Michael Gingold’s New Book ‘Ad Astra’: The Horror News Network Review

by Nick Banks

Following the success of his ode to long-lost and forgotten newspaper ads and movie art, Ad Nauseam: Newsprint Nightmares of the 1980s, Michael Gingold began working on a companion piece entitled Ad Astra: 20 Years of Newspaper Ads for Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films, featuring more of his favorite vintage ads and artwork, this time focusing on the science fiction and fantasy genres of the same era.  Fans of his first collection of black and white curiosities will be equally pleased with this compilation, offering unique images from cross-over films that horror purists are also likely to enjoy.

The format of Ad Astra is nearly identical to Ad Nauseam, with the ads divided by year, starting with 1980 and ending with 1999, they year that brought us the visionary film The Matrix, as well as Star Wars: Episode One, which forever tarnished the legacy of George Lucas.  The cataloging of the era’s films is extensive, with the inclusion of forgotten gems (The Ice Pirates, Dreamscape)  as well as the biggest blockbusters that defined the 1980s, such as E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As Gingold pointed out in HNN’s interview with him last year before the release of Ad Nauseam, the print advertisements “…were a way to grab the attention of movie goers and get them in the theaters with ads that displayed explicit images; subtlety wasn’t part of the marketing plan.”  This statement also rings true for the sci-fi and fantasy genres, with lurid images and artwork (particularly related to the “sword and sorcery” sub-genre) where ads displaying scantily-clad female warriors and terrifying beasts were a staple of early 80s promotion (often looking much better than the ones that appeared in the actual films).

Each section also contains commentary from Gingold on selected landmarks in science fiction and fantasy, as well as information about some of the more exotic or unique pieces of promotional art.  These sections also include sound bites from critical reviews of the time period, some proving to be completely off-base and some that stand the test of time.  Admittedly, it is much easier to judge the quality of a film with 40 years of film criticism and public opinion to stand on, but it is funny to see how some of the best loved films of the decade (Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, Big Trouble in Little China) were trashed during their original theatrical releases.

From a historical perspective, it is interesting to see how many films were launched off of the strength of a few key films, reinvigorating genres and merging some together.  For instance, the plethora of “sword and sorcery” films that followed Conan is hard to fathom, but Gingold shares print ads from such lesser-lights as Yor, The Beastmaster, Death Stalker, and one of HBO’s perennial afternoon programmers, Krull, that showcase how many of these films were actually released in the decade.

Horror fans will also be happy to see many of John Carpenter’s films such as Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China featured in Ad Astra.  Neither film qualified for Ad Nauseam, but they both fit in perfectly in this diverse examination of science fiction and fantasy.  Other films popular with horror fans are also included such as Robocop, The Terminator, Predator, and countless others.

The transition (as Gingold also told HNN in the previously mentioned interview) “…to the Dimension Films style of poster that were pioneered in the ’90s, that featured faces of the young cast members instead of the lurid images that were found in early ads” is also clearly obvious in Ad Astra, but when comparing the two sections from the 90s in both books, it appears that studios still paid for artist renditions of their films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres.  While a lot still feature airbrushed faces of the actors, science fiction and fantasy’s long tradition with painters and book covers probably kept more of the artists employed than those who previously worked on horror posters.

The book also features a foreword by the screenwriter of classics such as Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon, Larry Karaszewski, who proudly proclaims that “Movie ads are what made me want to be a filmmaker.”

Whether you grew-up with the newspaper ads or are just discovering them now, Ad Astra serves as an equal partner to be housed next to Gingold’s Ad Nauseam on your book shelf (and you may also want to save some room for the forthcoming Ad Nauseum 2).

Ad Astra: 20 Years of Newspaper Ads For Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films is currently available directly from 1984 Publishing and where ever books are sold.

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