Dr. Strangelove

Inside Criterion / Criterion Designs — Jun 30, 2016
Criterion Designs: Dr Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire of Cold War nuclear hysteria, is a high-water mark in the careers of its director, actors Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, cowriter Terry Southern, and other luminaries. But for design nerds, the contributions of Pablo Ferro, who designed the film’s iconic opening credit sequence, are just as notable. So it was surprising to find that the aesthetic that Ferro established in the titles had never really been used on any official posters or home-video packaging. That was something we wanted to rectify.

Ferro’s lettering was intended to basically fill the (horizontal) screen, so a direct translation to our (vertical) cover wasn’t ideal. I liked the idea of squeezing the amusingly long title into the shape of a bomb, and a quick rough version convinced me that was feasible:

It needed something more, though, so I followed Ferro’s lead and set it on the image of the bomber from the opening titles. Showing the comically outsized “bomb” dropping from the plane seemed to strike the right balance of absurdity and pitch-black comedy, and I was quite pleased with myself, I must say . . .

. . . until we announced the title and were promptly informed by our keen-eyed audience that the plane I’d used was in fact the refueling plane, a KC-135 tanker, and not the B-52 bomber at all. As fan Juan Reyes rightly described it, “it is tantamount to a cover of Back to the Future being released with a picture of a Ferrari instead of a DeLorean.” Suitably chastised, we quickly corrected the error. Happily, there did exist a similar image of the bomber later in the film, so the swap was relatively seamless:

As happy as we were with the Ferro-inspired cover, we wanted to find a new idiom for the rest of the packaging. Producer Curtis Tsui suggested riffing on the “Plan R” documents opened by Major Kong and his crew, and his access to scans of the original props provided by the Stanley Kubrick Archive proved invaluable in getting those details just right. For example, here’s a clip showing one of the original props:

And here’s our version:

We mashed that up with the “survival kit” issued to the bomber crew, as described by Major Kong in this clip:

We weren’t about to include a .45 or a hundred dollars in rubles, of course, and no good could possibly come from manufacturing Strangelove-branded prophylactics. But a pastiche of a certain men’s magazine seemed like it would hit something like the same comedic note, and some promotional cheesecake photos of actor Tracy Reed—“Miss Foreign Affairs” herself—lent themselves surprisingly well to the concept.

I’ll refrain from spoiling all the little jokes we scattered throughout the package, and leave you with the pièce de résistance, the survival kit's “miniature combination Roo-shan phrase book and Bible”:

This post, inspired by the book Criterion Designs, is a continuation of our efforts to share insights into the collaborative process of creating images for our releases.