‘Matilda’ (1996)

'Matilda' - produced by Danny DeVito

The opening sequence of ‘Matilda’ establishes the genre and setting of the film. We discover, from the opening sequence, that ‘Matilda’ is a fantasy. To make this film more effective and authentic, the producer skillfully uses mise-en-scene. He does this by using different kinds of props (e.g. dolls, hospital cots, car, baby blankets) and certain clothes (e.g. nurse uniform, smart clothes).

The audience are able to tell that this film has been edited right from the beginning, this becomes obvious when, after showing the names of the actor’s and actresses, the camera fades from a black screen to an extreme close-up shot of a baby’s eyes. We realise that this baby is Matilda when the nurse picks her up and takes her to Harry, the father, who just grunts and walks away. As the camera switches to an over the shoulder shot. Walking away from his new baby daughter indicates that it is not a very caring family and that the film is going to be based on them.

After the close-up image of Matilda’s eyes, the camera zooms out into a wide shot of the hospital room, this allows us to visualise more babies,  which leads to our understanding of them being in a hospital. Harry, the father, seems out of place when he is looking into this room because the room is decorated in neutral colours, all of the baby blankets are light blue or light pink, plus both the nurse and the babies look happy. Whereas, Harry doesn’t, he always looks grumpy. This gives us the feeling that he is not easy to please, and not nice to live with.

Another camera shot used is a high angle shot, the producer used this when the family were in the car on the way back from the hospital. Harry cannot find a way out of the car park, and ends up doing a U-turn, this is when the camera tilts down even more.

Through the majority of the opening sequence, a calm and relaxing soundtrack is played in the background. This makes the film seem more authentic as it is never silent in the background, there is always some kind of sound going on behind you. Another type of sound found in the opening sequence of ‘Matilda’ was the narrative (non-diegetic sound – also referred to as a voice-over), the narrative was speaking as if they themselves were in the film. The narrative basically helps to give you a better understanding of what the film is about.

A fairly large amount of dialogue was used during the opening sequence, as well as ambient sounds (e.g. shutting doors, walking, cleaning up, talking in the background). The producer also enhances some sounds, just too make them sound louder and more life-like. This gives off a brilliant effect to the audience as it can sometimes make us feel as though we are on set with them.

Editing is useful when it comes to films as it can make them more interesting and better to watch. A type of editing that I found was frequently being used during the opening sequence of ‘Matilda’ was cross-cutting. This is when the camera goes from one scene to a completely different one straight after.

Another type of editing that was constantly being used was post-production, this is when the producer adds in voice-over’s and background music/soundtracks. It is often used to prevent silence, as in reality, not a lot of everyday activities are completed without any sound at all.


‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ (2008)

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie - 'Mr and Mrs Smith'

The next opening sequence I chose to analyse was ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’.

‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ is a typical RomCom (Romantic Comedy) that every woman loves. It is about a couple that should be together, however they are not.

At the start of this film, John (Brad Pitt) and Jane (Angelina Jolie) are attending a marriage counselling session. The fact they are attending one of these meetings makes it obvious they are having marriage trouble, however, another clue to this is the gap between the armchairs they are sitting in. The audience is given the impression that the gap between the armchairs represents the gap in their marriage. The producer used a wide angle shot for this to show their sitting positions and so we can see the awkwardness between the couple.

Both John and Jane are sitting with their legs crossed and hands on their lap. Their hair is neat, their clothes are smart and neither of them look relaxed. All of these similarities make up the mise-en-scene. It shows that the married couple should stay together, as they are fairly similar to each other. From their smart clothes and their neat hair, the audience assumes they are both from the same social class (both have money and a good job).

Throughout the whole of the therapy session, the camera shot stays on wide angle. However, towards the end of the opening sequence, the producer used a jump cut. This is where the camera goes from one scene to another, e.g. from the therapy session to a helicopter.

The lighting also stays the same throughout the therapy session, it makes the setting look slightly uncomfortable, however, not too uncomfortable. The lighting has been set as dim to give this effect as the film producer wants the audience to realise that the married couple are not getting on very well at the moment.

The only sounds used in this opening sequence are those of voices, the counsellors voice, John’s voice and Jane’s voice. The counsellor’s voice, however, is a non-diegetic sound. This means it was added in after the film, or the scene, had been made. I was given this impression as the counsellor is never shown, the camera stays focused on the married couple, even when the counsellor is speaking.

‘Dirty Harry’ (1971)

Dirty Harry - played by Clint Eastwood

To start my coursework, I decided to watch a range of opening sequences to understand what film producers use. The first opening sequence I watched was ‘Dirty Harry’.

At the beginning of Dirty Harry, we, as the audience, are shown the different characters that will appear in this film. We are also shown an establishing shot to enable us to see where the film is set and get an idea of what country it is set in. From the shot, we are able to tell that the film is set in America as it consists of tall buildings and skyscrapers. The audience can also sense it is going to be an updated western movie, due to the detective and the sheriff’s badge

The opening sequence also allows us to predict what is going to happen throughout the film. The start of the opening needs to show all of this information so that the audience will want to carry on watching the film. The opening sequence also sets up the narrative, it allows us to understand that the killer is an evil man and he will be running from the cops throughout the film, however, we know that the cop will finally catch him. This becomes obvious when we first see the sheriff’s badge and the cop dressed in ordinary clothes, which indicates him being a detective. As soon as we realise he is a detective, we know the evil killer will get caught as detectives are very good at their job. The ideology in this film is the battle between protagonist and antagonist, the cop being the hero and the killer being the villain.

The first sound we heard were those of bells chiming, soon after, an image of a memorial gravestone for San Francisco police was shown with a Sheriff’s badge at the top. The camera zooms in to a close-up shot of the badge; this suggests that the badge is an important part of the film.

When the film first began, it was backed by slow, calm music, however, it distorted when the gun barrel came onto the screen. The music changed like this to give us the impression that the killer was getting ready to shoot the woman. We are also given the impression that the murder will take place in 1980 as that was the last date shown on the memorial gravestone earlier on.

The producer uses mise-en-scene cleverly. This could include anything from costumes and make-up to props (e.g. the gun and the sheriff’s badge). All of this is what makes the film authentic. The killer was introduced through mise-en-scene and mystery.

Non-diegetic sounds are used in the opening of ‘Dirty Harry’. Non-diegetic sound is where sounds are added after the filming is finished e.g. the music building up to the gun shot and the gun shot itself.

The producer displays a wide angle camera shot of the swimming pool and of the woman jumping in it. The woman diving in the pool is supposed to portray a vulnerable, sexy, innocent woman. The producer wants her to come across as sexy and innocent because it makes us dislike the killer even more. The camera then angles down the gun barrel; this allows us to see exactly what the murdering can see. The producer gave it this effect by using a circular lense and blocking out the images around it. The tension builds up in the moments before the woman is shot. This is due to how the music distorts. Just before the killer shoots the woman, the camera flickers from the pool, to the finger on the trigger and back to the pool again. This also helps to build up the tension because the audience will be waiting for the sound of a gunshot.

After the woman is found dead, Dirty Harry works out where the killer may have been positioned when he shot the woman. He goes up to that place and looks down at the pool. The audience can see the pool from a point of view shot, from this shot we can see exactly what we saw before, when we could see down the gun barrel.

To summarise, the opening sequence must establish:

  • Genre
  • Setting
  • Characterisation/Representation
  • Narrative