What Content Strategists Can Learn from Movie Posters--The Sequel!

Posted by Owen Matson, Ph.D. on January 16
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MarketScale_Visual_Content_Storytelling.jpgIn a previous posting, I discussed how the film poster for Home Alone provides a powerful example of visual storytelling.  In short, the latter poster provides a full narrative within a single image—a medium that requires little more than a glance to communicate information.   

The poster for another beloved, classic family film, E.T: The Extra- Terrestrial (1982), works in a similar way. Like the film poster for Home Alone, the E.T. poster also creates a sense of narrative by setting up then calming tensions, provoking conflict and offering a range of possible resolutions. 

Let's take a closer look at the poster: 

The poster depicts Earth from outer space, with a mock-up of the Sistine Chapel’s depiction of God touching Adam in the top half of the poster, this time featuring an alien hand touching a child’s. Large print at the top of the poster reads “His Adventure on Earth,” while smaller print lower down the poster reads, “He is afraid. He is totally alone. He is 3,000,000 light years from home.” Aliens often suggest horror films, or at least sci-fi thrillers, and the vast expanse of space seen in this poster has been used in other movie posters (cf. Alien [1979]) to suggest isolation and vulnerability, especially when the poster’s vantage point—looking down on Earth—would seem to be that of the (invading?) alien.

MarketScale_Visual_Content_Storytelling Closeup.jpeg


Hence, as with the film poster for Home Alone, this poster could risk scaring off parents and children. However, the text refers to E.T. as a he, not an it, and makes “him” sound like a lost puppy, invoking SPCA ads more than H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, even while calming these anxieties with the notion of his “adventure.” “His Adventure on Earth” reads like the subtitle of an issue of Boy’s Own Journal or Tintin, albeit with a science fiction twist, and thus the invocation of both a lost puppy and a young boy’s adventure tale significantly domesticates and tames the film’s image.


Furthermore, the Michelangelo allusion is an arresting image (see the images below), in part because the calm in the child’s hand suggests a reaching to touch the alien, not a retraction from doing so, in part because the alien’s bent wrist makes the touch seem less like an aggressive lunge, and perhaps most obviously because of the allusion. Michelangelo’s image literally and figuratively connects God and Man, and so this poster suggests that the film will connect extra-terrestrial and human lives, fates, and eMarketScale_Visual_Content_Storytelling_closeup2.jpegxistence.

Hands_of_God_and_Adam.jpgWhile Michelangelo depicted God touching an adult, just as the film poster for Home Alone gives kids all the power, this next great step forward will be with child, not adult. Consequently, the poster alludes to Spielberg’s Twainian idolization of adolescence. Instead of threatening nightmares, a fear of the dark, and of the aliens out there, E.T.’s poster (as would Home Alone’s poster years later) promises a film that will make the child feel more adventurous, more comfortable with the world, and more sure of his or her place in it. An evocative, alluring text, in short, has been created for both child and parent. The single image offers multiple narrative hooks: How will they connect? What does this alien look like? Will “he” get home?

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