Film Poster research: Thriller film posters…

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Media

Now,  although I have analysed some posters, I have only analysed 3, so I thought before I create my own poster, I’d better start analysing some existing ones from my chosen genre (thriller- and it’d also be good if they had a theme of revenge)…

Taken…

What are the main colours used in the poster and what do they connote?

The main colours featuring ont his poster are simply black and grey (black background and varying shades in grey for the letters on the quote from the film). This use of such dark colours connotes darkness within the film, or that it’ll have quite dark themes (reinforcing the idea of abduction we get from the quote and the name of the film itself). This way the audience are getting a clear idea of what kind of tone or mood the film will have before they even go to see it, making sure that they are not mislead. into thinking it’s something it’s not (for example, it’s clear from the poster’s choice in colour that this film will not be upbeat and cheerful, but dark and harrowing). The dark colours are also useful for helping to give the audience  a better idea of what kind of character the protagonist is. The shadow hanging over his face for example, seems to connote that he is in ‘dark’ or troubling times and thus the audience will naturally wonder why this is and whether he’ll be able to get out of this ‘darkness’ that surrounds him by the end of the film. Lastly, the light red used for the title of the film and in the leading star’s name ‘Liam Neeson’ helps connote bloodshed, danger, anger and violence will all play a part within the film as well. Which in itself signifies that this film may be of the thriller genre and reinforces also certain words within the quote we are given, such as ‘kill’.

What symbols are used in the poster?Do you need audience foreknowledge to decode the symbols?

I’m not entirely sure- as the quote in itself could be a symbol but it’s pretty straight forward and self-explanatory really. But I suppose it can be considered a symbol in the way that audiences need to see the film itself to discover who the character’s talking to and the details hidden behind his statement. Like if he really has the power or determination to do what he says- which is ultimately what will draw the audience’s attentions towards it and make them want to watch the film.

What are the main figures/objects/background of the poster? Are they represented photographically,graphically or illustratively?

The main, and only, figure featured ont he poster is Liam Neeson’s character, who is therefore clearly the protagonist of the film. Apart from the text and his figure, the background is black and plain- which might appear dull but is actually good for connoting how tormented Neeson’s character is- and how he is distanced from others- making us question why and whether this could change throughout the course of the film. The image of Neeson is presented clearly photographically, as it seems as if his photo has been taken at a separate photo shoot and is not a still from the film itself. The quote from the film has been crafted possibly graphically so that it is superimposed over Neeson’s figure and therefore reinforces how he is the one speaking these words in the film and that all the anger and determination in the quote is clearly evident in him.

Are the messages in the poster primarily visual, verbal, or both?

As with most posters, this one uses a pretty much equal balance with both visual and verbal messages- verbal messages are put across to audiences by the use of the quote from the film- verbally giving the audience messages and indications about the protagonist of the film and the themes within it also. For example, it says ‘if you don’t let my daughter go’ automatically telling the audience that the protagonist’s daughter has apparently been taken. And an indication at abduction such as this also indicates the film may be dark or upsetting- so the audience knows more about what they can expect from the film itself. It also says ‘I will find you. I will kill you’– indicating the protagonist is determined to do whatever it takes to get his daughter back- even resorting to violence. But the clever thing is- after reading the quote the audiences expect the father to be persistent and even violent but they have no idea where his daughter is, or whether he’ll eventually be able to get her back, so they therefore are likely to want to see the film and find out. Visual messages on this poster are just as important to conveying ideas about what the film will be like. The figure of the protagonist being obviously the biggest influence on the visual messages- as he is the only figure on the poster. The fact he is the only one reinforces his importance within the film but also, as he is alone, this conveys to the audience that he is troubled and reinforces his obviously tortured state of mind at his daughter’s abduction. The fact he looks deeply hurt and tortured could also reinforce the verbal messages that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get his daughter back- but will he be able to? The character’s morals can also be questioned through visual connotations we get in his pose and the lighting on his face- the fact a shadow appears to conceal a lot of his face and that he is looking at the floor makes it appear as though the character will go on a personal struggle as he searches for his daughter- and his character may suffer because of what he is put through. It somewhat makes him seem quite like a ‘anti hero’- one who perhaps has flaws or is willing to break the law to get justice (in this case, specifically getting his daughter back). This makes the character more interesting- as typically heroes within films are too good and are exceptional at most things- beating villains etc but having an anti-hero which Neeson’s character could possibly be, as it is somewhat implied by the poster, makes the audience more interested in him as he simply looks not like some courageous hero going to save his daughter from the clutches of an evil villain, but a simple man, who’ll do whatever means necessary to get her back (thus, the audience can connect to him more with these qualities- as he appears more ‘ordinary’ , as it is implied he has flaws as all normal people naturally have).  The gun is also a visual message, reinforcing the protagonist’s determination and making the audience believe what the quote says also. It connotes bloodshed, violence and danger, and also, makes the audience question to what lengths the character will go to get his daughter back (it also reinforces what I previously said about Neeson’s character being an ‘anti-hero’- as he clearly is going to use the gun to get his daughter back and therefore isn’t a ‘typical’ hero somewhat as he is using violence to get what he wants).  

