With the help of genre archeologist David J. Schow (The Outer Limits Companion) and grumpy old man Frank Darabont, movie poster artist legend Drew Struzan appears to be getting his revenge on Hollywood in the early pages of this 160-page coffee table book, reaching back to the very first lowlife that screwed him over all the way forward to the studio “suits” that finally drove him to retirement out of sheer frustration in 2008. Thankfully there are more rewarding anecdotes along the way as well as stellar reproductions of some of the most beautiful and effective poster art produced in the past few decades.
Struzan defined the look for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future franchises as well as Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China, the Police Academy movies and dozens of other films with stunningly on-target portraits of movie stars (often substituting his own body for male actors and his wife’s for female stars), superb compositions and a moody, grainy style that gave even science fiction subjects a classic film noir feeling. Struzan seems particularly proud of showing off his “comps”—monochrome dry runs for poster concepts that show him juggling different layouts and compositions, and in a number of cases winding up with a finished concept that never got used.
If a lot of this book comes off as embittered, Darabont rightly points out in his introduction that Struzan and the other legitimate artists who toiled on movie posters through the last couple of decades have every reason to be disillusioned. The dazzling painted art that was their bread and butter—and that defined some of the most beloved movies of the era—has more or less been supplanted by the mind-numbing Photoshop “staring heads” look that tells viewers nothing other than what actors have been signed to star in these films. As Struzan demonstrates, even when an A-list director like Guillermo Del Toro is in their corner and seeks them out personally, poster artists can still see their work rejected out of hand—and Struzan grew to the point in the first decade of the new millennium to expect just that. “You think you’re in control but you’re not,” he told Jon Favreau after the director assured him his poster art for Zathura would be used. So many of the images here, especially virtually everything Struzan produced for Del Toro including posters for Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy II, will be seen by readers for the first time. Even Darabont himself wasn’t able to get Struzan’s artwork for The Mist used—even after crafting Thomas Jane’s character in the film after the poster artist.
Struzan goes out of his way to single out George Lucas as one filmmaker who had the good taste and the clout to use Struzan’s artwork (Lucas presented Struzan with a replica of Darth Vader bowing down to the artist as a gift on Struzan’s retirement)—so it’s a little frustrating that the book only includes the artist’s work on Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and not any of the fantastic posters Struzan produced for the 1996 original trilogy re-releases (and I’d love to hear the story of Struzan’s work on my favorite Star Wars poster, the aged, art deco 1978 re-release style D “circus” poster featuring Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder). Even Struzan’s Phantom Menace poster, which the artist discusses in some detail, is AWOL here. But there’s more than enough work, both used and unused, to fill in the gaps—here’s hoping for a Volume 2. Struzan’s retirement is a tragedy, but not an unexpected one. As an artist he cast a long shadow over the movie productions he worked on, and studios seem to barely be able to stomach the contributions of writers and directors, let alone other artists outside the filmmaking process itself.