Friday, August 1, 2008

Review: The X-Files opening titles.

I've started watching the X-Files recently, and am enjoying the first season. This was prompted by hearing about the new movie coming out, and figuring if the movie was good it might make up for what I've heard the last couple seasons were, I decided to go back and start the series.

Well, apparently the new movie isn't all that great; but I'm enjoying the series for now, so I'll keep watching for a while.

However, after four episodes, I can't keep silent about the opening titles.

They are atrocious.

First of all, the music. I'm sure the wavy synth was creepy back in the early nineties, but now it just sounds *cute*. And you don't want people subconsciously associating your paranormal thriller show with *cute*. Then there are the images. The first series of still images with a hazy UFO in the sky -- that's great, that's fine. The second, of some anonymous person drawing...something...okay, that's mysterious at least. Then we have an electro-globe. Not scary or mysterious. Sure, back in the sixties movie mad-scientists always had them in their labs, but nowadays they're about as creepy as a lava lamp. Then comes a twisty head of a guy opening his mouth, ostensibly in anguish, except you just *know* that it's the janitor of the studio where they put together the titles. "This could be my big break!" and all that. Next we have what appears to be a mirror image of a seed sprouting, superimposed by the words "Paranormal Activity." Seeds sprouting are about as paranormal as *wet rain*. Wait, I get it -- maybe the plant itself is paranormal?

In any case, the font they use for the words Paranormal Activity, along with the shadow beneath and the way the words fade into the picture...it all screams "Power Point Presentation." And that's it really -- this whole opening sequence is like a bad power-point presentation, and one that doesn't have a coherent structure to it.

Immediately following the paranormal seed, we get a zoom in on Mulder's badge with (in a new font) "Starting David Duchovny". That's all fine, I guess. But the next shot is a...blue...something...with a person's shadow, and the words "Government denies knowledge". The image isn't even interesting, let alone creepy or mysterious, and the words...well, I mean, I don't get where the words are supposed to be coming from, you know? If they were cut out from a newspaper, that would be something. But these words are just floating there. They're outside the fiction, like "The show, a new genre unto itself, would be called..." Except they seem to fit *in* the fiction. The effect is rather odd.

Then we get Scully's badge, which, fine. Whatever. But then comes the best/worst part of the opening sequence. It's a darkened room. Maybe a warehouse or something. Except, it's all foggy and misty. And there's agents Mulder and Scully; Scully's got a flashlight out, and Mulder's drawn his gun, and they're both looking concerned and intense. And we zoom in on their faces, except we don't just *zoom in* on their faces, we zoom in increments, so the effect is like four still camera shots, each a little closer than the last. Like the first part of the sequence, with the flying saucer. Then, we fade to white. I don't think that my description here can properly convey how cheesy this shot is. But trust me, it's way on over the top. Because they look so darn serious, and the cute widdle warbly music is playing in the background, and the standard screen composition of the shot, and the 90s television film quality....one simply cannot help but love this part.

So, then we have a falling white misshapen silhouette, which tumbles into the neon-blue outline of a handprint, er, except that one of the sections of the pointer finger is red instead of blue. Despite looking like a flash animation, this title is actually somewhat intriguing. Is the blue/red hand supposed to be infrared? I'm sad that the white silhouette is falling.

Then, in quick succession, we have an eye blinking and then a stock time-lapse shot of clouds rushing past. These images are at least mysterious; as in, it's a mystery what the people who put this sequence together were *thinking*. Okay, the clouds at least get explained: there's a flash of lightning, and the words "The Truth is Out There" appear on the screen, in the same thin sans-serif font (which is so boring as to be effectively an absence of font) that they used in the titles for Silence of the Lambs (if you don't remember it, that's okay -- I only remember it because I was surprised at how unremarkable it was the first time I saw the film). So, the wide expanse that the clouds are rushing past is supposed to reinforce the idea that the Truth (of which the Government is perhaps denying knowledge, probably about Paranormal Activity of some sort) is "Out There". This doesn't explain the blinking eye -- unless it's Chris Carter's eye, since the "Created by Chris Carter" title appears alongside the blinging eye.

You know what they could have done? Maybe, after the the teaser, they could have had the words "The X-Files" sort of angle their way towards the camera, while this weird sound plays, half growl and half howl. Then cut right to the show, and give us the "Starring" and the "Created by" as titles at the bottom of the screen during the real show.

Or maybe they could have had images of Mulder and Scully wandering around on their journeys, while some Hindu chant plays, and they could overlay (in the same font each time, mind), "Two Federal Agents. Searching for The Truth. On Earth." and then halfway through the titles the music gets all dramatic, and shots from later in the episode are played. Oh, and I forgot! At the beginning it goes, "The conspiracies were created by the government. They keep the aliens secret. There are many layers. And they have a plan!"

4 comments:

rachelhampton said...

haha...i'm also watching X-files recently...you're totally right...i had the same gut reaction but of course could not fully elucidate why the titles were so lame;)

Hannah said...

Oh my gosh, do one for Doctor Who now! Extra points if you can find the opening sequence where Tom Baker's freaky disembodied head WINKS at you!

Seriously though, there was a time when I associated those opening credits with mystery and paranormal phenomena and David Duchovny being a total studmuffin, but your review reminded me just how silly they were. I can't believe I ever took that show seriously.

Jay Reifert said...

I have my doubts as to whether those are mirror image seeds in the opening credits.

To me, they look snake fangs, protruding from snake gums, hanging in mid-air...totally disconnected from any snake's body. (Especially as they rear back, just before fading to the next element.)

It doesn't make sense...but, as you've pointed out, most of the opening credits make limited sense.

Dave said...

This was fun. I'm currently rewatching the show and never analysed the titles - they just make me nostalgic for when my dad let me stay up illegally past my bedtime to watch the show in its early seasons. They were definitely creepy when I was eight.