One of the features at my blog last year was “When Bad DVD Covers Happen to Good Movies", where I heap scorn upon the bad graphic designers of the world and the damage they impart upon quality films. You can find the three entries of that feature under the label Bad Cover Version (inspired by a Pulp song). Well, it’s a new year, so let’s start on a happy note, as the song goes: accentuate the positive. With that in mind, here are my five personal favorite DVD covers from last year, in no particular order, as well as five honorable mentions.
The Evil Dead (Ultimate Edition)
It may have taken an estimated 173 releases, but Anchor Bay finally did right by Sam Raimi’s horror classic. After covers featuring staged production photos of Bruce Campbell, comic book style artwork and the infamous Book of the Dead replication, they went back to basics and adhered to Colonel Mortimer’s Guide to Good Cover Artwork rule 1: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, utilizing the simple and effective New Line poster that’s most associated with it. Extra props for the added crease marks and rips.
Zodiac (Director's Cut)
Technically a 2008 release but the artwork made it’s way onto websites and this writer’s eye in 2007, so I am counting it. While I thought the original poster design of the Golden Gate bridge enshrouded in fog was great, at least before the first DVD release added the giant floating heads of Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo, the special edition’s reproduction of one of the Zodiac killer’s letter to the San Francisco Chronicle is everything an alternate cover should be: striking, effective and specific to the film. Too bad they had to add the stamp with the film’s title, but I guess concessions to commercial practicalities must be made.
Ace in the Hole
The Criterion Collection is so reliable that this article could be entirely devoted to their work, instead I will choose my personal favorite, the cover of Billy Wilder’s neglected masterpiece, and one of his only commercial failures, the wonderfully cynical and dark Ace in the Hole where a newspaper reporter, Jack Tatum, played by Kirk Douglas, instigates and nurtures a human interest story when he stumbles upon a man trapped in a mine shaft and milks the man’s plight for his own personal and professional gain. In this day of the 24/7 news cycle where opinion and agenda trumps objectivity and non-stories like Terry Schiavo and the War on X-Mas are given national spotlight attention over more pressing matters, the film is extremely prescient. The cover perfectly captures the tabloid nature of one of Tatum’s headline features.
Flash Gordon (Savior of the Universe Edition)
I am a huge fan of the theatrical release poster, thus this release breaks Good Cover Artwork rule 1, however, I will concede that if there has to be an alternate cover, you should be commended for hiring comic book artist Alex Ross, known for his work on the Marvel mini-series Kingdom Come, to create a cover that perfectly conveys both the iconic heroic and campy cheese tendencies inherit in director Mike Hodges and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple’s homage/parody to the classic sci-fi serial that inspired the likes of Star Wars.
This year 20th Century Fox went deep in their vaults to release a bevy of 50s, 60s and 70s fare that ranged from war epics to spy chic to Irwin Allen produced sci-fi spectaculars to kitchen sink dramas. Wisely they decided to release these DVDs with their original vintage poster art in tact (plus the awesome old logo with the really big 0). Since I believe this era represent the renaissance of quality poster design, I had plenty of options, but the Fantastic Voyage cover that conjures memories of those old Disneyland attraction posters won out with its simple image concept and perfect execution. The raw emotion of its beautiful chief image, people dropping like tears from an eye, was homaged by Steven Spielberg in A.I. (perhaps incidentally, but knowing what a fan of 50’s genre films he is, I doubt it) during a scene transition where a close-up of Haley Joel Osment is juxtaposed over Jude Law falling into the sea, reflected in his eye like a tear.
Army of Shadows
Criterion strikes again with another brilliant cover of another neglected masterpiece (well, until last year’s theatrical release at least) by a great director, Jean-Pierre Melville. Speaking of Pierres and Criterion, my friend Pierre sent me a link to this website of one of Criterion’s designer, Eric Skillman, check it out.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Global Warming Edition)
My second favorite 20th Century Fox classic cover, who needs the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage when you can just stare at this all day? Points deducted for its painful attempt to tap into the zeitgeist with the Global Warming Edition label, not that I don’t believe in Global Warming, I just don’t think the destruction of our planet should be playfully exploited for the release of an old sci-fi film.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Criterion take three. I have no idea what this film is about, guessing some kind of retelling of the classic deserted island story only, uh, on Mars, but my interest is piqued based solely on this lovely painted cover. As Jerry Maguire once said “You had me at monkey in a space suit”, I am referring not to the movie character, but my zoologist buddy Jerry, whose second favorite catchphrase is “Show me the monkey!”
Warner Brothers, like 20th Century Fox, opened its vault to release a bunch of B-movies this year. I love this very era specific cover with the repeating image of the silhouetted doomed flight. This also features one of my secret poster art guilty pleasures, the boxes on the bottom with stills of the all-star cast made famous by 70’s disaster epics and Superman sequels.
The Sergio Leone Anthology
An extreme close-up illustration of the side of a gunslinger, his sweaty hand approaching his weapon, the open landscape, his opponent off in the distance. Obvious for this compilation of Leone’s MGM Spaghetti Westerns (the Clint Eastwood/Dollars trilogy and the underrated Duck, You Sucker!)? I’ll give you that. Perfect nonetheless? Hell yeah!