The Lost Art Of Credit Sequences The budgets are getting bigger and the effects are getting better, but what about the simple pleasure of a great credits sequence? Bob Mondello says most films no longer bother ... but there are notable exceptions.
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The Lost Art Of Credit Sequences

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The Lost Art Of Credit Sequences

The Lost Art Of Credit Sequences

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(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Remember when movies announced themselves with elaborate opening credits?

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Names were once projected onto velvet curtains, or books opened to reveal pages packed with stars and screenwriters. The opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock's best films were, by themselves, worth the price of admission.

But when "Avatar" opened in December, there were no opening credits, not even a title before the action started.

Bob Mondello says credit sequences are becoming a lost art.

BOB MONDELLO: Okay, I know it's efficient. But seriously, a helicopter shot of a film setting, is that the best directors can do these days? Hot desert sands for "Prince of Persia," phallic New York skyscrapers for "Sex and the City." When a picture does something a little different, even a picture as bad as "The Back-up Plan," it makes you think it's actually going to be clever.

"Back-up Plan" is about a woman desperate to get pregnant, remember, and starts with an animated Jennifer Lopez wandering through a city where everything reminds her of babies.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Back-up Plan")

MONDELLO: Streetscapes made of building blocks, a traffic cop with a whistle morphing into an infant with a pacifier establishes her mindset without dialogue. And when the dialogue started, you understood why that was smart.

The idea here was a throwback to those openings from 1950s comedies, where, say, Doris Day and Rock Hudson threw pillows at their own names to wipe them off the screen at the beginning of "Pillow Talk."

(Soundbite of movie, "Pillow Talk")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Pillow talk, pillow talk.

MONDELLO: This was pure but artful, mood setting - a few seconds to let the audience forget the struggle it had parking and give the movie a bit of a running start. In that respect, the most effective title sequence of this summer - one of the coolest in years, actually, is the one for the thriller "Splice," about scientists who add human DNA to a creature they've created from random genetic material in a lab.

In the opening seconds, sonograms of weird-looking creatures morph into the logos for Warner Brothers and its producing partners.

(Soundbite of movie, "Splice")

MONDELLO: And then, you're plunged into a bath of bubbling amniotic fluid. Shapes materialize - nothing identifiable, just fleshy masses. Clotted plant cell structures form the name of actor Adrien Brody. Muscle fibers bulge out to spell the name of his co-star Sarah Polley. The camera follows a fleshy tube that looks like an umbilical cord, where fish scales peel off to reveal other names, and finally, veins pulse and darken into the title: "Splice."

(Soundbite of movie, "Splice")

MONDELLO: Then as a heartbeat establishes itself, the camera spots a point of light in the cloudy fluid and it widens. And through it come forceps and hands. And as you spot the lab coats and doctors' masks, you realize where you've been and where the story is going.

(Soundbite of movie, "Splice")

Mr. ADRIEN BRODY (Actor): (as Clive Nicoli) Okay, okay, I can see him.

MONDELLO: It's spectacular - the work of French title designer Kook Ewo in collaboration with the film's director - and it took a visual effects company five months to produce its three minutes, longer than it took to shoot the entire film that follows.

Which would seem crazy if it was just a list of names, but it's so much more - a wordless explanation of what "Splice's" scientists will be doing with their gene-splicing. Who needs pages of exposition when it's already clear that adding human DNA to this veggie-fishy-fleshy thing is not going to be a good idea?

Of course, not every picture should start with this kind of a bang. Woody Allen will get no argument from me in September when he begins "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" as he has almost everything he's done since 1975, with white lettering - Windsor condensed - on a black background.

My response, I know from experience, will be Pavlovian. Sure, he's disappointed me, but I only have to see that typeface accompanied by a little jazz to start smiling. Titles can work wonders. But so can branding.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of song, "When You Wish upon a Star")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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