Once upon a time in Hollywood, studios would attempt to match the aesthetic of an advertising campaign with the title design of a film. Those days have long since passed and, because of that, we rarely see magnificent trailers like the one above. With so many new avenues to exploit, marketing has grown into an uncontrollable seven-headed hydra, head clashing upon head until the final product ends up as one severely tangled web of necks.
A truly successful trailer will give the audience a strong sense for the atmosphere of a film by using the elements of style present in its advertisement to their fullest extent. For Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” it’s no surprise that title designer Richard Greenberg decided to go with the theme of “unsettling.” When developing the teaser, he zeroed in on the use of text, which was indeed a strategy employed at great lengths throughout the entirety of the film.
In an interview with Art of the Title, he explains, “It’s disturbing to people to see those little bits of type coming on. I think Steve Frankfurt once said to me that sound is 50% of a film and I agree with that. So we abstracted the idea of the off-putting sound but in a typographic way. We wanted to set up tension and as these little bits come in, they seem very mechanical.” Next, throw in an actual terrifying soundscape and boom, you have a trailer worthy of several screams in itself. Seriously, don’t try and watch this with the lights off, and definitely don’t pump up your volume to it’s maximum level.
So what came first, the chicken or the egg? The titles in the teaser trailer are a mirror image of the opening titles of the film proper. The only difference is that, in one they appear over an alien planet, and in the other they float into frame over an alien egg. Believe it or not, Greenberg reveals that the teaser trailer was the “creative touchpoint for the titles.” That foreboding, isolated feeling which sets up the tone for the entire film actually stems from nothing more than a modest piece of advertising.