Who do you think is the intended audience for the poster?

I’d say mostly male audiences are targeted by this poster- as discussed earlier the quote has clear vibes of anger and determination from the protagonist to get his daughter back- so, this, as well as the gun in his hand, connotes that there will be a lot of violence and therefore action within the film, which men stereotypically prefer more than women. Most importantly though, the protagonist is male, so therefore male audiences can connect better to him and the trails he goes through than female audiences can. Though more specifically middle-aged men would probably be the biggest audience targeted, or men simply old enough to have teenage/young adult daughters (so roughly around the same age as the protagonist) because they could connect even more to what the protagonist goes through and in general, what the whole film is about- which is one man’s determination to fight and do whatever he can to get his abducted teenage daughter back (and if an audience member is male, of a similar age and has a daughter or children also, they will naturally consider what they’d do if they were put in the character’s situation, and could understand and sympathize better with his actions). I don’t think female audiences are really targeted- as they stereotypically are the victims of the film (which some female audiences may find a bit sexist) and they don’t really have many characters connect to, apart from the daughter, but she is only mentioned and not featured, on the poster. So it’s safe to suggest the film will be more about the protagonist’s fight to get his daughter back and the journey he goes on to do it, than her story of being actually abducted.

Given that all movie posters have the same purpose- to get audiences to go and see the film- what persuasive techniques are used by the poster?

I think the poster persuades the audience to want to go and see the film basically through mystery- we know what has happened, what has upset the equilibrium (his daughter being abducted) but no details of this disruption are explained and we do not know how it’ll end. Will the equilibrium be restored, will he get his daughter back? Will Neeson’s character change because of what he is put through? As I said before, everything is clear- but audiences are told only the minor details and nothing much is explained. Thus, we want to see the film to find out more about the topics and points we have been given on the poster.

Which genre conventions are referred to?

Well, there are the typical and very conventional colours featured that regularly are used in thriller films, those being- red, white and black. Black connoting dark themes, which is reinforced by the theme of abduction the poster makes also clear through other devices. White suggests innocence and innocent victims (like the protagonist’s daughter) that regularly have to be saved or are hurt/killed within thriller films. Red, obviously connoting all of the bloodshed/anger/danger/violence in general that thrillers tend to contain. Disturbing and upsetting themes such as abduction which is conveyed by the quote as well the name of the film itself are also conventional for the thriller genre- as films of this genre tend to discuss and evaluate problems such as the abduction of  children, which is what this film is doing specifically, to perhaps bring them to the audience’s attention or even help fight/protest against it (such as the fight against the justice system in ‘Law abiding Citizen’ or the fight against corrupt government in ‘The Constant Gardener’). As well as this, the gun in the protagonist’s hand also serves as a convention- as they regularly feature in thriller films- helping characters, such as heroes, to get out of troubling situations or inevitably perhaps making their situation worse (like in ‘Perrier’s Bounty’….). A troubled and tortured protagonist is also quite an ongoing convention audiences almost expect within thrillers- as most characters within this genre of film often have dark pasts that haunt them, or troubling situations that they cannot get out of- and are helpless in- thus we feel more sympathy for them and want them to be able to fight back and win (like Michael and his ongoing struggle against gangsters he owes money to, which affects the relationship with his father in ‘Perrier’s Bounty’, the constant torture Richard feels at his brother’s suicide that prompts the murders he commits in ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ and Cobb’s reluctance to let go of his dead wife Mal which threatens to jeopardize the teams mission in ‘Inception’).

