Taking an entire movie and translating it into a single image is not an easy job. Identifying the elements which best represent 90 to 160 minutes of dialogue, action, character development and photography then reducing that down to its simplest form without losing the original meaning is an art in itself. This is exactly what illustrator Olly Moss does so well in his posters.
Some of these images work as promotional pieces: his treatment for There Will Be Blood, The Great Dictator and My Neighbour Totoro stand out in particular, as does the dark, brooding Batman image for The Dark Knight Rises. However, overall these are not film posters in the true sense: they are not advertisements designed to encourage the public to go to the cinema and watch a film they haven’t seen. Instead they are film fan posters, serving to remind the viewer of iconic images or ideas from a film they already love.
The images for the (original) Star Wars trilogy are fantastic retrospective pieces, which evoke the spirit of the films perfectly. But to do this they rely on the viewer recognizing the outline of C3PO, Boba Fett and Darth Vader, and what each of these characters represents in terms of the storyline. The poster for The Deer Hunter is even more problematic on this front. While it is a very strong image in itself, and a beautifully understated reference to a pivotal scene, it is meaningless unless you know the movie.
Moss draws inspiration from the work Saul Bass produced for thrillers such as Anatomy of a Murder and Vertigo. It is a very bold, very stylized aesthetic that has a strong impact and Moss uses it to great effect in many of these pieces. This particular style does not work for everything however, a case in point being the Rocky poster here. It is a style that we very strongly associate with mystery and suspense, so while this image would be really great for The 39 Steps, it does not have the appropriate feel for an ‘underdog triumphant’ piece.
It has to be said, though, that the one or two slightly weaker pieces in his portfolio only stand out because the rest are so good, and commercial value or not, you can’t argue with the quality of the illustrations.
Have you tried to illustrate a classic scene? Do re-imaginings enhance or detract from classics? Let us know what you think in the comments.