I have been doing these poster roasters for a while now, and there have been quite a few posters that I don’t love, for various reasons. Rarely, though, has there been one that actually makes me angry. So congratulations, Soul Surfer poster, for being the first poster that makes me want to punch it in the face.
Here’s the poster:
Soul Surfer is the story of Bethany Hamilton, a champion surfer who was only 13 when she had her arm bitten off by a shark, but instead of sitting curled up in the fetal position gently whimpering for the rest of her life (my probable reaction), or even giving up surfing, she was back on her surfboard a month later as though it was nothing. It is without question a great story, and it’s impossible to hear that story and not think that this girl is amazing, so brave and awesome that I feel like even the sharks are like ‘dude, respect.’ But let’s just remember, here, what the amazing part of this story is, shall we? Is it that this girl, only 13 years old, experienced something so viscerally terrifying that many people are afraid of swimming in the ocean at all out of fear that it might happen to them, then displayed no fear in getting right back on that board and living her life like it wasn’t a big deal? Is it that she seemed to brush off the potential trauma and move on with a grace that makes you ashamed of every time you have freaked out over something tiny? Is it that she now is an even more champion sufer, despite the fact that surfing is all about balance and balancing with one arm is much harder than balancing with two? Is it that she now poses with exactly the same amount of confidence she did before, her stump proudly displayed?
Nope. According to the poster, the only important part of Bethany Hamilton’s story is that she had her arm bitten off by a shark while she was surfing. Because just in case you didn’t know that part of the story, the helpful poster has put the surfboard front and center, with a giant shark bite so cartoonish I can only imagine that it is made by the kind of shark that comes with its own ‘dunh dunh, dunh dunh’ soundtrack. And in case that wasn’t clear enough, they have helpfully put the girl’s arm awkwardly akimbo across the bite, the hand not grasping the board at all, as though it already were a severed limb (also notable is that Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm and the arm on the poster is her right arm, so that’s not even the correct arm to feature – for gods sake, leave the girl an arm!! Not to mention that, thanks to the craptastic photosopped placement of the thigh, Bethany Hamilton apparently has only one leg which grows out of her vagina. So really, this girl overcame a lot).
The ocean behind her is ominously choppy and gray, as if to emphasize that SHARKdanger SHARKlurks in the SHARKocean all the SHARK time. And instead of featuring the girl at the center of this story, not to mention the perpetual smile that Bethany Hamilton herself wears, the girl on the poster(the actress AnnaSophia Robb) has half her face hidden behind the surfboard, and stares out with a haunted intensity, no joy apparent at all. Nor does the color scheme help; there are none of the bright happy colors of Hamilton’s native Hawaii, instead it’s all muted earth tones and grays (literally the only colors are the dusty purple of the title and a hint of turquoise at the shoulder) that are so bleak you would think she surfed the blustery north Atlantic and went home to a house from a Wyeth painting.
Now, just to compare, let’s take a look at the cover of the book ‘Soul Surfer’, the memoir on which the movie is based.
That’s Hamilton herself, and far from the frightened girl hiding behind a surfboard that the movie poster features, here she stands tall, looking confidently forward, her missing arm obvious but not the lurid focus of the shot. She actually holds the surfboard like a normal human being instead of with the flat open palm of awkward photoshopping, and though the shark bite on the board is there (and wow, I guess maybe shark bites on boards just look like that, who knew?), the photo looks more like she is about to use that same board to dive into the inviting waters of beautiful Hawaii right behind her, and not hide frightened behind it. The colors are bright, the water looks great, and it’s obvious this is not the story about the gruesome accident that befell this girl, but rather the awesome spirit she displayed in overcoming it.
So what happened? What caused the people marketing this movie to so abandon the ‘inspiring’ part of their very own tagline (‘the inspiring true story of Bethany Hamilton’) and decide to go with artwork that made it look like that word should instead be ‘terrifying’, ‘foreboding’, or ‘gruesome’? I haven’t seen this movie, but I sure hope that it’s not the torture porn about a frightened girl attacked by a shark that this poster hints at. Bethany Hamilton’s story is truly inspiring, but to focus so much on the shark attack and not on how this remarkable girl reacted to it would be not only a shame, but an insult to her and her spirit.
In short: I hate you, Soul Surfer movie poster.