The Title Sequence

I love movies, and pop cultural things in general, but especially movies. One of the greatest indicators, to me, of whether this movie is going to be worth it’s million dollar, or thousand dollar, budget is the opening credits. A well planned, designed, and executed opening credit sequence should be the perfect introduction to the mood, and look of the movie. So, if it’s well done, I get pumped for the rest of what I’m going to see. If it isn’t I pretty much lower my expectation bar and wait to be pleasantly surprised.

I’ve found that TV shows are stepping it up as of late as well. Especially shows that aren’t on basic cable (like Dexter, and True Blood) because they have bigger budgets, but there are are the occasional basic cable shows that just knock it out of the park as well.

If you google best opening credits, you’ll get the top 10s, the top 20s etc. but I’d like to make a case for some of the ones you might not see on those lists (and share some that are because they are that cool.)

First we’ll go with TV, in no particular order of my favorites.

1. Sherlock on BBC

I love this one because there is so much layering and movement. It gives you a good sense of what the show is like, i.e. a modern London and modern forensic technology tell you this is a modern show. The complexity of the layers and images that are sometimes strange and eery tell you this is a mystery and crime show. The worn type face tells you there is some element of history to it (because it’s based on sherlock holmes by sir arthur conan doyle) and the way each credit fits into some negative space gives kind of the feeling of fitting puzzle pieces together, which is the premise of the show. Also, if you haven’t seen this show’s 3 episode first season, go ahead and hop on watch instantly, they are pretty great.

2. Dexter

This is one of my favorite shows, and the opening credits were instrumental in grabbing my attention. I knew very little about the show when I watched this sequence the first time, but it was so cool how obvious it’s premise became  after watching this. First of all the music is spot on. I really love that old twangy sound mixed with the afro-cuban beat. It is perfect for the setting and tone of the show (Miami serial-killer of course). Then there’s the action. Everything he is doing is totally normal and mundane. Anybody would swat a mosquito and I don’t know anyone who would say drinking french press coffee, slicing and frying some ham, squeezing some orange juice, shaving, flossing, or tying their shoes is a weird action. They are all morning routine things that any normal human being could do. However, the slow motion, the close ups and the dark backdrop all give you the creeps don’t they? It’s the perfect set up because that’s Dexter’s goal – to seem normal, but underneath he is anything but. Not only this, but the typeface, and the spreading dark red that happens inside the type are wonderful additions. Everything is placed exactly in the right spot so that you know what this show is about, and what you’re about to see.

3. Boardwalk Empire

I haven’t actually watched this show, but apparently the opening credits were nominated for the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design, and I can see why. First of all the color and lighting are superb. It gives you an old time feeling with the perfect touch of there’s something bigger going on here than just some pretty waves on this man’s very fine shoes. The costume, the music and the movement are all great indicators that that this man is big time and that the time period is a little ways back. When all the bottles start to wash up on shore I wonder if they represent the actual alcohol they contain, or people, or bodies. When we get to the lightning flashing in his eyes and the swiftly coming rain clouds I pick up that he’s headed for trouble. And when he finally walks back toward the title (in a brilliant display of typeface choice) I can see he’s got it under control. This one is a great mood setter, and the placement of that stark white typeface over the sea greens and pinstripe suit is a great way to show off the names of Mark Wahlberg and Martin Scorsese. Way to go.

Now for some films, again in no particular order

1. Juno

I know a lot of people are doing this aftereffects illustrated thing nowadays, but I think it works best for Juno. The sort of stop motion feel of the illustration gives it the perfectly awkward vibe that the film carries throughout, and the colors definitely give off the “I was bored in a small town” feeling. Also, again, the action is perfectly suited to the premise of the film. She’s a  dumb kid drinking Sunny D so that she’ll have to pee for the third time in a row. Such an apt choice of music too. I also really love the drawing and un-drawing of places as she goes along and the hand drawn typeface. Each of the pieces lends itself really well to the attitude of the film.

2. The Prestige

First of all, besides this sequence: New Market Films has a GREAT logo, and I applaud whoever designed that one. Secondly, and pertaining to the title sequence: I cannot say enough about good typesetting. The Warner Brothers/Touchstone credit and the title both have leading and kerning that are to-die-for as well as a very well chosen typeface that coveys the antique setting and the showmanship of the film. You only really need to watch this video for a few seconds because they jump right in to the story. After the pan across all the silk top hats we are in story mode and no longer in title sequence land. Which is one of the things I love about this film, and Christopher Nolan: no wasting time. You came here for a film, so let’s have a film. Not only that, but the short title sequence gives you all the mood and info you need so why give any more time to it? You know it’s going to be somber, you know it’s going to be dark, you know it’s going to be elegant, and you know it’s going to be strange. All this from the typeface, colors, music, and one panning shot of the top hats in the forest. Brilliant.

3. O Brother Where Art Thou

Another vintage feel, but from a totally different place and time. The very first piece of the title sequence gives you just the sounds of the chain gang and the bugs as the studios get their credit. Then we see that retro typeface in a distressed feeling cream color that was so used in the early 1900s. Now one of my favorite features of the film: its tie to the Homer’s Odyssey. The typeface is easily read, and wonderfully spaced in the same vintage cream color. Even the timing of the fades is perfect. Then we finally see the landscape the chain gang is working with and hear them sing. I love the washed out color, gives you the sense of monotony they must feel. As we pan over the chain gang and their work the film is setting up what these boys are running from the entire movie. When the title comes in we get a change of pace in the music and some really delightful vintage design trinkets in the super thin frame and icons in the corners. They keep the vintage font, and intersperse some great action sequences of the guys running. I love the mix of comedy and tragedy in this film, and the opening credits give you a pretty good sense of that by dividing if between the chain gang sequence and the escape sequence.

So, obviously this isn’t exhaustive, but just a few that I really love. Hope you’ve enjoyed it. See you next time!