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Mar 15, 2011

Grading the Movie Studio Logos - Part III: The Subsidiaries

This is the third in a continuing series in which I analyze and grade the openers that we film fans should be intimately familiar with. After all, we see them in front of every movie, and what with co-distributions and production houses each getting to put their own in front of the credits, we're seeing more and more of them than ever (sometimes as many as four or five!).

In part I, I took a look at the "Big Six" studios - go here to see how they were judged. In part II, I graded the "Minor League" studios (Lions Gate, Dreamworks, etc.). Here, I look at the baby arms of the big guns - the subsidiaries. There used to be even more of these, but a crappy economy and/or a re-thinking of the philosophy led to some being shuttered, a la Warned Independent. Still, there are plenty left.

Keep an eye out for the last (planned) post in this series, in which I'll look at some miscellaneous production companies (Relativity Media, Legendary Pictures). But now, the subsidiaries.

What do these openers tell us, and how effectively do they tell it?

FOCUS FEATURES (Subsidiary, Universal)
(Ok, this first one's a cheat, since I included it as a bonus in part I. But for posterity...)

What it says: "We're not like all the other guys out there."

How effectively does it say it?
: I'm biased here. Their lineup isn't perfect by any means, but I swear, if I see that Focus logo, I feel like I'm guaranteed an interesting movie, if not a great one. They have an excellent track record of taking chances on original fare, and their logo only serves to support that record, giving the viewer a much different animal to start their film with.

General comments:
OMG! No clouds in a studio logo? Who let them get away with that?!?!

Overall grade:

FOX SEARCHLIGHT (Subsidiary, 20th Century Fox)

What it says: "FOX FOX FOX FOX FOX...searchlight."

How effectively does it say it?: I feel like this deserves an "Incomplete." It's one thing to evoke the spirit, or even look, of your parent company. It's another to produce what is in essence a carbon copy of said parent's iconography.

General comments: It's certainly more understated, and the flash of light at the end is a nice touch that gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling about the studio. But based off a lack of originality, I can't go higher than a...

Overall grade: C+

SONY PICTURES CLASSICS (Subsidiary, Columbia)

What it says: "Sony Pictures Classics." And not much else. Perhaps, "We're the stark division of the corporate giant; come visit our office to see nothing but white, black, and silver modern furniture and trappings. And it's very cold in here, like a museum."

How effectively does it say it?: Well, the "what this says" is probably more in the eye of the beholder than any other opener I've looked at. It's a friggin' blue screen with a line with no motion that lasts for mere seconds (though I swear the line used to draw itself across from left to right; I suppose that was just too wild and crazy for the folks at SPC). One can only draw so much from the font selection, a line, and a color. What do you think it says and how effectively does it say it?

General comments: Here's where I throw you a curve: I quite like the opener for SPC. Make no mistake, it's plain as hell, and to be honest, I'm not sure if I like all that many movies that SPC puts out. But I can tell you one thing - when I see that logo before a trailer, I would bet money that the movie I'm about to see snippets of will be from Europe and not in English. It will be lauded on the festival circuit and have a minimal theatrical release stateside. It will feature characters speaking in hushed tones and/or be about a rural Chinese village and/or be tied to the Holocaust. Mostly, it will be "good" but unappealing to me (usually; ironically, the one shown here is for a movie I love to death - Run Lola Run). So even though it says very little, it says a lot.

Overall grade: B+

PARAMOUNT VANTAGE (Subsidiary, Paramount)

What it says: "We're on the people, man...see, we used to work in retail, too."

How effectively does it say it?: To be honest, I'm not sure that that's what this one is supposed to be saying at all. It gives me some kind of hipster vibe that I can't explain. And the more I think about it, the more it dawns on me that I haven't seen the kind of tagging gun that makes those...things...in forever, making me wonder how many people in the audience even recognize what the words "Paramount Vantage" are being 'printed' on. It's all very confusing.

General comments: Weird - I could have sworn that the one that can be found at 1:38 in this video was still being used, but that one is for Paramount Classics. Kind of a shame - I dug the way that one took the familiar (a la Fox Searchlight) but where Fox simply mimicked theirs, Paramount added what they saw as a touch of class of history. Similar, yet different. It wasn't great, but it was at least distinctive. Then again, this one for Paramount Vantage is decidedly outside the box.

Overall grade: B- (To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this one at all.)

PIXAR (Subsidiary, Disney)

What it says: "Aren't we playful and just sickeningly adorable?"

