Few modern opening title sequences introduce a movie as powerfully and efficiently as Prologue Studios’ magnificent work for the recent US reimagining of Toho’s infamous monster. Godzilla‘s titles not only act as a perfect introduction to the movie itself, but they are a film in themselves. They set up the history of the titular monster while preserving the mystery behind him, and providing an immediate enigma for the audience to solve during the fairly long periods where he doesn’t appear.
To set the stage for the main story, where several people come together in varying plot strands as the myth of Godzilla starts to become reality (he’s needed to stop some hatchling monsters that are terrorising the Californian coast), the picture uses a montage of archive material – both real and fake – to create an image of Godzilla in the audience’s imagination. We start with cave paintings and move to crude drawings of sea serpents, detailed images of the bones of aquatic dinosaurs, and images of Darwin literature before vintage footage of U-boats and the occasional shot of a huge set of dorsal spines breaking the water’s surface like a monstrous shark fin.
Images of newspapers flitter past before we’re shown American naval officers next to the indigenous peoples of Bikini Atoll, handily shown in animated maps. This is where Godzilla plays with history a little more, as we find out that the nuclear “tests” that went on there were actually to stop Godzilla’s rampage. The last thing we see before the mushroom cloud is the behemoth form of Godzilla rising from the depths, his reign apparently over as evidenced by the fallout that follows. Yet as smoke fills the screen and the ash floats the title card is revealed; this may seem like the end, but this is only the beginning.
The actual titles themselves are brilliantly realised, with full sentences discussing aspects of Godzilla and the plot being suddenly redacted with only the artist’s name left. In fact, the graphic work is impeccable, from the stark font chosen to the scratches, marks, and cigarette burns added to help realise the film as vintage. The colour timing too helps this, both black and white and colour footage is shown, but the colour film is appropriately washed out.
But what really makes the sequence is Alexandre Desplat’s score. It’s an odd fit really; to have such a big and booming and obvious piece of music juxtaposed with these specific images. For what is essentially an in-film documentary being scored by something so purposely theatrical maybe should defeat the purpose of the title design, but instead it echoes it and turns it from faux-fact to myth. Desplat’s score begins with primal and mysterious tones, with portentous strings slowly building as horn lines dramatically rise like the creature, and as Godzilla’s spines first break the surface the scale of the music expands purposefully.
The nature of the footage intensifies as Desplat’s bellicose brass bellows like the monster’s roar, foreboding, telling you “This is real. I am real.” The strings become increasingly desperate as we build up through the Bikini Atoll material, and the score echoes the fight of nature as represented by Godzilla with the flared percussion, everything building in chaotic order until it suddenly ceases to exist, halted by the explosion. The explosion brings silence, but as the title appears the score returns with a haunting vocal as if to underline the point. Godzilla is alive. Godzilla is coming. Brace yourselves.
The title sequence can be watched at Prologue’s website.