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THE ART OF JOHN ALVIN Review: Celebrating a Movie Poster Master

In an era when film posters were both a form of advertising and art, artist John Alvin would shine above any of his coequal. An art style so unique and awe-inspiring that his colleagues endearingly referred to his art as ‘Alvinesque’, and often jokingly bantered that he was “the best kept secret in Hollywood,” with his wife.

Film posters themselves stay at the forefront of our minds when we think of our favorite films, the most iconic films, and, sadly, their artists largely remain unknown to us. Although John Alvin might not be a name you immediately recognize, you’re certainly familiar with his work. As it is for many artists, his art transcends his life, and Titan Books‘ latest art book release only emphasizes that fact in The Art of John Alvin.

Throughout his memorable 40 year career, John Alvin would create more than 130 posters and promotional art pieces that will remain just as memorable as the films they represent. With a resume so jaw-dropping that any film buff would salivate, Alvin would be the talent behind the posters for Blade Runner, Blazing Saddles, E.T., and some of Disney’s greatest accomplishments: Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, and The Lion King.

In 1974 at the age of 26, Alvin would catch his big break on a little Mel Brooks film called Blazing Saddles. After a disappointing slew of concept posters from the studio, Alvin would catch Brooks’ attention and soon held a “strategy session” with the unknown artist to breakdown all the little bits and nuances that would make for a great poster. What Alvin came back with floored Brooks and the rest of his team so much that they immediately plastered the posters all over Hollywood that same night. Alvin quickly held Brooks’ favor and would work alongside him for several films to come.

Although there isn’t much to see in the way of his work in the ’70s, 1982’s Star Wars Revenge of the Jedi, the original title for Return of the Jedi, and Blade Runner concept art is everything fans of the films could ask for. Never-before-seen sketches and conceptual pieces pepper the pages with remarkable inside glimpses at the process to some of films’ most important achievements.

Just after the astonishing concept work for Star Wars and Blade Runner, E.T.‘s conceptual brilliance highlights all that Alvin was truly capable of. Working on the films’ poster even while the principal film was being shot, Alvin went above and beyond in his creation, supposedly so that Spielberg cited it as an inspiration for one of the films’ most memorable shots. John’s widow Andrea Alvin explains in the book, “John was told that Spielberg was inspired by the light and colors John used in the painting of the ship emerging from the clouds, and that it influenced the scene in the film. (I don’t know if that is true, but I hope it is.)”

Regardless of his proposed influence on key shots in the film, the art of E.T. is breathtaking. While the final product is as iconic as a film poster comes, the conceptual work is astoundingly emotional. The amount of brilliant conceptual work included shows how much the film meant to Alvin and how much of himself he put in it.

Continuing through the book, the art remains grandiose and invigorating. As art from The Goonies, Legend, Star Wars Tenth Anniversary, and Spaceballs fly by in a blip, they give profound and remarkable examples of how much he put himself into his work. Although the amount showcased is small in comparison to their more iconic counterparts in the book, it’s clear that Alvin took even the smallest project head-on and consistently maintained his integrity to a fault.

As Alvin continued into the ’90s, his work would leave lasting impressions on Generation Y. For anyone born into that generation, his work on film posters for Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pinocchio re-release, Batman, and Jurassic Park transcends even the films themselves. These posters remain as significant to their films as any other merchandising tool used throughout the films’ run. For anyone coming of age in the late ’80s or early ’90s, this artwork and his previously unseen conceptual work is as enchanting and wondrous now as it was 20 years ago, and will surely reignite memories long since forgotten.

It may seem like a hyperbole praising Alvin’s work as highly as the films’ his work represented, but his art magnificently captured each films’ magic. He was a perfect fit in the era of art over advertising in movie posters; a form we rarely see showcased in this day and age. It is clear with each page how much passion and love he put into each project, and that’s truly a rare quality to come by. Although the book only grazes his extensive volume of work, the quality and coverage is impressive.

As a Generation Y’er with a penchant for film and particularly that of sci-fi, this is a book that will remain in my collection for years to come. For all that Alvin had created, this book filled with ‘Alvinesque’ sketches and concept work is as important today as each piece was in their era. Deserving as the praise is for him, it’s a shame he missed this book’s release. Hopefully, this will only continue his legacy a long time to come.

The Art of John Alvin is available now from Titan Books.

5 out of 5 stars

5 out of 5 stars

Cover image via

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Categories: Book Reviews

Author:Jen

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Another Castle | Twitter: @ComradeJen

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