Forget the poster, the trailer and the two-minute teaser; our first impression of a film arrives in the opening sequence. We should be hooked as soon as the studio logo begins to fade away. Any two-bit flick can simply roll out the cast list and hope we stick around to see them all, but it takes something truly spectacular to grab our attention from the get-go. For example, the use of crawl text did wonders for a little-known Seventies space opera; and now it's the quickest way to parody one of the most famous and successful films of all time. Of course, there are thousands of films whose opening sequences are as fine as their feature (Run Lola Run, Delicatessen and Enter the Void to name but three) but this article aims to shine a torch onto those where the disparity between the first five minutes and the remaining two hours can make or break a movie. These are the bright sparks who appear to have spent their entire creative budget on a sure-fire way to keep us stuck to our cinema seats/sitting room sofas, only for the poor films themselves to resemble something of an afterthought.
10. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (2007)
The Opening Credit Sequence: A fog descends over Victorian London, shadows creep across the wall, a sudden burst on the pipe organ seems loud enough to blow out the cobwebs; if you didn't know it was a Tim Burton film by now then surely you could have guessed. Failing that, look at the cast list. Yet the director seems tailor-made to adapt the legend of Gothic literature (one of the greatest and goriest tales of revenge ever written) and this striking sequence, practically steeped in Hammer horror, sets the tone perfectly. With the skies and streets dashed the same shade of watercolour grey, the only drops of colour are the splashes of blood that seem to rain down the windows and walls. The camera charts their path as they fall under the floorboards and slide through a series of cogs, before slipping through a trapdoor and spelling out the name of the film. These letters are then fed through a meat grinder. You could argue that in a matter of mere seconds and with nobody in sight, the story has already been told. Yet you could hardly call spoilers on a story this familiar. Few musical adaptations warrant an 18 certificate but then few are as marvellously macabre as this. There will be blood, indeed... It's a bleedin' obvious thing to say but there's too much singing. With the music lifted wholesale from Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's stage version, and as expository as we've come to expect, it slows the pace considerably. You'd be tempted to joke that the original tunes are being butchered, but that would imply that there were some to begin with. Johnny Depp is dependably manic in the title role, both suitably haunted and handy with a razor, yet there's only so much of his Bowie-esque wailing you can stomach. Helena Bonham Carter's Mrs Lovett may be an enticing accomplice but she's not doing much to fend off the claims of forever being typecast. And far too much time is wasted on a subplot concerning a pair of young lovers and the sheer volume of vocal acrobatics. Burton really could have sunk his teeth into the source material but, rather like one of Mrs Lovett's pies, his attempt leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Yorkshireman (hence the surname). Often spotted sacrificing sleep and sanity for the annual Leeds International Film Festival. For a sample of (fairly) recent film reviews, please visit whatsnottoblog.wordpress.com.