February 19, 2008

Spelling with Numbers

Seven (1995)During the promotion of the 1995 film Seven, some clever chap took the movie's titular numeral and used it in place of the 'v.' While most people can agree that the Morgan Freeman/Brad Pitt thriller is a benchmark in serial killer cinema, not everyone appreciates the numeric nod in the logo.

Many have argued that the '7' looks nothing like the letter it's supposed to represent, and when written out in a sentence as Se7en, I would certainly agree. However, the typeface used in the marketing was much better suited for the gimmick than your average serif print font. The designer even faded out the horizontal top of the number a bit to help emphasize the vertical stem, which echoes the right side of the letter 'V.' There are studies that have demonstrated how we see the general shapes of letters within a word and not necessarily what the letters actually are; our brains infer the rest.

Thirteen Ghosts (2001)Seven did well in theaters, and went on to do even better on home video. Since then, marketing departments have repeatedly laid waste to the Roman alphabet. Graphic designers are probably getting a kick out of it, but now film critics and their copy editors risk a loss of reader comprehension if they don't translate a film's title back into traditional letterforms.

The logo for the 2001 remake of Thirteen Ghosts put this theory of word recognition to the test. As with Seven, the gimmick is passable within the cover's all-caps typeface. Written out in traditional print as Thir13en Ghosts, however, the effect breaks down.

Murder By NumbersThe poster for the 2002 Sandra Bullock thriller Murder By Numbers found a nice balance between cleverness and legibility. The popular "3-for-an-E" trick is employed, but the numeral is reversed to better resemble the vowel. A vertical string of numbers counting 1 through 9 intersects with the word 'By,' drawing attention to the fact that the letter 'B' is actually an '8.'

You'd be forgiven for thinking that this film was some sort of Seven knockoff, or at least involved a killer obsessed with numerology. However, numbers don't really play into the plot of the film at all. The designer was just having some fun with the uninspired name of a basic suspense flick.

Numbers (2005)Sometimes the use of numeric substitutes for letters is conceptually justified. The television series Numb3rs features a crime fighting mathematician, so the '3' that replaces the second vowel in the title becomes a sly nod to the character's view of the world. He sees numbers within everything and uses them to augment traditional police work.

Once again, it plays well within the show's all-caps logo, but it looks as tacky as a typo when written in a sentence like the one above. At least they didn't take the idea any further and go with a more convoluted spelling like NUM83R5.

The awkwardly titled Lucky Number Slevin isn't helped by the inclusion of an upside down seven as an 'L.' Josh Hartnett's character is actually called Slevin Kelevra, providing the basis for the weak pun on the phrase "lucky number seven."

However, this fact is not really apparent to those who haven't seen the movie, and the strained attempt at wordplay is just confusing. Throwing the numeral into the mix doesn't clue the audience in so much as it underscores what a bad idea the clumsy title was in the first place.

Some attempts at this rudimentary leetspeak look more awkward than others, but it's clear that such alphanumeric folly is no longer limited to automobile license plates and Prince lyric sheets.

6ixtynin9 (1999)

Legion of the Dead (2001)
Legion of the Dead

Nine Lives (2002)
Nine Lives

Men in Black II

5ive Days to Midnight

Layer Cake
The Last Sign (2005)
The Last Sign

5ive Girls


7eventy 5ive

The Nines

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