Typeset In The Future: Typography And Design In Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey (book review).

Very occasionally I can have a ‘Oh my god’ moment as if deities exist. Looking at the title, ‘Typeset In The Future: Typography And Design In Science Fiction Movies’, it’s pretty obvious that author Dave Addey is going to be looking at various films and be telling you about the various fonts that were used. Who would think the style of writing in a film would be interesting. He does this for 7 films: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Alien’, ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, ‘Blade Runner: The Final Cut’, ‘Total Recall’ (the original one), ‘Wall-E’ and ‘Moon’ with 5 major interviews. That alone from the ‘Contents’ page should stir you to look further but I suspect a lot of you will say, it’s still about fonts.

Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey, foreword by Matt Zoller Seitz (Abrams, £30)

When I did my initial page flick when the book arrived, I recognised a lot of photos but didn’t look in-depth as the book wasn’t due out until December and I have to focus on other books first. When I started on this one, my jaw dropped when he examined ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in detail because not only had he got photos I hadn’t seen elsewhere but he was also looking at the technology that accompanied the fonts and how everything was updated to how it was thought company logs would change over 40 years.

Then he gets down to details and he even points out the with the ‘2001’ logo that the zero was transposed with an ‘O’ to get the right effect on screen. Not only does he tell you about the 1966 fonts but shows all the letters as well, identifying the font. If you’re into stylising your fonts after famous films, you’re going to have a field day with the knowledge here, even if the originals were taken from the Lettraset of its time, they still exist digitally today. There are also several promotional items that I’ve not seen before, including one that Pan-Am put in their American window displays.

Page from ‘Typeset In The Future’ by Dave Addey

Occasionally, I would quip up on things Addey probably didn’t have access to, although he does point out to a lot of people filled in gaps in information at the back of the book. That being the case, I have to put some things down to lack of knowledge. The main reason IBM was removed from close-up was because it was one letter on from the malfunctioning HAL and they didn’t want that association.

Addey has also transcribed the zero-gravity toilet details when all he really needed to do was look at ‘The Making Of Kubrick’s 2001’ paperback edited by Jerome Agel. Minor quibbles really and beaten by how much detail he gives elsewhere. He even identifies the watch actor Ed Bishop was wearing while talking to Heywood Floyd on the moon shuttle. Now that is geekiness.

The look at ‘Alien’ is loaded with details that you probably missed even on repeat viewings. He even pin-points the number of times Weylan Yutani comes up on screen. More importantly, a close up of the instructions for Nostromo’s self-destruct also points out that when Ripley was trying to turn it off, she was following the list in French and got it wrong.

Don’t think the look at ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (1979) just centres on that film as there are a lot of comparisons to the original series and even the later series showing how things are moved along. As far as I know, the first use of the term ‘autodoc’ was by Larry Niven in 1966 and has become a standardised term in SF now. I also thought Bjo Trimble led the votes for the first space shuttle to be name ‘Enterprise’ was a mistake as she should have opted for one that actually flew into space. There’s an extended interview with graphic designer Mike Okuda about the fonts used on the Enterprise during his tenure. I liked the fact that where computer text was seen in the distance, it was more numbers than text so not to act as a distraction from the actors.

Page from ‘Typeset In The Future’ by Dave Addey

Of course, ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) has to be included and there’s some interesting analysis. Addey points out that the magnification of the eyes in the Voight-Kampff of Leon and Rachael doesn’t match their eye colours. Granted to avoid red eye, stock footage was used, but could rationalise the device strips away colour or neutralises it for better scanning. The fact that there was a lot of red eyes later, although he doesn’t mention this included Deckard, suggests a general problem in the lighting of the film.

The fact that the purging text is the same as in ‘Alien’ is more like Ridley Scott either making a side-joke or being economical with something that was already available to him or probably both. Addey points out a few other films that have used the Bradbury Building but misses out its early appearance in ‘The Outer Limits’ episode ‘Demon With A Glass Hand’. Seeing the full message of the promo to live off-world includes being giving a Replicant servant is a revelation though. About the only worry is Addey calling Ray Bradbury’s original novel, ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Sheep’ instead of ‘Electric’ should have been caught at the editing stage. Something missed with Deckard’s photo-enhancer is that it does actually enhance.

A command we have in various graphic software today although not nearly as good at the 667.9% he points out that Deckard had. The print quality must be really good in that future. Don’t treat that as me being too critical. The amount of info and photos Addey has here beats the number of mistakes. It takes longer to describe these than how good the book is.

Page from ‘Typeset In The Future’ by Dave Addey

‘Total Recall’ (1990) has a somewhat deep analysis and some of the answers to instantaneous dialogue between Earth and Mars, not to mention the length of time in spaceship transit can be answered by the lengthy director Paul Verhoeven interview at the end. I should also add he also discusses ‘Starship Troopers’ there as well. As Addey points out a lot of the equipment in the background ads are no longer made but I doubt if anyone could have anticipated those disk things taking over. The film would have taken a different direction had those mobile phones have existed back then as well.

I’m less familiar with ‘Wall·E’ (2008) but accept that it is a dot or interpunct not a dash in its word and hoping the word processor symbol is recognised here. If you thought the fonts in the film ‘Moon’ (2009) were similar to ‘2001’, then you see the proof here as well.

The final section of the book is a list and examples of how fonts are used in films which should make you pay attention to the films you watch.

To say that this is a brilliant book is an understatement. Dave Addey has succeeded in making an under-estimated topic as fonts a really interesting subject. More amazing is the influence of ‘2001’ throughout the other films in giving detail if not fonts. I hope he considers covering other films with interesting fonts or even looks at film titles and whether they are customised fonts or modified existing ones. Don’t miss out.

GF Willmetts

December 2018

(pub: Abrams Books. 264 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £30.00 (UK), $40.00 (US), $50.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-4197-2714-6)

check out websites: www.abrambooks.com and https://typesetinthefuture.com/author/typesetinthefuture/

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