Review by C.J. Bunce

If someone were to ask you whether you prefer covers to books or movie posters or compact discs that were either (1) painted or (2) created via computer using compilations of photographs, which would you choose?  Do you know anyone who would prefer a photo cover to a cover painted by an artist?  Would you believe it that the powers that be, those folks who make all the decisions from On High, claim that focus groups and marketing studies show that consumers prefer photos to paintings?  Who and where are these test subjects, and what planet do these people hail from?

The comic book medium has realized what audiences have preferred for years, which is why they enlist the likes of Alex Ross, Mauro Cascioli and Adam Hughes to paint covers, it’s why the main covers of comic books used to entice an audience almost always have renderings drawn or painted and only rarely do you see a “photo incentive cover” as a limited edition item.  Were it true that we, the audience, preferred photo enticements to illustrations by artists, don’t you think comic book publishing would have figured that out by now when they create movie and TV adaptations?  I think the reality is that decision makers in marketing departments in the entertainment industry (outside of the comic world) are often out of touch with real audiences.  That distancing explains why so many movie trailers are made so poorly, too.  It explains why movie posters these days cease to grab our attention like they once did.

What was the last movie poster that caused you to stop in your tracks and want to go see a movie?  That, after all, is the point of a poster, isn’t it?

The original classic art by Struzan for the 1978 re-release of Star Wars

The Art of Drew Struzan at first blush is a coffee table book chronicling the work of the artist Time Magazine called “the Last Movie Poster Artist.”  Along with the books Drew Struzan: Oeuvre (2004) and The Movie Posters Of Drew Struzan (2004) you can see the entirety of more than 150 movie posters Struzan has produced during decades of painting for studios big and small.  And if you were going to pick one of the three books for a reference book on Struzan at a book shop, you might skip over The Art of Drew Struzan for one of the other books that has more movie posters featured.  But skipping this one would be a big mistake.

Original comp art by Struzan for John Carpenter's The Thing

From the introduction by Frank Darabont, director of such big films as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, (two films borg.com writer Jason McClain and I can’t stop talking about over the years), you know that you are beginning to read a very unique kind of book.  A bit from Darabont’s introduction:

“I have seen the future, and it sucks…. There’s no sugar-coating this.  Movie posters suck these days.  They’re going to suck even more tomorrow.  And as we shuck and jive (and text and Facebook) ever onward into the digital future, movie posters will just keep doggedly and willfully sucking all the more.  It’s a headlong progression of suckage, a symptom of the mass-produced everything-by-committee mindset of our culture….”

Amen, brother!

Struzan's comp for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, which did not make it to a final poster

What Darabont is speaking of is the advent of the digital creation of “art” via Mac utilities and the likes of Adobe Photoshop, where productions can design a cover or poster work far cheaper by having anyone on staff easily combine photos of actors and scenes into an image, without including any input from a trained artist.  It’s pseudo-art, images made to think we’re looking at a creative work, without considering the artistic thought that used to go behind such works.

Changes in marketing leadership ended Struzan's role in the Potter films mid-way through creating Chamber of Secrets

The text of The Art of Drew Struzan that accompanies the images found in its pages is all Drew Struzan as he explains not just the work of the artist, but the decline of the profession of making movie posters itself.  Struzan uses highlights of his projects from the beginning of public recognition of Struzan for his work on the international poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to a poster for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.  Better yet, he uses in-progress artwork never before made public to illustrate his creative process for each movie featured in the book, artwork that he calls “comps.”

If you were just flipping through the book at a bookstore you may pass this one because it is missing a lot of key subjects in Struzan’s past–images like his work on movies featuring the Muppets, for example, or Jurassic Park and E.T., the Extra-terrestrial, that are among his most notable works.  As you read through the book you understand how a lot of his early comps were never retained–the cost was too high for a struggling artist to pay for copies, or studios kept the comps.  So the existence of this compilation alone is a lucky thing to witness.

The comp for Hellboy by Struzan, which never made it to final poster

What Struzan reveals in this book is a story not just of someone who is the universally acknowledged king of movie poster painting.  That of course is true.  But he apparently is like a lot of classic artists of centuries past, who never received the full monetary benefits that his “benefactors” (here, the  filmmakers) were able to make from his work, and the “millions” audiences assume he made from this work.  This is a story of a struggling artist, barely a blue-collar life, in his view, at points in his career, although he was selected and admired for projects by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo del Toro.  This is also a how-to book of sorts for aspiring artists wishing they could be mentored by such a superb painter.

Struzan reveals a dwindling of artistic control for the artists as it happened over just a few decades for him, where “the suits” from Hollywood showed less and less respect for his artistry to the point that Struzan got fed-up and retired.

Not even this great poster would likely have made Waterworld succeed at the box office

Look for key featured Struzan works for movie posters that never made it to final form in movie marquees, such as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Waterworld, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth.  And the amazing variety of different styled comps are evident as seen in the pages for Blade Runner, the Back to the Future films, the Indiana Jones films, and the Star Wars prequels.  The quality of the images included stands strong for those wanting the traditional coffee table book, too.

The Art of Drew Struzan retails for $34.95 but can be found less expensive at online bookstores.  And if you’d like to own the original art, many images are still for sale at Struzan’s website.

About these ads