 Is a star used as a USP? Where is the star in it’s mise-en-scene? Why?

Liam Neeson is clearly the poster’s biggest USP. His name is clearly positioned at the top, almost like a banner. This means his name is clear to see even if not recognized by audiences (which, really, he should be). I think Neeson’s presence, considering when ‘Taken’ was amde, could ahve also prompted much audience attention because of his presence within the film alone. The fact he was established as a talented actor by his roles within dramas and romance films such as 1996 film ‘Michael Collins’ and upbeat rom-com ‘Love Actually’ but most notably his leading role within the epic drama film ‘Schindler’s List’ the fact this film is clearly an action-thriller could make audiences interested in seeing how Neeson deals with such an important role within a genre of film he is not entirely well-known for or really appeared to be connected to before. And judging from his recent films, I think ‘Taken’ could have been a route down to the actor making more action-packed and violent films, like his recent roles in ‘The A Team’, ‘Unknown’ and ‘The Next Three Days’.

Are ‘expert witnesses’ (i.e critics) quoted?

No. They’re not.

What pleasures (gratifications) are promised by the poster?

I think the poster appears to promise escapism- mostly through the action and violence that is implied by the quote ‘I will kill you’. Thus we feel as though we may be able to watch the film and not have to concentrate on it too much (which isn’t me being intentionally critical)- just simply lose ourselves in the action and escape from the mundane aspects of everyday life. But also think we are promised to learn something by the poster also- perhaps that the film will teach us more about the topic of abduction and it’s effects on the victim’s as well as their families- the fact the character appears so troubled and willing to break the law to get her back also seems to promise us a lesson on morals or indeed maybe justice also.

How is attention gained (humour, shock, surprise)?

I think the audience’s attention is primarily gained by the figure of the protagonist- and I think most attention is gained by the mystery surrounding the figure and the quote also. His quote also gains attention through shock as it appears as though he’ll really stop at nothing to get his daughter back- making us question how far he’ll really go. But primarily the mystery of who has taken his daughter, why they have taken her (was it something to do with him?) what he’ll do to get her back, how the ordeal will affect him/his daughter, and even if he WILL get her back is what mostly gains the audience’s attention and their interest in the film itself. It’s the fact the audience is only given  little, straightforward snippets of information with no intense or explanatory details is what makes it so alluring.

How does the tagline work?

I’m guessing the tagline here would be the quote itself, otherwise it doesn’t appear to have one. The quote: “I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t let my daughter go I will find you I will kill you” is technically the most moving and intriguing part of the poster. Firstly, superimposing it over the protagonist instantly makes the audience put two and two together and realise it is his character that speaks the line- yet we do not know at what point he says this or who to, so the audience’s interest in the poster increases. It takes up a lot of space on the poster, indicating this statement, thus the protagonist’s determination is his drive, but could also indicate that his drive to get his daughter back could consume him and dramatically change and alter his character. Overall the tagline is incredibly poignant, deep, tragic and clearly determined. The fact it is so blunt and understated reveals there is probably much more emotion buried beneath it, which understating the subject naturally exaggerates the character’s pain. Thus, we sympathize with the protagonist before we have even met him in the film, making us more likely to want to see the film and find out if he manages to get her back. Lastly, the determination of the character and his certainty that he WILL get his daughter back is clear ‘I will find you. I will kill you’ but what audience’s will want to know is, does he get what he wants? Is his determination and struggles rewarded? And naturally, only seeing the film itself can give them the answers they want.

Perrier’s Bounty…

What are the main colours used in the poster and what do they connote?

Primarily, as with the ‘Taken’ poster, the colours on this poster are  black, red and white- though mostly red and white. White itself indicates perhaps innocence and victims- but we don’t know who is innocent or a victim and who is not- as the audiences cannot judge just from the colour of the background which characters are bad and which are good as there are no specific indications at any character specifically in terms of colour. Perhaps this being an indication that the film is questioning who is considered as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and generally morals- like whether criminals can really be as innocent as any innocent bystander who has committed no crimes at all. It makes us generally question what innocence is and who can judged as worthy of this label. The consistent use of red again connotes that there will be a lot violence and bloodshed within the film- but why? And which characters will contribute to this violence? Will they all contribute to it?

