In the ten years since the release of David Fincher’s Panic Room I’ve yet to see another movie title sequence I adore quite so much.
My design studies covered film title sequences, so I was intimately familiar with Kyle Cooper’s masterpiece for Fincher’s earlier movie, Se7en. My love of Fincher was then solidified when the magnificent Fight Club was released, itself headed up by an epic opening sequence. So as I sat in the cinema beside a fellow graphic design student, we had high hopes that Panic Room’s titles were going to be something special. It didn’t disappoint.*
A decade on, floating typography in live action 3D space is a commonly used device, but I’d never seen it before Panic Room, and I’ve never seen it done so well since.
Daily life on the streets of Manhattan seems to go by oblivious, while overhead huge words hang motionless in mid air. The scale, the compositions, the perspective all combine to create something inexplicably threatening.
Such is the seamless integration with the CGI type into the environment, you wonder what the people down below think about it. Have they noticed what hangs overhead? Do they know it’s there? Are they just ignoring it? Have they become used to it? Why do they not stare up in amazement, or run in fear?
But life just goes on, everyone seemingly oblivious to something really rather sinister. We can see it, but nobody else can. That’s the beauty. It’s a simple device; calm, quiet and delivered with little drama, yet it creates a tension that sets the scene for the thriller that follows.
The viewer is initially put in a position somewhat detached from the world, and we feel we want to shout down to the people on the streets, to warn them, make them look up, to make them aware of the terrifying thing going on. But we can’t. We’re powerless.
And then we find ourselves down at street level, looking up as the words continue to hang. Where once we were detached, looking down from a unique perspective, we’re now down in there with everyone else, the threat now above us.
With no faces, no action, with nothing more than a few bits of type, some steady shots of everyday Manhattan and some suitably foreboding music, the scene is set for the entire movie. Before any dialogue takes place, before any characters are introduced, before we know anything at all, we’re put on edge. Absolutely fantastic. Give it a watch.
*I actually remember my friend whispering an astonished “f-kin hell”.