Friday, 21 September 2018

Gratuitous Lists: Ten Great SFF Title Sequences

The job of a good title sequence is to hook you into the story straight away and also keep you watching whilst the contractually-mandated right names are ticked off at the bottom of the screen. For a while it looked like title sequences were going the way of the dodo, with some TV shows preferring very brief title cards (the likes of Lost and Heroes), but the rise to fame of premium cable and streaming shows, with variable episode times, has made this less of an issue. Here then - not in numerical order! - are ten great title sequences from genre TV shows.


American Gods
(2017 - present)

The most recent show on this list has an unusual, dreamlike title sequence and musical score. The title sequence mixes traditional religious imagery with modern-day objects, a clear homage to the theme of the old gods versus the new. So we have a Hindu-like statue surrounded by modern drugs, the internal combustion engine and the space shuttle being treated as religious icons and, dominating all, a somewhat threatening version of the American eagle. An impressive work of art in its own right.


Babylon 5
(1993-98)

J. Michael Straczynski's space opera magnum opus was supposed to be the TV equivalent of Lord of the Rings or Dune, a vast epic story set in a thoroughly-realised setting, with each season acting as a separate book in a series of novels. In that sense he was thoroughly successful. This required each of the show's five seasons to have a different title sequence, each setting up an increasingly complex story. Composer Christopher Franke also had to come up with not just one, but five different theme tunes (he did cheat a little and repeat some motifs to great effect). The result is a title sequence and theme tune that sets each of the five seasons apart and adjusts to the changing tone of each season, moving through the worsening situation and outbreak of war in Seasons 2 and 3 to the hopeful, post-conflict tones of Season 5.


Batman: The Animated Series
(1992-95)

There have been several Batman TV series, ranging from the 1960s camp-fest starring Adam West to current crime-fighting odyssey Gotham, but the finest remains this animated series from the early 1990s. Drawing on the Tim Burton movies, the animated series is Batman in arguably its purest and most distilled form: the Caped Crusader (with occasional allies) taking down criminals mundane and super-powered. The show's art deco-inspired title sequence may be the greatest summary of what the character and his stories are all about.


Blake's 7
(1978-81)

This cult British space opera show was far, far ahead of its time (and way ahead of its budget). An adult, dark and bleak vision of the future (albeit one with fantastic hairstyles and bizarre fashion tastes), the show was about a band of freedom fighters trying to bring down a despotic government and all too often drifting over the moral border into terrorism and murder. The ground-breaking title sequence mixes live action, animation and electronic elements to depict the mix of Orwellian future dystopia and star-spanning adventures. It was revisited several times as technology improved over the course of the show's four-season run.


Cowboy Bebop
(1998)

Generally praised as one of the greatest animated series of all time, Cowboy Bebop ran for just one season and 26 episodes back in 1998, the creators at Sunrise Studios keen not to milk the product by promptly walking away and never looking back. In those 26 episodes the crew of the Bebop got involved in everything from farcical comedies to nail-biting dramas built on suspense and even horror, all to a funky soundtrack from the obscenely-talented Yoko Kanno. Okay, let's jam.


Doctor Who
(1963 - present)

Unsurprisingly - since it has run for 36 seasons across 55 years - Doctor Who has had more title sequences than any other genre show in history. No less than 17 title sequences and variations on the theme tune have introduced the show since it's began. It's more remarkable that these sequences have carried forward the same certain motifs - the chaotic swirl of the Time Vortex - even since the first one. The 1980s version notably becomes a bit more electronic and the 1987-89 version (during the Sylvester McCoy era) introduces a new recurring idea, that of the TARDIS flying past the camera, which remains a key part of the sequence into the new era. Next month we'll see the 18th version of the title sequence and music to usher in the Thirteenth Doctor, and it'll be interesting to see what they do with it.


Firefly
(2002)

From the longst-running show on the list to the shortest, Firefly ran for only 14 episodes back in 2002. Fox TV didn't understand Joss Whedon's vision, was confused by the mash-up of SF and Wild West ideas and prematurely canned the series (eventually realising their mistake when the DVD box set sales came in). The title sequence combines spaceships, action, horses and an Old West-style theme song to perfectly nail the show's atmosphere.


Game of Thrones
(2011-19)

HBO was understandably nervous before launching Game of Thrones in 2011, their first foray into fantasy fiction. Based on the most critically-acclaimed epic fantasy book series since Tolkien, with a pre-launch hype that has not been matched since, the show was clearly going to do well. But having one of the most striking title sequences of all time certainly helped, along with Ramin Djawadi's incredible theme music (which is definitely going through your head right now).


Star Trek
(1966-69)

The original Star Trek title sequence may be the most iconic in television history. Pretty simple and straightforward, with Captain Kirk telling us this is going to be a journey to the final frontier and lots of shots of the USS Enterprise flying quickly past the camera. Star Trek: The Next Generation remixed this title sequence quite effectively before Deep Space Nine brought in a new, more stately approach.


True Blood
(2008-14)

True Blood won't be fondly remembered as one of the great genre TV shows, but it did have a pitch-perfect title sequence which combined Southern Americana, religious fundamentalism, blood and sex, setting the tone of the TV show perfectly. The choice of theme song (Jace Everett's "Bad Things") ties in with this very well as well. This intro set up the show (more specifically, its first three seasons before it became a self-parodying soap opera) perfectly and may be the most HBO of all of HBO's title sequences.




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2 comments:

Tom Miller said...

Maybe before your time or outside your ken, Adam, but The Six Million Dollar Man title sequence was one of the best and still holds up. In fact, the title sequence got me so excited that even though the show was pretty damn weak (aside from the Bigfoot episodes!), I could suffer through the next hour, and while disappointed, I would be excited again next week as soon as the titles started.

J Larrick said...

The X-Files opening was always my favorite.