Movie buffs are likely familiar with the works of Drew Struzan, as are many casual fans of cinema even if they don't know his name. With an incredible knack for producing detailed, dead-on portraits of a film's actors and capturing the sense of excitement and grandiosity of cinema, he has illustrated and painted some of Hollywood's most famous movie posters. A frequent collaborator of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, he was the official illustrator of posters for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future film series.
The Art of Drew Struzan chronicles much of his work, beginning with Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to his retirement in 2008 and the final, unused image he produced for Hellboy II: The Golden Army at the request of his friend Guillermo del Toro. In between are selected works from an extensive portfolio of images now part of the canon of some of America's most celebrated films. Struzan shares the illustrations produced for Blade Runner: The Final Cut and the anniversary release of The Shawshank Redemption, and offers up interesting glimpses of comp work that was never fully developed into a final form, like his work for the 1992 theatrical version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Writing with David J. Schow, Struzan provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at designing movie posters by assembling collections of comp artwork (basically the rough drafts) that would eventually lead to the final images. It's a great chance to see the ideas Struzan worked with as he built towards many of his now famous works. It's also intriguing to see the images that could, or should, have been, but for various reasons never quite congealed. Throughout the book Struzan speaks briefly of the commissioned work, the changes that were requested, and how the ideas were formed, shared, and collaborated upon with the filmmakers in order to develop the art that would come to represent and identify the movie itself.
Created with an irreplaceable style and a strong sense of composition his painted illustrations drew in movie-watchers and created a sense of connection between the film and its viewers. By creatively employing the use of direct gaze, filmgoers took part in the experience of a film's world directly, establishing a personal connection with the impeccable portraits of Harry Potter and Indiana Jones, who met their viewer's gaze and invited them into their worlds. His paintings created a cohesive story representative of the movie, showcasing the sense of adventure and excitement of an Indiana Jones movie with perfection, the macho, clueless buffoonery of Big Trouble in Little China's Jack Burton, and the epic space operatics of Star Wars.
As enjoyable as it is to share in the visions of Struzan, it is also a bittersweet journey as it highlights the death of the relationship between Hollywood and illustrative art in the marketing of a film. As the years rolled on and technology progressed, movie studio execs learned how much easier, cheaper, and brainless it was to create a movie poster from publicity stills and promo images in Photoshop. It truly is a shame, and since Struzan's retirement in 2008 there has been a noticeable lack of creative, artistic imagery prior to a film's release. Gone are the days of a collective tingling of spines amongst cinemaphiles when the official poster of a long-awaited film was unveiled, as occurred on March 11, 1999 forStar Wars: Episode I when Struzan's image was introduced as the worldwide promotional piece for George Lucas's widely awaited continuation of the Skywalker saga.
Over the last decade, the spectacle of movie posters has eroded into simplistic images of generic backdrops populated with floating heads staring off into the distance, severing the relationship between the film and its viewers almost immediately. The grandiosity of cinema, the sense of excitement and fun, have been relegated to budget lines. Illustrations that were once sought after by Hollywood's biggest directors were now being scuttled by studio executives who no longer saw the appeal, who simply viewed movies as nothing more than a bottom line in their operating budget, or worse yet, just didn't get it. When asked by a reporter why Struzan's commissioned poster wasn't used for Pan's Labyrinth, a studio representative said, "We didn't use it because it looks too much like art."
Struzan's greatest gift, of course, was that he was able to marry the artistic merits of film and painted illustration. Having produced some of the finest images for many of Hollywood's most enjoyable fare, Struzan now offers fans a look at his creative process and showcases the work he is most fond of. Seeing his work collected in The Art of Drew Struzan one is instantly reminded of the glory of film and the emotional and cultural investments we've made in particular favorites. For more than 30 years, his posters have brought to life all the drama, adventure, humor and camaraderie of the movie itself, rising far above a simple marketing gimmick and into the realm of art. They were, and are to this day, a celebration of cinema at its best.
Reviewed by Michael Hicks on September 14, 2010
The Art of Drew Struzan