How effectively does it say it?: I recall watching a documentary about Pixar, and in it they talked about the how and why of a desk lamp becoming this icon in their logo, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why it is. I suppose it's irrelevant what the object is, though; the thing to glean from this is a phenomenon that Pixar has pounded into our heads over and over for the last decade or so: they can take the ignored, the inanimate and make them magical.

General comments: On the whole, considering the dynamics of their films, one could argue that this is a pretty plain opener, and one would probably be right. I'd expect something more on the level of Disney's bombastic castle opener by this point, but Pixar has stuck to their roots and kept it low key. Sickeningly, this just makes me like it and them even more. It's not perfect, but it's getting a higher grade than it probably should.

Overall grade: A-

NEW LINE CINEMA (Subsidiary, Warner Brothers)

What it says: Uhhh...let me get back to you on this one...

How effectively does it say it?: I don't know. Five pieces of film (three of which disappear) and a rectangle. I have no friggin' clue as to what this thing is supposed to signify or how it's supposed to make me feel. They like 3D??

General comments: And yet, I don't hate this thing. I suppose it's owing to their legacy of making youth-oriented films (which pretty much remained intact from their founding in 1967 through about 1994), but I feel some sort of affinity and nostalgia when I see their logo that I can't otherwise explain. It's nonsense, but I don't dislike it.
Overall grade: C+

DIMENSION (Unit, The Weinstein Company)

What it says: "Dimension...is groovin' along"

How effectively does it say it?: See below.

General comments: I need a handwriting analyst. Isn't there something that says that reverse italicized text means that you're crazy or a serial killer? How fitting, then, that Dimension should use said font, since they're the Miramax arm run by Bob Weinstein known for genre films above all else. Still, for a branch of film not known for holding back, it's odd that their chief mainstream studio has such a subdued logo/opener.

Overall grade: C-

10 people have chosen wisely: on "Grading the Movie Studio Logos - Part III: The Subsidiaries"

Nick said...

I imagine the desk lamp is used because a lightbulb symbolizes new ideas, and they wanted to make a cute, animated, moving lightbulb. That's hard to do with just a lightbulp, so... desk lamp.

Fletch said...

Like I said, I don't recall for sure, but I don't think it was anything that profound. Pretty sure it was just someone's actual desktop lamp that someone decided to make a character for something else, and then they thought it'd make for a good logo character.

Ok, nevermind, memory refreshed after reading this...


Sebastian Gutierrez said...

I thought the desk lamp came about because the first thing Pixar ever made was the short with the Papa Lamp and Baby Lamp playing with a ball. I think that's the short that came before TOY STORY 1.

Jack L said...

I like these lists.

I think the Pixar one is easily my favourite, I prefer it to the Disney one by far...
The Focus Features is also cool.

By the way, I love Run Lola Run as well! It's such an inventive film!

The Mad Hatter said...

I think because it feels so "Outside the box" Vantage has always been one of my faves. Didn't they close up shop?

Anonymous said...

I like the New Line Cinema logo. I don't have a logic as to why, I just always found it a cool logo that actually involved showing the material on which film is (or rather was) made.

Fletch said...

Sebastian - Exactly. That's the page/info I was linking to above.

Jack - Thanks! I like making them!

I wonder if your respective ages play a role in our respective likes of the Disney and Pixar openers. When I see the Disney one, it reminds me of trips made to Disneyland as a child and I get a warm, fuzzy feeling. Meanwhile, I'm guessing that you essentially grew up on Pixar's slate of films (at least amongst your English diet of films), and I'd think they'd have a similar effect on you.

Hatter - Understandable - it certainly stands out, and I like its class. Vantage is still kind of kicking - Wiki sez that Paramount more or less consolidated all of the departments, but kept the brand. I guess it'll be more of a special project type of thing going forward.

James - certainly a strong line of reasoning for digging the New Line logo. Kinda weird that it's the case that they're the only major company that employs the use of film in their logo (anymore?).

Jack L said...

Yeah, you're right there...
Pixar does remind me of my childhood, Disney not so much. It's all to do with the age difference I suppose!

Mrs Fletch said...

Focus has always been one of my favorites, it's calmly elegant. So many of the others - especially the biggies - tend to be heavy-handed. You also bring up a good point that the Focus logo is generally a mark of quality movies, so that probably helps too.

Side note: my handwriting tends to be reverse italicized. Hmph.

Fletch said...

@ Mrs. Fletch - So I married an axe murderer, is that what you're saying?