Thursday, August 5, 2010

Great Film Openings

A good director knows, the opening scene is key to setting the tone for the rest of the film. These are the ones that do it the best. I'll just put them in order of what left the biggest impression.

Saving Private Ryan
Watching this scene in the theater in 1998 made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. One of the most harrowing scenes ever set to film pits us in the middle of Omaha Beach on D-Day. A place where no audience member would want to be.

We know Kennedy is doomed as his motorcade approaches. The whole sequence is a leadup to that inevitable and horrifice conclusion and Pietro Scalia & Joe Hutshing's editing are flawless in setting the opening with tension.

Some may argue that this opening has nothing to do with the rest of the film. I could not disagree more. The opening to this film is like a prologue to a good book. The narrator explains the themes on consequences and chance which take place throughout the film.

Apocalypse Now
"This is the end," sings Jim Morrison of the Doors, and swathes of Vietnamese jungle explode silently into billowing flame; slo-mo US Army choppers cut through clouds of orange dust in the foreground. Saigon. Shit. I'm still in Saigon.

Its a tribute to editing Thelma Schoonmaker and direction of Scorsese to open a film with a scene extrapulated from the middle of it. Right off the bat we know we are in for a brutal ride with the characters.

Once Upon A Time In the West
What's most interesting about this opening is the lack of music. Sergio Leone makes use of natural sound to create tension and mood.

Blue Velvet
Starts off with fireman waving, children crossing the street. It's another sunny day in Lumberton. But afterwards the camera pulls down and unveils a bunch of scorpions underneath the soil. A perfect metaphor for what is to come in the film.

Jaws begins where it belongs - underwater for the credits, with Bill Butler's camera and John Williams's score prowling the seafloor.

Blade Runner
It's hard not to just sit and gape at the opening of Scott's sci-fi epic: a panoramic imagining of Los Angeles, 2019, all twinkling towers and flame-belching refineries, unfolding to Vangelis's swirling synth chords.

Dog Day Afternoon
Elton John's Amoreena is played over a montage of New York City. It establishes the setting and time as just another normal day in the town and perfectly segue ways into Al Pacino turning off the radio and turning that normal day into mass confusion and hysteria.

“Choose life, choose a job, choose a career, choose a fucking big television..” Ewan McGregor runs down the streets of England, stolen merchandise scattering out of his pockets. And all to the thumping of Iggy Pops ‘Lust for Life’.

Raging Bull
The delicate dance of movement from Jake LaMotta set to Luchino Visconti's score is sublime. It establishes a grand like nature of LaMotta's profession. It's ominous but very fitting.

No Country For Old Men
The words of Cormac McCarthy are a complete joy to read and to hear them spoken by Tommy Lee Jones over open desert landscapes is absolutely haunting. It's a scene that does exactly what the best opening scenes of a film can do, suck you into the world of the film and establish the themes of it.

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