Tagline Design Analysis: Alien Movie Poster Tagline
Taglines, the short summations found on movie posters, are integral to the marketing of motion pictures.
They also cause shoppers to lose their sunglasses.
This unfortunate side effect befell my person the other day during a trek round Ticker T Boos – a retail establishment in my hometown of Grimsby, Lincolnshire.
The day had started well: my doormat was bill-free; coffee tasted good; a smiling sun simmered overhead.
I glided through the warm breeze, sunglasses in tow, feet pounding the pavement more eagerly than an overactive woodpecker. Turning the corner, the magical kingdom of Ticker T Boos rose like a phoenix out of the horizon.
Excited, I stepped up the pace.
For years, I’d heard townsfolk talk of a maze-like jungle of bunk beds situated on the second floor of this mysterious shop; I intended to investigate.
Here lies jack torrance…
So it was I found myself standing on the verge of a fabric labyrinth; the rumours, it would seem, were true. If New York City was made of beds then this is what it would look like, I thought.
Tower blocks of bed frames and mattresses ricocheted beams of light through a ceiling of windows back towards their parent sun – this was no place for glasses.
I folded them into my palm and stepped into the shadows.
Endless passageways ran between the bunks bends and I’d half expected to stumble across dusty skeletons of forgotten adventurers.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a collection of words. The lettering appeared to be attached to a picture of some type, but a nearby bed obscured the object from view.
Through the haze of squinted eyes I made out the following: ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’.
“That’s a nifty tagline”, I mumbled under my breath, fearful of alerting nearby predators to my position.
Then it clicked. I’d recognise that strapline anywhere. Closing in on my prey, I already knew what was lurking in the shadows.
And it wasn’t Elvis…
Recklessly hurling my shades on a nearby bed, I hauled the article from its hiding place. Sure enough, what should appear but a canvas sporting the renowned poster for Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror classic, Alien.
“Sweet baby Jebus”, I proclaimed, “that would look great on my wall.”
An hour or so later, I emerged from the jungle, canvas in hand.
On my travels home it occurred to me that from a marketing perspective the tagline – ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’ – is genius.
Three decades on and the sentence still packs a visceral punch which captures Alien’s claustrophobic credentials.
Even before I’d seen the picture in its totality, I knew what it was and as any good copywriter will tell you: a tagline that alerts the reader to a product devoid of images has to be praised.
Congratulations Mr Tagline…
Understandably parched from my adventures, I decided upon a quick detour to McDonalds. Only a week earlier my attempt to garner service via the drive-through on foot had proved fruitless.
As such, I headed straight inside, bought a black decaf coffee and took residence in a quiet window booth. Propping my new acquisition up on the plastic table top, I sat back and observed it with admiration.
“Producing a movie poster that stands the test of time is a fine art”, I said, as concerned glances from fellow patrons informed me that I was talking aloud.
A long-haired bearded-man caught in the throes of a rigorous conversation with a poster is never a promising sight. I hurriedly repositioned the canvas to block out the surrounding interest and continued my deliberations by means of internal dialogue.
Unlike a trailer, I mused, poster art is tasked with capturing the excitement and promise of moving frames in a still image. Posters must communicate as much information about a film in one quick look.
The Alien poster hits these notes with the precision of a concert pianist, I continued.
Released back in 1979, 20th Century Fox’s space science-fiction horror film centres on an unstoppable demonic beast.
Alien is renowned for its Freudian sexually-charged symbolism. There are numerous examples embedded within the film. Consider the memorable moment when a male crew member is ‘impregnated’ by a facehugger. After implantation, the surrogate mother ‘gives birth’ to a baby alien which rips from his chest.
The Freudian exposition continues in the form of the starship’s computer interface which is aptly christened ‘Mother’.
Taking a heavy sip of coffee, I scanned the canvas sat opposite.
It became instantly clear that the major forms and conventions of the poster perfectly captured the alienation of space travel and vulnerability of the crew who floated light-years from Earth.
The visual simplicity, I said, is astounding. Framed in the void of a dark space, a cracked alien egg emits an eerie yellow glow – a clear nod to the reproductive nature of the film.
And the sparseness of the imagery chimes skilfully with the isolated sentiment of the tagline.
The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and premise of a brand or product.
‘In space, no one can hear you scream’, does just that. It encapsulates the soul of the film in a matter of eight short words.
home! sweet home!
An hour or so later I was back at home nailing my newly acquired canvas to the wall. Stepping slowly backwards with the caution of a gunslinger at high noon, my eyes fired a steely glance in the direction of the print.
With that, a bolt of sunlight burst through the window, engulfing the picturesque view in a shroud of whiteness.
Reaching aimlessly round for my glasses, I realised for the first time that they were gone, trapped for eternity in the fabric city.
“Damn you tagline”, I cried.