This one was a long road to the final cover—not inappropriate, given the subject matter. Diving right in...
Because this was the second Criterion edition of Wages of Fear, one of the things to keep in mind was that it had to be noticeably different from the original version:
This wasn't really a problem for me, because I never really felt the image on that cover worked—once you've seen the film, it makes perfect sense, but to the uninitiated I think it looks a little too "Creature from the Black Lagoon." (In fact, I remember being surprised upon finally seeing the film that there wasn't any supernatural horror element.) But that scene of Jo in the pool of spilled oil is a powerful one in the film, so I tried a couple new takes on the same theme:
About that type: I found myself very attached to the crazy title treatment from this otherwise bizarre poster:
(Is he punching the truck? Is he punching so hard the sheer force of his blows creates trucks? Kind of a surreal masterpiece, honestly.) Anyway, the title treatment doesn't really have any particular resonance with the film (to me, anyway), but I just loved it's kooky Anders Nilsen vibe. So it informed the above comps and also a few more, once I'd moved away from the pool of oil idea and toward some comps that focused on the perilous trucking suspense:
Or the toll taken on the main characters by their exhausting struggle:
But since, like I say, the type didn't really feel like the film, it wasn't doing the covers as a whole any favors, despite being awesome. Next, I tried taking the type in a very "pulpy" direction, but it came out very "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
Then there was this one—the type treatment isn't half bad, and it gives a better idea of the plot and the source of suspense than any of the previous comps. The "EXPLOSIVES" type competes with the title a bit, but it's not too bad. A contender:
But here's my favorite of the bunch:
This one I always really dug, both for the "burdens of atlas" vibe—my back gets tired just looking at that image—and the way the title treatment looks like it's giving him a gut punch, adding injury to injury. The problem was that we'd recently done quite a few covers in similar high-contrast "photocopied" styles, and people were starting to get a little sick of that look. (And admittedly, if you're looking for that style, why assign me when you've got Art Chantry and Aesthetic Apparatus in your Rolodex?) So despite liking this one a lot, I had a feeling it was a non-starter. I did another version with a blue overlay, to allay any concerns about too many black & white covers in a row (which, as you can imagine, happens not infrequently at Criterion):
I got pretty enamored of that light blue pretty early on in the process, and I couldn't exactly tell you why—some dark browns to evoke the color of oil would seem the obvious choice, but would possibly have taken things too far in a "sepia-toned" direction. But I've got no real justification for the blue, other than it just felt right—which is enough, I suppose.
So.... where to go from there? I thought I might be able to pull something together using the iconography of the oil company they worked for in the film (visible in some of the earlier comps above), so I adapted that logo. First, I tried building it into an existing still in place of the original logo, but that didn't really work:
Then I tried laying over straight photography, but it never quite clicked:
There's something to that last one, maybe, but still, nothing to write home about. I tried it without any imagery at all, but it wasn't enough:
And this is certainly misguided:
I tried another tack: if that high contrast "atlas" image from before wouldn't fly, maybe I could remake it with straight photography. It didn't quite work the same way, but it had it's own charms, though the title treatment gets a bit lost:
Finally, I came back around to an earlier idea: that photo of the two men, exhausted and fatalistic, really captured something of the mood of the film, so I combined that with the most straightforward and effective of the earlier type treatments, (I lost the "gut punch" but gained a nifty little tucked in director credit), and wound up here, which became the final cover: