While I am still working on long form posts, much of my time has been monopolized working on several film projects. In the interim, I wanted to share some shorter form thoughts on a more regular basis. The result of this is the first Killer Opening Shots entry.
Opening shots are of paramount importance because they’re the gateways to the story. They’re the first taste of the themes and tone of the film, and sometimes are a critical tool in characterization. A well made film can accomplish more storytelling in the opening shot than a poor one can in its opening scene.
An opening shot doesn’t have to be flashy or showy. It just has to be powerful. That’s why I chose something very understated and deceivingly simple to kick this off:
The opening shot of Terminator 2 is a wide shot of cars slowly flowing down a crowded freeway. It would be easy to dismiss this as a generic shot of traffic, but there are several specific decisions made with the lighting and composition of this shot to subtly introduce one of the main themes of the film.
The shot is composed such that the sea of the cars extends past all four sides of the frame, creating an boundless current of vehicles that gives a sense of an unyielding force. The desaturated color palette, combined with the repetition of similar car shapes is reminiscent of a legion of identical, chrome plated Terminators (the complete success of this opening shot arguably relies on a previous viewing of the first installment of the franchise). The specular reflections of the sun on the backlit cars create sharp, blue-ringed specular reflections on each car, also reminiscent of the specular reflections from the Terminator’s chrome skulls.
The net effect of the shot is a visual comparison of an advancing column of cars (humanity in the present) with an unyielding, endless army of Terminators (the coming demise of humanity), creating a visual metaphor the human race’s futile march forward to its downfall at the hands of the machines that it created. It’s a subtle introduction of one of the key themes of the film: fate versus free will. For a shot of traffic, it’s really doing a lot of storytelling.