This one may be a bit short, but it’s worth throwing on the pile. As noted last week video games sometimes follow movies in how they show their opening credits rather than the TV intros I was discussing. A movie doesn’t have to sell you on watching it. Well, maybe a made-for-TV movie but since theatrical movies are designed for (it’s in the name) the movie theater you wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t already been convinced by the trailer or the reviews. So they tend to default to just showing the credits…and thus far too many of them are (hopefully) the most boring part of the movie.
In times long past EVERY person who worked on the movie had to be listed in the opening credits. It was an unwritten rule and the unions liked it that way. The movie ended with a simple “the end” and maybe a few acknowledgements plus the name of the distributor. When George Lucas had no credits at all at the beginning of Star Wars as part of the classic serial feel he was going for the unions had a fit and a half. Nowadays the credits tell you who the lead actors are, like you didn’t already know going in most of the time because they were all over the talk show circuit and in all the promotional material as if they were trying to sell you on the actor you like instead of the story, the director, and the producers who paid the most to get their ego stroked by having their name in movie credits. This is when they get boring but here’s a few suggestions on how to make them less boring.
Of course having good music helps, but that’s true for the whole movie and making a good soundtrack is best left to someone who understands music in storytelling. I’m not even an amateur in that department. Just having your character run or walk through the city is boring, but if you see it as a storytelling opportunity you have something. In the above Saturday Night Fever intro you get glimpses into the main character, Tony Manero. As the Bee Gees sing, you can tell by the way he walks…that at least he thinks he’s a ladies’ man. We see early aspects of his personality, his friends in the neighborhood, and it tells you a lot about him so the story doesn’t need to establish as much about him. Compare that to the intro to Superman III.
A series of dumb gags as a comedy (for lack of a better term) of errors happens. At best this sets the tone insomuch as how different it is than the first two while still trying to use something close to the way the credits moved across the screen in the first two Superman movies. Outside of Clark using his superbreath to put out a toy penguin on fire and saving someone drowning in their own car, what did you learn about Superman, Metropolis, or…anything really? All I learned is that Adventure Bay is less accident prone than Metropolis. This would work to establish you’re about to see a movie filled with pratfalls but while Richard Lester installed more of his preferred humor style into the film it wasn’t a comedy. Though I do admit Richard Donner did the boring thing too.
Maybe it’s because I don’t fawn over this movie like so many other Superman and general movie fans (though it’s still the best theatrical Superman film thus far I have a few problems with it) but this is not a perfect intro. John Williams’ theme has become iconic for a reason but all we’re seeing outside of that moment with the comic is a bunch of text flying across the screen and I’m supposed to be impressed because it uses cool transitions? Look at the credits to Spider-Man 2.
In less time they managed to sum up the events of the first movie and quickly establish the world you’re entering, another thing the intro should do while throwing actor and production names at you. And it’s still quite stylish. I’ll take Williams Superman theme over this music but it does fit the story well enough. It gives you more to look at than a bunch of words to an epic score and maybe a related image like the first movie’s credits. Even Star Wars, being just the opening narration to yet another John Williams iconic theme song, tries to establish the back story in a way that hearkens back to the serials while telling you what you need to know.
While the movie intro doesn’t have to sell you into watching like the TV intro does it still has to draw you into the world you’re about to enter, be it fantastic or gritty realism or just plain fun. The intro is part of the storytelling for television, movies, and in some cases video games. Doing it well will make it memorable years later for something besides nostalgia and the score. Doing it wrong will bore your audience and that’s not the level you want to be starting off on.