What symbols are used in the poster? Do you need audience foreknowledge to decode the symbols?

Hmm….I don’t think so. Of course perhaps the coffee jar in the Jim Broadbent’s (playing the character of Jim) hand- which audiences wouldn’t necessarily know the true meaning of until they saw the film itself. Ok, it’s clear he may be intent on staying awake but there’s more meaning to it than that, which having seen the film, I know of (The true meaning being that he’s convinced he saw the grim reaper and he told him that the next time he goes to sleep he’ll die- which prompts him to try to force himself to stay awake through eating coffee granules, as seen in the poster, getting female characters to slap him in the face and even taking dr*gs). Beside that though, I don’t think there’s many ‘symbols’ that need to be decoded as such…

What are the main figures/objects/background of the poster? Are they represented photographically,graphically or illustratively?

The main figures of the poster are the long shot of Brendan Gleeson (Perrier) and the three mid shots of Cillian Murphy (Michael), Jodie Whitaker (Brenda) and Jim Broadbent (Jim). They look as though they are presented pretty much photographically- and as if they have all been taken at a separate photo-shoot (though the image of Brendan Gleeson could have easily been taken from the film as a still I suppose). The fact Brendan Gleeson’s character is a long shot could signify he is not only a powerful character (as he takes up more space than the others) but also one which is distanced from the audience themselves, revealing perhaps his character will be one we shouldn’t really expect to connect to and therefore he could be the villain of the film. Although the other characters only have mid shots, their importance is conveyed because of the central position of their image, especially Cillian Murphy, who appears to be directly in the centre of the poster (implying everything will revolve around his character and therefore he will be the film’s protagonist).  The background of the poster is a plain and solid white- although this may appear a little boring, this helpfully doesn’t distract the audience from the more important parts of the poster- which is namely the characters of the film that feature upon it. It also could indicate (by having the background plain) that this film will focus more on the character’s stories and relationships than other matters- and therefore could convey that this film is going to be ‘down to earth’ or realistic.

Are the messages in the poster primarily visual, verbal, or both?

Again, I think this poster relies on both the visual and verbal aspects of the poster to convey messages about the film itself- that way it just seems to work a lot better and become a lot more interesting also. The visual messages are mostly conveyed by the characters, their poses, positioning, props they’re holding and costumes also. For example, Brendan Gleeson (Perrier) clearly has a gun in his hand- conveying that his character may be villainous and may even be a criminal. It also makes the audience wonder what the purpose of the gun is- like how it got it, why he has it and whether he is after someone (which is reinforced by the title of the film- is his character after someone for a ‘bounty’?). It also makes the audience instantly realise that this film is probably going to be violent and therefore probably an action, thriller or maybe even a hybrid of the two. Also, the fact the characters played by Murphy (Michael), Whittaker (Brenda) and Broadbent (Jim) are all grouped together seem to convey the idea that these three characters are all closely linked and are perhaps even a team- but how are they linked? Are they family members? Friends? etc. The fact these three are all placed so closely yet Brendan Gleeson (Perrier) is separate from them somewhat makes us question why he is separate and how he is connected to them- is he after them? And if he is, why?  The three characters also look very small in comparison to his image- so this makes us question who has more control or power- does he have control over them? And if he does, how does this affect the characters or the film itself? Will this position f power/control change by the end of the film? As well as this, the jar of coffee in the hands of Broadbent (Jim) could also convey ideas to the audience that the film may have an element of humour in the middle of all of this action and violence- so perhaps it could be of the crime/comedy genre. Visually, a lot of the characters are very scruffy or natural-looking (as in they don’t really look like your average glamorous Hollywood stars) which is mostly indicated by their costumes, which are quite ordinary looking and the fact two of the characters have a  lot of stubble (Michael and Jim). This helps to convey to the audience instantly that this film will be more realistic, as the characters look just like any typical audience member, thus audiences will be able to connect to these characters more than the typical ones you’d expect to see on posters. This also could convey that the film will not necessarily be very glamorous and could be quite gritty or dark- like of the ‘kitchen sink’/drama genre (conveying trials and problems of ordinary British working class life) judging by the types of character being portrayed to us. The verbal messages are mostly conveyed by the tagline for the film ‘Blood is thicker than water. Nothing is thicker than thieves’- conveying again ideas that this film will also have comedy elements (‘thicker’) as well as crime and possibly violence (‘thieves’) and also reinforces ideas that their may be family connections between some of the characters (‘blood’) but who? Verbal messages about the film are also given to us through the snippet of the review of the film placed at the top- words from it such as ‘funny’ but also ‘hard-nosed’ at the same time helping to reinforce ideas again that the film may be a hybrid of both comedy and crime genres.

