Friday, April 18, 2008

Unused Poster Art by Bob Peak

Bob Peak (1927-1992)was an acknowledged Master in the field of the film poster--you've seen his work on the one-sheets for the original "Star Trek" film-series...and as the above designs for "My Fair Lady," "Funny Girl," and "Camelot" will attest, he was the "go-to" guy for designing bright attractive posters for movie musicals. As the "narrow niche" marketing of films, and talent contracts giving stars approval over the use of their image have put the thumb-screws to the creativity of movie posters (it seems to be all head-shots these days, turning the art direction of posters into basic Photoshop exercises) the call for real artists, like the Howard Terpening's, Tom Jung's, John Alvin's, Frank McCarthy's, Robert McGuiness', Richard Amsel's, and Drew Struzan's, has dwindled. More's the pity. It's rare these days to find a painted poster image in a theater's glass case (although George Lucas still insists on it). It makes the process of selling a film just a bit less art-ful.

But it was never easy. Below, are examples of Bob Peak key-art that, for whatever reason, didn't make the final cut for their film's ad campaigns. They're still pretty spectacular images in their own right.

Apocalypse Now--Initially, Francis Ford Coppola was willing to go with this austere evocative image for his Viet Nam epic for United Artists. But the UA suits felt it needed more color, and the stars needed to be prominent on the poster to attract an audience. Peak inserted images of Marlon Brando and, less prominently, Martin Sheen in the final design and added bright colors near the featured boat on the water, inspired by the psychedelic colors in the Do Lung Bridge segment. Another portrait of Robert Duvall was originally added (presumably in the upper left corner), then taken out. Good thing, too, as the poster was beginning to look a little crowded--almost too crowded to fit in the name of the movie. Still the kernel (no pun intended) of the idea is still buried deep within the poster--the sun, the river and the Huey's.

The Hunt for Red October--the final poster is not different in spirit to this early concept of Peak's, the poster is primarily red with a high-contrast image of star Sean Connery, but the images of the submarines is down-played substantially (there's a pun again!), and the film is cast in a more somber light than Peak's draft. Perhaps they didn't want this to look too much like a naval drama (which it is) to attract an audience. At any rate, Peak's concepts are interesting and certainly more colorful than anything in the movie. But with its colors and its hinting of a hi-tech aspect to it, one also gets a "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" meets "Captain Nemo" vibe. And that wouldn't do to attract any audience not familiar with the Tom Clancy novel it's based on. By contrast, the real poster is almost austere in its intrigue.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn--Paramount's first "Star Trek" movie cost a lot of money and only did marginal business for the cost, so the budgets for all departments were slashed when making the second film, and that included the marketing. The first poster for "Star Trek II" (far right) has the title framed by rather obscure images from the film that said "Science Fiction Adventure," but not necessarily "Star Trek" (I mean, Great Scott, where's Spock?) After the first successful week in theaters, a Peak poster was issued for the film, but this was one of the initial concepts for it, with, as with the final (near right), the "Star Trek" crew's role downplayed, and the most prominent image being that of Ricardo Montalban's Khan. However in Peak's initial drafts (there were several), the figure of Khan is always the most prominent, and in this design, his pose is bizarre and threatening, more in keeping with larger-than-life sci-fi.

Pennies from Heaven-- When a big-screen version of the Dennis Potter-penned BBC drama "Pennies From Heaven" was opted for the movies, everything about the series was ballooned to huge proportons, then Steve Martin, who loved the original, was hired to star. Trouble was, folks still associated him with his bizarre comedy and didn't see him in a dramatic role, as is almost common-place now. Herbert Ross puffed the piece up with elaborate musical numbers until it was hard to associate it with the small-in-scope original. Whatever the reason, the public stayed away in droves. Peak's final poster (right) let you know it was a drama, and that Martin danced in it, but one of his early concepts had it even more dramatic, with the dance sequence aspect being what it was in the film--a reverie--and the dance looked more like an Astaire/Rogers number than a Steve Martin-doing-Gene Kelley riff.

The Year of Living Dangerously-- This is a study of Peak's for the poster, and looking at the final, you could almost swear it's Peak's. The color scheme is the same, with the similar figure of Gibson cantilevered in the foreground, the head-shots of Gibson and Weaver in back, and incidental frames of Indonesian life cutting diagonally in-between. But, I'm placing my bets on the poster being done by James Bond poster artist Robert McGinnis, as the shots of the stars are far more glamorous--something more along the lines of what McGinniss was known for (although compare the romantic scene with that of "Funny Girl" above--looks familar, right?) No, I'm thinking McGinnis because of the prominent jaw-line given to the Weaver figure--it's more in line with McGinnis' style of drawing glamour-women, and as well as Peak made her look in his version, it's just not bursting with romantic ardour as the McGinnis is. Speaking of James Bond...

Licence To Kill--This one hurts. The second Timothy Dalton James Bond film desperately needed a shot in the arm to compete with summer blockbusters like "Batman," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." This attempt to present James Bond in a "Dirty Harry" mode was well-liked by the Bond producers, but the dithering execs at United Artists were having a hard time figuring out just how to sell the Bond picture. The final poster (right), an uninspired photo-collage, didn't say anything about the film and didn't really convey anything "007" about it (oh, except for the logo to the right of his head--nice attempt, there!). The resulting box-office was luke-warm, which strained relationships between the Bond producers and United Artists to the breaking point. For a time, the movie rights to James Bond were available for the right price, and a law-suit between the parties kept James Bond off the screen for double-o-seven years.

Prince of the City--Sidney Lumet's powerful film about police corruption in New York starring Treat Williams was coming off of some of Lumet's least successful films at the box-office ("Equus" "The Wiz," and "Just Tell Me What You Want") and returning Lumet to the field where his box office smash "Serpico" toiled. The final poster for "Prince" (right) featured a prominent picture of Williams against a simple city background, and conveyed none of the drama of the film (or even gave a sense of what it was about!), and, wait a minute, it doesn't even show Treat Williams! All it says is "Cop in New York." And more than anything looks like a "Wanted" poster. Did anybody question why no one went to see this? At least, Peak made it less somber without sacrificing any of the drama, and the eyes are drawn to the most solid, least impressionistic aspects of the poster--the gun and the badge. Maybe the poster is just a little too fantastic-looking for the film that Lumet made. But, really, which of these posters would have made you want to see the film?

The Black Stallion--The final poster image for the film (right) is a beautifully evocative one, but Peak did a series of studies for the film of which this is the most austere, but it very neatly and mysteriously conveys the best part of the film--the nearly thirty minute wordless idyll on the island between the boy played by Kelly Reno and the horse. It's a beautiful image for a masterful film.

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