Musings about the opening sequence of Up in the Air
They say it only takes us seven seconds to make up our minds about someone we just have met for the first time. Considering this, it’s strange how little attention I normally pay to the title sequences in movies.
More often than not they’re just a bump in the road, an endless list of names you don’t care particularly much about and some music to go with it. If it wasn’t considered bad movie watching behaviour, I could as well use their running time for a bathroom visit or grabbing a cup of coffee.
But of course there are exceptions. There opening credits that are so well designed and enjoyable that they outshine the following movies, such as in the case of James Bond and The Pink Panther, to mention a couple.
With enough effort put into it, the credits can become so much more than giving the pleasure to the participants to see their own name on the screen. It can raise your expectations, put you in the mood and bring you into the world of the movie, ready to embark on a journey into the land of imagination.
A piece of art
Up in the Air was one of those movies, where the title sequence felt like a standalone piece of art in itself. I enjoyed every second of the aerial footage, put together with the music and the texts into something that made me think of ballet. Only a truly skilled dancer can make it look effortless.
As I checked the webs to see if I could find something from it to use as my screenshot illustration for this post, I was lucky enough to stumble upon an interview at the website Art of the Title with Gareth Smith and Jenny Lee, who are the ones who designed it.
In the article they talk in-depth about their creative process and their cooperation with the director Jason Reitman, who has made well-crafted openings to a bit of a signature (the one from Juno was equally memorable). We learn about their choices of typography, about how they experimented to get the right vintage quality in the colour setting, and about details such as how the camera was mounted on the aircraft used for taking the shots.
It’s such a joy to read because as opposed to stars like George Clooney, who is the Big Name in this movie, they haven’t been interviewed an endless amount of times, answering the same questions over and over again. They still have the innocent enthusiasm in their answers from someone who is happy to get their craft acknowledged.
And if this gave you an appetite for more inspirational texts about great movie and TV series openings, Art of the Title is a true goldmine. There most recent article is about the making of the stylish signature of Mad Men, and it’s also a great read.
The rest of the movie
That was a lot talking about the title sequence (which you can watch at the website I linked above, in case you don’t remember it), but I suppose I should write a little something about the rest of Up in the air.
In case you didn’t know it, this is the story about a Ryan who is a consultant specialized in corporate downsizing. Spending most of his days travelling all over the country to tell people they’re fired, he brings the concept of “frequent flyer” to a new level. One day he sees his way of life threatened as the company hires a young, ambitious woman why suggests that they could cut down on the expensive travelling if they ran those meeting at a distance using a video camera. He brings the young lady with him on a trip to make her understand what his job is really like. Meanwhile he starts to date another business traveller, who also loves to excel in frequent traveller’s benefits. (“Think of me as yourself, only with a vagina”). But over time his priorities are starting to change.
And this is where this movie could have gone very wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone who holds to family values or talk against someone who thinks that the relations we have to other people bring more meaning to our lives than career and money. But at the same time – this kind of messages are tricky to deliver in a way that still feels fresh. They can easily make a movie tip over into syrup, clichés and preaching.
From this perspective, Up in the air was a little bit of a rollercoaster ride. It started so strong with the fantastic introduction, but then there was a while in the movie when I got a really bad feeling about where it was going – right into one of the standard formulas of a Hollywood ending. I saw the ground closing in and thought to myself: “such a pity”. But in the last minute, Jason Reitman grabbed the controls again and brought me back to a reasonable place to disembark.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable movie with a lot of fun dialogue in combination with some darker, touching themes. But I still think the best thing about it is the elegant title sequence.
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, US, 2009) My rating: 4/5