Who do you think is the intended audience for the poster?

In terms of gender in the target audience, I think males and females are targeted equally- this is because there are both male and female characters on the poster, seeming to appear in the same situation (reinforced by how some of the characters are clustered together) meaning that each gender will have a character they can possibly connect to or sympathize with. Not only this but all of the men on the poster appear very different- we have a young man, possibly in his twenties (Michael AKA Cillian Murphy) whom younger male audience members could possibly connect to, an older male character of about 50 + years (Jim AKA Jim Broadbent) and finally a male character who looks around middle-aged (Perrier AKA Brendan Gleeson). Ultimately this may reinforce ideas that perhaps male audiences are being targeted by this poster more than female audiences as while the male characters all vary in ages (meaning their will be a wider range of audience members who can connect to them) we only have one female character presented to us and thus the target audience for females will clearly not be as varied. Stereotypically men also are being targeted by the connotations of crime (mostly held by the gun in Perrier’s hand) and therefore possibly violence within the film, which male audiences are generally thought to prefer in terms of genre (and content) in films. 

Given that all movie posters have the same purpose- to get audiences to go and see the film- what persuasive techniques are used by the poster?

Again, as with most posters, this poster choses to leave most details about the film a mystery- therefore leading audiences to wonder what is going to happen and naturally intrigued, thus they’ll want to go and see the film. Here for example the poster tells us, in the film title itself, that there is a ‘bounty’ but we don’t know whose head it’s upon, who put it out, whether one of the characters will be able to collect it or even how it’ll effect the characters presented to us. We also have no idea whom ‘Perrier’ is, although we know he is the character who puts out a bounty, and obviously audiences will want to discover which of the characters on the poster this is too. There is also the question at the identities of all the characters presented to us, (Michael, Jim, Brenda, Perrier) as we cannot truly tell, from just looking at them, what type of characters they’ll be within the film- are they good or bad, how are they connected, who is the protagonist? What type of journey will he go on throughout the course of the film etc. Although personally I feel that the best persuasive technique used by this poster is the choice of costume/make up etc for the characters- as they look very well…normal. And looking at most film posters, they all seem to have elaborate or fancy clothes that generally shout ‘film star’ , but these presented o the poster are the exact opposite. And I think this makes the audience naturally persuaded to want to go and see the film- because these characters look like normal, everyday people, therefore we can connect to them easier and better and will furthermore be more likely to be able to connect to whatever storylines/trials/problems they come across in the film.

Which genre conventions are referred to?

Well the poster refers to the conventional colours typically found within the thriller genre- red, black and white (though mostly red and white). The constant use of white in the background may seem a little plain but appears to connote innocent and pure characters- but as all of the characters are surrounded by this colour we cleverly do not know yet which are innocent and which are not. Perhaps to bigger question being who is really innocent and can some be more innocent than others? The use of red also connotes violence/bloodshed/danger which are all quite common within thriller films. The little use of black suggests the film may contain dark themes, such as crime, which thrillers again tend to contain and are quite well-known for. The gun in Brendan Gleeson’s (Perrier’s) hand is also a common convention within thriller films, as they tend to contain violence and crime.

 Is a star used as a USP? Where is the star in it’s mise-en-scene? Why?

