Friday, 2 March 2012

Film Opening Analysis 1 - Marmaduke

For the sake of the coursework piece, it is necessary to analyse some professional works to see some techniques commonly employed for creating an effective film opening. To do this I'm going to watch the first couple of minutes of a few films and write about some of the different things I've noticed upon observation.

Should clarify a couple of things - firstly, I very, very rarely watch films so not only have I had to borrow some DVDs off of my brother but also most of this is completely new to me (the work I've currently contributed to the group's coursework consists mainly of logical decisions, as opposed to thoughts from observation. Hopefully doing these posts can fix this!). Secondly I should note that I will be posting screenshots from the films on the blog because no copyright law in the universe is going to stop me I believe that this is legal under the "fair use" legislation which says "it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports".

Here goes then - the first film I'm going to look at is Marmaduke.

The opening shot and transition is something particularly interesting; the first thing we see is a more or less blank beige canvas, which becomes animated in a way which makes it appear like a school hallway is being drawn on the screen. Once the 'drawing' is complete, we see a paint-splatter style action-match transition to a live action shot of the actual school hallway. The animation immediately gives the impression that the next few minutes at least of film are going to be fairly light-hearted.

This next shot shows large numbers of people walking from behind and into the camera, all out of focus except for one character in the centre - which tells us that he is going to have a significant role.

This shot is further back than the previous, which reveals to the audience that the previously-mentioned character is significantly taller than any of the other people around him. This makes him appear particularly awkward and out of place, once again drawing attention to his character. The name of the film appears with a stylised lowercase "a" in the middle of the all-caps formatted title. This is potentially to emphasise the character's height even more, as he is framed just behind said "a" in the shot.

The next thing we see is a shot of this character leaning over to a locker - this is a close-up shot, which draws the viewer's attention to the action. It also distracts attention away from what else is happening in the set - making the next shots more effective:

Here we see that whilst in the process of accessing the locker, the character has been barged out of the way. This once again reinforces the idea of the character being notably awkward.

This wide shot seems to be included for the sake of reinforcing the school setting as it shows the character in a classroom. We can see the written credits appearing from now - the VA's credit appears on the left as to avoid blocking the action (the character sitting down on right).

This uncomfortably placed two-shot is particularly effective at creating a humorous response; once again, it emphasises the height of the character by placing him next to a shorter woman, which makes the two-shot seem noticeably awkward and out of place - just like the character himself.

I'll clarify more about why this shot is so effective when I get around to discussing the dialogue; but for now let's just say it's there to draw the attention away from the human male in the previous shots and on to the Great Dane in this shot. This transition of emphasis is especially effective as it cuts to a fairly close-up shot of the dog which means the viewer has no choice but to shift their attention to him.

This moves to a shot of said dog walking in a garden, with the credit text now moving to the right, as the action is occurring on the left.

 Later on in the intro we see an over-the-shoulder shot which introduces another character, from Marmaduke the dog's level.

As with before, the text appears out of the way of the action in the shot (in this case, Marmaduke walking into the room).

The way in which sound is used throughout this scene is pretty fascinating. The vast majority of sound in this opening is non-diegetic, consisting of both a BGM song and a voice-over narration.

This narration directly addresses the viewer in a way that not only breaks the fourth wall, but attacks it with a wreaking ball. During the first few shots were the teenage boy is shown in school, the commentry discusses school life and being an out of place teenager, giving the impression that this voice belongs to the boy himself. Then we hear a vinyl-scratch sound effect and the background music cuts out, changing the pacing of absolutely everything happening on screen. This is the part where the camera suddenly cuts to the dog. Turns out it was the dog talking the whole time! The dog introduces himself as Marmaduke and the rest of the opening sequence consists of Marmaduke introducing the family he lives with whilst the final written credits are displayed.

I actually think this seems particularly effective. My main reasoning for this is because it works as a lighthearted way of introducing the audience to the film and gives them an idea of what to expect. The little "it must be this guy talking... oh wait, no it's not" thing seems like a good idea - sure, it's no The Reveal trope, but it is an engaging way of injecting some mild surprise humour into the scene.

There is actually a noticeable similarity between Marmaduke's opening and the opening to our coursework film - and this revolves around the way in which we suddenly break the pacing of the BGM for humorous effect. In Marmaduke's case it is where the focus cuts away from the human towards the dog; in our case it is when Samir stops to put his hat on, bringing the attention to the personality of his character.

I'll follow this up with analyses for additional films in the coming days.


1 comment:

  1. How did this influenced your own piece? Did you learn anything?

    Also there appear to be a couple of pieces missing from the research and planning booklet - I know you're in the middle of making sure it is all uploaded but it would be remiss of me to not point it out.