We can explain. Here are 5 examples of title sequences to blame.
You’re in your favorite chair. The kids are finally asleep. And the only way to appease Jerry, from two cubicles over, is to give this Game of Thrones a whirl. The volume was left a little too high from the kids binge watching SpongeBob SquarePants, but you decide to leave it because the booming kettledrums and melodic strings are just so terrific. Clockwork castles grow from the map, the limbs of trees with faces snap to length like telescoping spyglasses. As the camera zips over the concave globe, the names of exotic places dot the landscape. The stage for this Westeros place has been set. You know what you need to know, the tone well-established. “Okay,” you say, “I can get into this.”
And it all started with a hook. A rousing theme, an explosion of visuals that say, “Strap in,” a promise of what you’re in for that delivered, big time.
With Hollywood now a shriveled ouroboros of remakes and reboots, TV has had to pick up the slack on that pesky little originality thing. Now, with sky-high production values and A-listers — like Kevin Spacey on Netflix’s House of Cards — shows have become the venue for meaty, brave storytelling…and impressive binge watching. A serialized yarn can offer slowly developed characters and quieter moments; its world can grow richer and painstakingly detailed over years. Things can be risky — dangerous — again. Characters can grow up, grow old, turn good, break bad. Whether it’s binged whole or taken piecemeal as each episode airs, viewers grow familiar with the denizens of a show’s world like they might with a long-running series of novels — not surprising, since many popular TV series are adaptations of best-selling books. But to get viewers to commit from frame one, there needs to be a ringmaster who, before things get under way, booms from the center: “You’re gonna like what we have for you tonight.” Elastic, Imaginary Forces and Prologue are our modern analogue of those showmen. They’re some of the most prominent companies putting together opening sequences for film and TV today. You can probably hum a few of the songs to projects Elastic has worked on, such as Game of Thrones or another HBO series, True Detective.
[Maybe NSFW. There’s a butt.]
Shaking up the opening crawl standard isn’t new. The ’60s saw a wealth of fresh ideas hit the screen — the stylized Bond film openings that have become synonymous with the series (Goldfinger in particular) to the feast-of-unease that opens Vertigo, and Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 with its slow zooms on rooftop antennae while the cast list is read aloud as if they’re suspects at large. (It’s real weird.)
Any discussion of opening sequences would be incomplete without mention of David Fincher’s Se7en — a film that marks the start of Fincher becoming an opening-sequence aficionado’s greatest gift. It should come as no surprise Angus Wall, of Elastic — whose team designed the Game of Thrones opening — has served as editor for Fincher’s Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network, the latter two landing Wall Academy Awards. The often-imitated sequence for Se7en was put together by Imaginary Forces.
And if you’ve been to the theater, namely during the summer, you’ve likely seen another example of Imaginary Forces’ work: they designed the flipping-comic-book-page piece that kicks off each of Marvel’s superhero flicks. And apart from countless commercials with clients ranging from Gillette, Reese’s and Toyota — and helping to give Lifetime Channel’s brand image a facelift — Imaginary Forces also put together the main titles for shows like Hell on Wheels, Boardwalk Empire, South Park and Mad Men, securing the team multiple Emmys in the process.
After starting Imaginary Forces in 1996, founder Kyle Cooper left in 2003 to launch another agency, Prologue, to focus on creative projects. Prologue has since gone on to produce many set-staging sequences for Hollywood franchises like X-Men and the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as video games — like this Bond-tastic homage found in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater:
Any self-aware viewer knows that it’s a hook, that it’s flashy on purpose. When you’ve gotten through season five of Game of Thrones and need to be up for work in a couple of hours, it sparkles, snags you and drags you into just one more episode. Somehow it’s five in the morning. Red-eyed in the break room that day, you tell Jerry his recommendations aren’t always terrible.