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Paramount Hits A New Peak

Features
by Leonard Maltin
December 19, 2011 6:00 AM
12 Comments
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I can’t explain why I’ve always loved movie studio logos, but I do, and like some other compulsive film-buff friends, I take note of every minor change and tweak. Paramount has unveiled its new 100th anniversary logo at the head of Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, and it’s very impressive. It will herald every one of the studio’s 2012 releases and remain in use, without the 100th Anniversary caption, thereafter.

While the studio’s origins date back to 1912, and the release of the Sarah Bernhardt feature Queen Elizabeth, the mountain logo was first used in 1916, both in print advertising and onscreen. It has gone through a number of often-subtle permutations over the years, including an animated version from the studio’s cartoon unit in the 1950s and a modern graphic treatment in the late 1960s and 1970s when it was owned by Gulf + Western. In those days, through the early 1980s, the trademark no longer read “A Paramount Picture” but simply “Paramount.”

Diehards like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas insisted on using the older logo when they made Raiders of the Lost Ark, and continued to do so for its sequels. A vintage black & white version set the stage for Chinatown, and, for whatever reason, Big Top Pee-Wee also hearkened back to the color logo audiences would have seen in the 1950s.

I was working on the Paramount studio lot, for Entertainment Tonight, when the company was acquired by Viacom. I happened to run into a couple of executives I knew on the way to the commissary one day and urged them to restore the vintage logo, reading A Paramount Picture, now that Gulf + Western was out of the picture. If it was good enough for Lucas and Spielberg, I said, it ought to be good enough for anyone. They smiled politely and moved on.

Even now, the legend “A Viacom Company” appears on the logo, but in a strange, sans-serif typeface that doesn’t complement the Paramount script in any way, shape or form. I guess it’s all a matter of taste.

I saw the new Paramount 100th logo in IMAX last week at a screening of Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, and it brought a smile to my face. But my favorite rendering of the trademark remains the one that was executed in the 1950s when the company introduced its precursor to IMAX, VistaVision. The view of a peak in the Wasatch mountain range was now seen from a greater distance, encompassing the valley below and the cloud-filled skies above. Accompanied by a new musical fanfare by Van Cleave, the logo revealed itself in three parts: A Paramount Picture…in…(cue the zoom of a giant V to center screen)…VistaVision… Motion Picture High Fidelity. The rendering and animation, matched to a sweeping piece of music, was genuinely exciting to behold on a big theater screen. It made a big impression on me as a kid and I’ve loved it ever since.

Nowadays, every production company has a logo, and some films open with four or five of them in a row, dissipating the impact of any individual one. (The Family Guy made fun of this trend in an episode not long ago.) But the studio trademarks that have had staying power, like Paramount’s, are unmistakable—and unforgettable.

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12 Comments

  • Paul | June 8, 2012 4:58 PMReply

    Leonard, your comment about logos warmed my heart. I've always loved them and like you am constantly on the look out for changes to them. They are like the dust jacket to a book before you open them. A promise of things to come. A raiser of expectations that are either confirmed or dashed. One thing that interests me though is now that it is the norm for the majors to incorporate elements of the film into their logos, how does a studio decide which films get preferential treatment? And which was the first studio to do this? Thanks again for highlighting this Leonard.

  • Claude Wolf | December 21, 2011 2:08 AMReply

    My favourite use of the logo is at the start of "Coming to America" where the camera takes you beyond the mountains to the Zemunda. It was great to finally find out what lay beyond that vista!

  • Bruce Hershenson | December 19, 2011 6:05 PMReply

    You are the LAST person I would want to argue with, but are you SURE about the 1916 date as to when the logo was first used? I am 99% sure I have seen 1915 ads or posters with it. What is the source of that date? I can try to find proof of what I say, if you want.

  • mike schlesinger | December 19, 2011 5:06 PMReply

    Universal's two vintage logos--the biplane of the '30s and the crystal of the '40s--almost always get a nice hand from an audience filled with die-hard movie lovers. And we mustn't overlook Republic's clock tower and eagle!

  • Norm | December 19, 2011 4:27 PMReply

    Well, with the advent of computers, you can use anything as a logo. When Leonard mentioned meeting the "suits", that gave me an idea, why not show them on the logo, that way, when they make another stinko, you know who to blame..How about a logo made up of Viacom suits ?, little bitty men you can stick together to form a corporation name,..too appropriate ?
    Then ,there is always opening with Olympus Mons..that would overwhelmingly proportional., probably bust the budget.... save that for Daffy...

  • Michael van den Bos | December 19, 2011 4:16 PMReply

    I love the Paramount / VistaVision logo - it's grand and powerful. My favourite classic movie studio logo (I actually love all of them) is the RKO Radio Pictures logo. I just love that big radio tower on top of the earth with the animated electrical symbols emanating from it. When a 3-Strip Technicolor RKO film appears on TCM, I always get a special delight out of seeing the RKO logo in colour.

  • WritinMikeyG | December 19, 2011 4:14 PMReply

    I love the version in "Coming to America," when the camera soared past the mountain into the never-before-seen land beyond, which became the setting for the film's opening. Little film-specific tweaks are always fun.

  • Joe Gillis | December 24, 2011 8:30 PM

    I'll take The Mouse That Roared. With the Columbia Pictures girl running away from the mouse.

  • John | December 19, 2011 3:55 PMReply

    Love those logos! The 20th Century Fox snare drum (?) fanfare, the RKO radio tower (maybe the best of them all!), Universal's globe (especially the plexiglass one from the 1940's), Leo the roaring MGM lion, Columbia's lady, even the static Warner Brothers shield and Republic eagle. They were just something that added to the joy of movie going in the golden days. A screen curtain that opened as the logos hit the screen or right after them on the main title added to the excitement of a night out at the movies.

    That Paramount VistaVision logo followed by those weird framing marks for the projectionist on those stellar Technicolor prints was indeed special and I still get a thrill when I see it on some of Paramount's 1950's DVD's.

  • frank chambers | December 19, 2011 3:41 PMReply

    The number of logos at the begining of a film has made them annoying. It used to be one logo and it was neat now they all take so long and there are just to many of them. I've started using Peter's Family Guy jokes now about all the logos.

  • Christopher Okula | December 19, 2011 2:56 PMReply

    The Family Guy Studio Logo joke, for ease of readers' reference: http://youtu.be/_rCmpdouxmI

  • Cde. | December 19, 2011 9:16 AMReply

    I love that VistaVision intro too.

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