby at Walmart will get excited at seeing some actress' face and immediately want to buy their latest film (this DVD malady is sometimes referred to as "floating head syndrome").
This is especially infurating when the movie poster art was totally fine to begin with. "Children of Men's" own film poster was marvelous:
Beautiful yet simple. WHY WAS THIS NOT ON THE COVER OF THE DVD? Aside from wanting to get Clive Owen's face on the cover, the only reason I can think of is that the artist of this poster demanded huge royalty payments, and the DVD producer decided to turn him down and make the DVD cover art in 15 minutes with a copy of the DVD and Microsoft Paint instead.
In all seriousness though, why is DVD box art, in general, so bad? There are undoubtedly many factors that go into this, including artist fees and movie-related art availability in general. But the biggest contributor to the horrendous art collection you have sitting on your DVD shelf is undoubtedly the actual purpose of DVD box art, which differs greatly from the purpose of movie poster art. Movie poster art is supposed to make you aware of the film and to create buzz. When you're walking out of a movie theater, all you need to see is this:
That catches your eye, gets you scratching your head, thinking about the film, admiring the artwork, talking about it with friends, and generally psyched for when the movie's going to come out.
DVD box art, on the other hand, is supposed to move products off the shelves; when you've got millions of people walking through DVD sections in Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Circuit City each day, you don't want them to be confused about what the movie is about, or which movie it is they're buying. How do you avoid this? By enlarging the main actors' faces, putting as many big names on there as possible, and making sure to include unsightly review text somewhere on the cover, so that people will know what to think of the film:
"Hey isn't that the magician movie with Hugh Jackman?"
"Who cares, Scarlett Johansson looks so damn HOT. Let's buy it."
Here are some more recent examples of movie posters and their accompanying DVD covers, and my personal take on what I think of each one:
This poster art is not the most beautiful that will be displayed here, but I think it has its charms. "The Departed" is displayed in gigantic, alpha-male-like font while glimpses of the stars' faces are seen in the text. The faces are striking because of their flesh-colored tones against the stark black background. Not too fancy, but it gets the job done.
Unfortunately, between the time the movie and DVD were released, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Leonardo Dicaprio all developed jaundice. Their skin tones have become sickeningly yellow and the bold wide font on the poster has been replaced with a crap, generic one. The top left corner shows the city of Boston tinted in a sickening blood red. I throw up in my mouth a little bit everytime I look at this.
Again, shockingly simple. Just a huge ass diamond in the middle with a large drop of blood coming off of it in front of (again, another) stark black background. In small type, the star's names adorn the top. My curiosity is piqued....
The DVD cover art shows some sort of disastrous fire in the background; Dicaprio and Hounsou look reflectively off into the distance, unaffected by the disaster unfolding around them, while an extraordinarily awkwardly posed Connelly stares lovingly at the stoic Leo. Although it's not the worst of what we'll see, it certainly doesn't get me excited about the film. Fairly awful.
...the DVD on the other hand has an un-bow-tied Craig walking towards you against a pale gray background while a car shoots out of his side. Meanwhile a towering woman's silhouette shows off her hotel-like innards. This is not sexy. This is not exciting. This doesn't even look good. My only question is: Why?
The Last King of Scotland:
Although this poster just has one gigantic head on it, I still think it's quite effective. the stark, contrasting orange and red really make the image stand out, while the tagline "Charming. Magnetic. Murderous" makes Forrest Whitaker positively menacing.
Meanwhile, on DVD, it's the Whitaker triplets! See Whitaker smile sensually at some random woman! See him stare at the camera reflectively! See him appear to be delivering a speech! This looks like some drunken, hopped-up, Whitaker-crazed fan got her hands on some Photoshop and created this eye rape for the movie studio...while she was on acid. Finally, we come to my last example, and the one on this list that's saddest of all...
Darren Aronofsky's third film, "The Fountain," was one of my favorite films of the year, a glorious sci-fi epic and love story all rolled into one. This poster, which has an image taken straight from the film, manages to capture that magic. On the tree-spaceship (don't ask, just see the movie) Hugh Jackman stares wondrously at the nebula while the memory of his wife, Izzy, looks on. Most importantly, the poster conveys the fact that the film itself is beautiful, and loaded with amazing imagery.
So what did "The Fountain" do to deserve this? Jackman is nibbling on Rachel Weisz' face while she looks off towards the sky, perhaps reflecting on why they're both glowing so brightly. Meanwhile there's a huge tree in the middle and a bizarre-looking fight going on at the bottom, with Jackman dressed as a Spaniard soldier. What market segment is this cover possibly trying to appeal to? Those that are really into romance movies, horticulture, and hack-and-slash period pics, apparently. Ironically, this might actually be who the movie DOES appeal to, but it doesn't excuse this hack job. Truly, this box art makes baby Jesus cry.
Given all this vomit and anger-inducing cover art, I'm going to vote with my dollar and wait for "The Fountain: Together We Will Live Forever Edition" and "Children of Men: Birth-Giving Director's Cut," hoping for better cover art before I plunk down my hard-earned cash on those discs.
[Update: Like what you've read? Subscribe to my blog using this link with your feed reader. Also, read an update about "The Fountain" cover art at this link. And use this link to go to my most recent post. Thanks for reading!]
So my story made the front page of digg and generated a ton of comments, all of which I’m grateful for (thanks for reading, even if you hate my writing style and content!) and some of which I’d like to respond to. Before that though, I just want to say thanks to my friend Devindra for his help in crafting the above post. If you have a chance, head on over to his blog and show some support. Anyway, on to the postings:
1) Posters ‘HunterTV’ and ‘soyLocoMoco’ offer some further insights into the cover design process. Digg user ‘HunterTV’ writes that “DVD covers redesign the poster artwork simply because most poster art, when resized, makes the title too small or the art too hard to make out. They're all competing against other DVDs either on the shelf or at the video store, so the faces become more prominent (especially if they're A-List actors) and the titles get bigger.” I agree that this might be the case in certain situations, and I definitely agree that that’s the rationale for the bigger faces. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily a good excuse for pushing out a bad product, especially since small DVD boxes can still hold decent, even great or iconic art on them. Example:
Digg user ‘soyLocoMoco’ writes that “my friend works for a design company making DVD covers. The art directors on the DVD boxes are the product managers at the major studios (ie, marketers with probably no design experience whatsoever). They consistently demand big type, big tits, and fireballs. There you have it.” I have no follow up to soy’s quote, except to say that it explains a lot.
2) Other users brought up some great examples of butchered movie poster art. ‘Spartandog’ brought up “The Rocketeer,” and 'DigTheDoug' brought up “Infernal Affairs,” both atrocious examples of bad DVD art. ‘Drewc1138’ brought up Star Wars as well, which is equally baffling. ‘SanTe’ brings up “History of Violence,” which I agree is a terrible DVD cover, and although I think the movie poster art is solid, I wasn’t as huge a fan as others. Also, I’m not even going to bring up “The Matrix Revolutions,” which was a DVD cover that I could have personally made myself in about 3 minutes:
3) Other random notes:
-Some people collect stamps. Some people collect baseball cards. I like to collect DVDs. It doesn’t mean that I sit around staring at my DVDs all day, or that I hang them up on the walls like paintings. It just means I like knowing that I’ve purchased a product that someone has clearly put some effort and care into.
-‘glxyjones’ makes a good point about collector’s edition DVDs. Oftentimes, studios save the good art for a double dip. As a friend of mine, Angie, pointed out to me, this punishes the biggest fans of the movie the most; the first release is often just a bare-bones with some terrible art, and the people who don’t give a damn buy it up. Meanwhile, big fans and DVD collector’s are forced to either buy this bad copy, and then buy it again, or simply wait an eternity for the second edition to come. Either way, not the best marketing practice.
-I like using the word “stark.” It should be used more in everyday conversation.
Update 2 (probably my final update):
A lot more has been said in the comments section, so I just wanted to take some time to address and acknowledge people’s points, while clarifying my own:
1) Many have provided valuable insights into the whole DVD-making and DVD-art-making process. Different artists, different design studios, studio requirements, etc. all come into play. To anyone that has shared from his/her experience, thanks! The 36 hours since this post have gone up have been very educational for me. In particular, I was intrigued by “Anonymous"'s comments, who claims to work at a marketing company that designs DVD art. S/he made the following remarks on my blog:
“The purpose of DVD art is to get people to buy it. There are tried and true marketing statistics that show that unless, it's a movie they already know they want, a lot of people take one look at a DVD cover and decide whether they will buy it or not. And more statistics that show that a lot of people will buy DVDs simply because an actor they like is on the cover. They go "ooh, Hugh Jackman!" or "ooh, Leo DiCaprio" and put the DVD in their basket. That's why so many older movies with yet-to-be-stars in them have been re-released with that star on the cover, regardless of how big their role is…
Sadly, most DVD releases aren't marketed to movie lovers and collectors, they're marketed towards mass America, particularly moderate middle-class Americans…Wait for the Special or Collector's Edition. That's the one that's marketed toward most of the people reading the post in the first place.”
First of all, I recognize that primarily it’s the studios who are fault here, not the artists or the DVD designers. What else could be the explanation? What else could possibly explain why someone would consciously transform “The Last King of Scotland” into the feel-good comedy of the year on DVD?
I also recognize that DVDs aren’t primarily marketed towards DVD collectors are movie lovers; they are mass-marketed for profit. I'm sure that millions of dollars of market research has been poured into this and that statistically speaking, DVD covers with Leo Dicaprio's face sell more than DVD covers with bleeding diamonds on them, but surely isn't it possible to find a happy medium? There are plenty of DVDs that have found mass-market appeal that still manage to have fantastic cover art (For examples, see “The Sopranos” (and other HBO series), “The Usual Suspects,” “Empire of the Sun,” “Schindler’s List”…just DVDs off the top of my head that are popular yet manage to have a nice looking DVD cover). I think it can often, though not always, be possible to please both DVD collectors and everyday DVD purchasers, but studios are just too lazy sometimes, and this is what I have a problem with.
With regards to waiting for the Special/Collector’s Edition, year's later, there’s still not a lot of transparency with regards to those editions. Many bloggers/writers have already complained long and hard about double-dipping, so I’m not going to devote too much time to it here. I’m only going to say that the day in which studios consistently announce something like “Children of Men SPECIAL EDITION comes out June 15th 2007” the same day that the bare bones edition is released, is the day that I quit complaining about the awfulness like the DVD covers you’ve seen in this post. Obviously companies like New Line did something like this for the Lord of the Rings DVDs, but it is far from being a widespread practice. We all know George Lucas, with his 341 editions of Star Wars is the worst offender in this regard.
2) Several people remarked on Digg (and undoubtedly, others agree) that anyone who chooses NOT to buy a DVD of a movie he likes just because of the box art sounds like a douchebag. I agree; it does sound douchebag-like. But let me just make clear; if it’s a DVD of a movie I love, like Children of Men for example, I’m definitely going to own it eventually. DVD cover art can't stop me from enjoying movies. However, I’m not going to plunk down $20 of hard-earned cash for it on release day if the box looks like crap. I’ll either wait for the special collector’s edition, or wait for the price to go down. Everyone has a price. Mine is $8 for aChildren of Men DVD with that cover.