I think all of the stars that feature on the poster are used as USPs- Brendan Gleeson (Perrier) taking up most of the space ont he poster itself conveys that he may be useful for targeting audiences, most probably for his roles within the popular ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ and of those within similar films to this one (which I know because I’ve seen both of these examples) such as the witty and dark ‘In Bruges’. Jim Broadbent (Jim) is also used as a USP because of his popularity, being in films such as ‘Hot Fuzz’, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and ‘Moulin Rouge!’– which tells us, considering what the actor is most well-known for, that this film could be humorous as well as dramatic/thrilling. There is also Cillian Murphy (Michael), well-known for his role within the 2010 summer blockbuster ‘Inception’, as well as his sinister part as ‘The Scarecrow’ within ‘Batman Begins’ and‘The Dark Knight’– telling us that if his character is the hero, he is likely to have flaws or be a reluctant hero perhaps. And last, but not least, the poster has Jodie Whittaker, who is most well-known for her roles within the British teen chick-flick ‘St. Trinians’ as well as her role within the chilling TV series‘Marchlands’. Conventionally, the names of the stars are clearly positioned at the top of the poster, in a banner-like way- the stars first names being smaller and in red, last names bigger and in black- reinforcing ideas that perhaps last names of stars are easier recognized than their first…and are therefore more important to make clear and bold on the poster so that they are not overlooked or missed.

Are ‘expert witnesses’ (i.e critics) quoted?

Yes, one critic is quoted, which is positioned at the very top of the poster, distancing it from the other features of the poster (thus indicating it is telling us about the film and isn’t actually a part of it as such). The snippet of the review reads- ” An awesome, funny and hard-nosed crime film!”- which generally, not only helps to sell the film overall, but also reveals more about what the film is like the audiences- thus making them more likely to be happy in the knowledge of what type of film it is generally before they go to see it. For example, the review uses keywords like ‘crime’ and ‘hard-nosed’ to convey to audiences that the film may contain violence/crime and possibly even bloodshed. But it also refers to it as ‘funny’– linking maybe that it has wit or ‘gallows humour’ that ties in with the crime and dark parts of the film for comic relief- and also conveys that the film may be a hybrid of the comedy and crime/action/thriller genres.

What pleasures (gratifications) are promised by the poster?

I think not only is the poster seeming to offer us action- through all of the crime hinted to through various methods (such as the gun), humour- because of what is indicated by the review, but will also offer us a chance to truly connect with characters and perhaps knowledge on working class life. The means of how the characters are presented seems to offer us not just a chance to escape, but a chance to explore and learn about cultures and ways of life- in this case, the ‘gritty’ kitchen-sink spin on working class life. Thus working classes themselves are going to be naturally interested on the film’s take on this culture and the way the social group is represented also.

How is attention gained (humour, shock, surprise)?

I think attention is mostly gained through mystery. All of these characters are gathered together,audiences can all guess and assume things like costume choices, props etc will tell them a bit about the characters themselves but they really can’t know anything for sure. So, the only way they can discover anything solid about the characters and the story itself is to see the film. Attention is gained not so much about WHAT we’re told- and more through what we’re NOT told.

How does the tagline work?

‘Blood is thicker than water. Nothing is thicker than thieves’ the tagline is positioned near the bottom of the poster, and is quite small and in a light font, so it is obvious not deemed as important as other features- such as the images of the characters for example. Nevertheless it is clearly helpful for revealing to audiences several possible themes of the film itself- like the mention of ‘thieves’ indicates that one or more of these characters may be criminals- but does not specifically say who (though Perrier’s weapon could be a give away….). It also reinforces previous connotations that this film will be a crime/thriller. More specifically ‘blood is ticker than water’ conveys ideas that perhaps family relationships could be a big and explored theme within the film, and also conveys that one or two of these characters presented to us could be related by blood. But who? And how? And how will this effect the film? etc etc. All the talk of families and crime also leads audiences to think of gangsters, and the question of whether crime is more important than family to these characters/ Or do they come to realise at the end of the film that it’s really not? (which I know happens, as Michael does- about his mother and father). Also, I’ve literally only just realised that the tagline could also be taken in another way by audiences, and could be seen as being intended to be humorous. Like the tagline is indicating than thieves are stupid- ‘thicker’, which obviously would then reinforce the film’s comedy elements that have already previously been presented by the poster.

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