Variations on RED, White, &
By Jason Haggstrom, October 15, 2010
The movie RED opens in theaters today, but don’t take the fact that I’m commenting on it to be an indication that you should rush out to see it or anything. In fact, I’ve found that far more interesting than the prospect of the film itself is the variations between the French and American posters used to market it. Where the American posters overwhelm the senses with the iconography of violence and mayhem, the posters in France indicate that the film is something else entirely: a black comedy.
In the States, the film is being marketed with striking character-based one-sheets that emphasize the bloody implications of the film’s title. Those three letters, R-E-D, are given an entire third of the image space where they are rendered in a thick, all caps, italicized font. Tinted in shades of fire and blood, the posters also include details such as flying bullets and exploding shrapnel to accompany the grim faces and acrimonious taglines. Indeed, it would appear that the target audience for RED in America would be lovers of action films and fans of Sin City, Frank Miller’s celebration of the most violent aspects of noir. That film’s posters exhibited a similar conflation of violence-as-sex iconography and caustic sound bites rendered as printed words.
In sharp contrast to the American marketing for RED, the French poster is tinted in icy degrees of black, white, and gray with only a dash of rouge. Guns still abound, but there are no bullets, no fire, and no exploding shrapnel. John Huston’s black comedy, Prizzi’s Honor, is invoked by way of bullet holes that penetrate the printed image. The comedy of Jerry Lewis (whom the French are said to love much like Germans love The Hoff) is also implied by way of John Malkovich’s scene-stealing overbite. The poster’s assortment of near smirking faces also calls to mind the poster for the popular (and very British) comedy A Fish Called Wanda where its cast was caught in the most trouble-making of poses. That film promised to be "A New Comedy About Sex, Murder, and Seafood." Striking a similar tone, the French poster for RED comes right out and labels the movie as a comedy with its tagline, "An Explosive Comedy on the Dangers of Retirement." The off-kilter lettering of the film’s title—in stark contrast to the logo found on the American posters—further implies that the film’s violence will be colored by humor rather than gore. In fact, the only real similarity between the French and American posters is the presence of Dame Helen Mirren holding an extremely large gun. Warren Ellis, author of the comic book series the film is based upon, stated that "…if you don’t want to see a film with Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle, I’m not sure I want to know you." Apparently, some forms of iconography still resonate on both sides of the pond.