INFLUENCE / INTERACTION
Title sequences in panels
“American Splendor”, “Spider-‐Man”, “Superman”, “Watchmen” or more recently “The Adventures of Tintin” have brought out title sequences that are homages and references to the various graphic and narrative universes they are inspired from, but they also
tend to make a contribution.
In the past few years, there have been more and more comic books adapted for cinema. “American Splendor”, “Spider-‐Man”, “Superman”, “Watchmen” or more recently “The Adventures of Tintin” have brought out title sequences that are homages and references to the various graphic and narrative universes they are inspired from, but they also tend to make a contribution.
The impressive title sequence to Watchmen (five-‐minute long) fulfills an essential function to the film: an epic introduction in an alternative reality of American history. The heroes are shown in parallel with key moments of the 20th century. In a series of sequences, the characters go trough the prohibition time to the 80’s cold war. This combination of key images reconstructions and heroic interventions significantly modifies History in order to introduce us to the film, which belongs to the alternative history genre, according to the comic book’s storyline. This incredible projection of revisited History also presents the characters and their evolution inside their group of righters of wrongs, until their exclusion and the rejection the end up being victim of. Theses sequences are shot in slow motion close to stasis, as if vignettes were animated step-‐by-‐step, punctuated with a camera flash evoking still image, initiating the transition from comic book to film, and inviting the viewers to observe the various clues that are proposed to them. It is a good idea to watch the title sequence again, after watching the film, to rediscover all the references and details relating to the characters themselves. The information is so dense that it is difficult to recognize Rorschach as a child or to understand the relationships between the Watchmen. This historical and fictional synopsis is harmonized by a song by Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-‐Changin'”; quite an unexpected music genre in a film known as a superhero one (that is the way the film is described), but it fits to the political and nihilist themes of the movie. The typo of the titles that follow the camera movements or the movements of the elements in the frame is the same as in the original comic book. The bright yellow of the letters, inevitably garish on the almost sepia-‐like polished images, is more than an obvious graphic quote but also vouches for the two different times of the film’s fiction: the past is summarized in the opening sequence, the present will be shown in the next two hours. Which also allows the scriptwriters to drop a lot of fictional evocations and to guarantee the viewer’s immersion in the Watchmen’s world. The opening title is like a summary of the previous episode that we would not have the time to watch. For all that, History is still on the march.
The opening sequence to “American Splendor” immediately tries to achieve the project of the film: cross Harvey Pekar’s reality: his life, his comic book and his movie fiction. As the first titles appear on a sequence where Harvey is walking in the street as a child after a short introduction, the camera moves back to step out of a panel and wander on a true comic book double page. Then the camera movement follows the chronology of the panels, mimicking the subjective look of the reading viewer (we are incidentally invited to do so). Images from the film, showing our antihero walking in the street, follow the panels going over the character initially drawn by various authors and even a photograph of the real Harvey. While the narrative speech bubbles at the top of the panels receive the sequence’s credits, we can read a text by the illustrated Harvey commenting his transition from being an underground comic book hero to a character played by an actor (referred to as “this guy”), pointing at the next panel where Paul Giamatti reappears in the role. At the end of the walk on the beach and after a last speech bubble inviting us to look at what is coming next, the camera enters the last panel and the movie image becomes dominant again. Beyond the simple illustrative homage (the image of the film is literally drawn from and to the comic book), the idea here is to introduce the global line: the book characters are themselves based on reality, yet the true Harveys and his wife will appear in their own role to come full circle with the original material and their autobiographic approach. Everything is announced in the opening sequence.
The title sequence to “Spider-‐Man 2” is a sort of homage to the comics that have inspired the movie. This time, the previous episode exists, and it is a matter of summing it up concisely. Through a continual coming and going of black lines drawing a spider web, illustrations of the film’s characters are displayed in a comic book graphic style. Key scenes from the first movie are shown, instantly allowing the viewer to plunge again into Peter Parker’s journeys. This simple idea ensures the ongoing loyalty to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and also brings a novel touch that can only enrich a movie full of action and special effects.
“Superman returns” (Bryan Singer, 2006) is a counter-‐example of all these approaches. There is a playful phenomenon in it: the formal remake of Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). It is the return of space background, John Williams’ music and laser beam graphic titles with strident sounds. Of course space in 2006 has a lot more asteroids and CG black holes but Singer shows his taste for the 1978 version vintage style; he prefers to pay tribute to Superman’s tremendous popular success rather than to the original piece.
Hergé’s “Tintin” by Spielberg is a concept that has intrigued Americans as much as Europeans. In the US, people were curious about why the filmmaker would adapt an old unknown Belgian comic book, whereas Europeans were afraid to see a real heritage betrayed. It seems like Spielberg has been careful of both considerations, as the title sequence has a great ambition: achieving to combine the universes of two creators with a three-‐minute animated sequence that is particularly narrative and full of hints. A light goes on and a drawn set appears, showing an office, a globe and a typewriter that is writing the first names of the title, respecting the type of Hergé’s albums. Tintin’s silhouette appears on the white page and the adventure begins. It is not really Tintin by the way, more his shadow puppet, as well as Dupont and Dupond’s one and Milou’s rather bleached one. The set is not really Hergé-‐like, and looks more like the New Yorker magazine graphic illustrations mixed with an iPod commercial. Whatever, the action has already started; the Americans wonder who this silhouette is, running and jumping from one set to another, chasing the bad guys. And the Europeans recognize Hergé in the set, which is directly based on the comic book (the office wallpaper is the same as the one illustrating the inside of the Tintin albums that are still for sale). Among the furtive appearance of the rocket from “Objectif Lune”, the statue from “L’Oreille cassée” or the island from “L’île Noire”, the black silhouette is bustling about in a wild chase and will remind us of the very praised title to “Catch me if you can”; John Williams’ faithful music seems precisely to propose a sharp distortion. That is because the title sequence to Tintin by Amblin compiles allusions to the director’s universe, notably to Indiana Jones with the fight on the train rooftop or the world map with a red-‐cross marked destination. We know the anecdote; the comparisons between Jones and Tintin attracted a lot of attention at the time and led Spielberg to take an interest in Hergé’s work. Fair enough, the title sequence discloses theses visual quotes from the books in a rather obsessive way. When Tintin is knocked out by gangsters, his silhouette plunges into a spiral from which some of Hergé’s minor characters come out, until a shower of panels from the albums flood the background. Eventually, homage and necessary promotion for Casterman: the cover of “Le Secret de la Licorne” becomes a poster on a wall, and the credit displayed on screen at this very moment is legitimately “Based on “The Adventures of Tintin” by Hergé”. So the opening sequence introduces an unknown adventurer to its American audience (the post title sequence will postpone again his appearance in motion capture and will take the liberty of showing a scene where Hergé himself is drawing our 3D hero) and a large compilation of details dear to European Tintin buffs. Everyone may take whatever they please in this surprising preamble that tries to achieve the film’s theoretical project itself: the transformation of Hergé into Spielberg. A mutant title sequence, literally.