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Analyse techniques used by film makers in the opening sequence of 'Shrek'.
Analyse the techniques used by film makers in the opening sequence of ‘Shrek’.

The opening of a film is important as it has to set the scene, whilst also introducing the characters and themes. In ‘Shrek’ the introduction of the production introduces the main protagonist as well as some of the major recurring themes (for example the subversion of traditional fairytales, and comedy). The film must grip the audience’s attention, and then prolong that interest in the plot throughout the duration of the film, preferable with many questions arising which will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

From the beginning of the film the music is slow and melodious, the kind of which would help a younger child sleep. This would also make reminisce of times when you were younger as well as lighten your mood with its repetition of happy tones. This leads us to believe that the story will follow the same lines as that of a conventional fairytale. This mental imagery is supported by the large leather bound book which appears on the screen, again hinting at the tradition of what’s to come. This is subverted through the use of an abrupt halt in the music, which shatters the carefully built atmosphere. This is then followed by a large green hand entering the scene, ripping a page from the old book.

This is then followed by aloud pop song, which is a vast contrast to the previous melody in both pace and tone. This new diversion makes it obvious the film will not follow the same lines as such stories as ‘Cinderella’ or ‘Snow White’.

The pop song uses lyrics like ‘I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed’ as a verbal metaphor for Shrek’s low intelligence. This does not fit in with our expected image of a hero from fairytales. Another example of the subversion in the pop song is ‘the shape of an L on his forehead, which reflects Shrek being a looser or a learner. It is also mentioned that ‘you’ll never know if you don’t go’ which shows our hero is stuck in his ways, but also hints at the possibility of later excitement and adventure. ‘Only shooting stars break the mould’ is a metaphor showing that Shrek is unique in his own way, showing that only those out of the ordinary can do something spectacular and unexpected.

Sound effects are used in conjunction with music to heighten some of the more comic situations, as well as adding a real sense of depth and meaning to the opening scene. They are used to emphasise the traditional fairytale style of the book, aiding in the remembrance of years gone by- from the creak when the book is opened, to the rustling of a page being turned.

A loud rumbling can be heard when a dragon is introduced to the fairytale, portraying the typical fire breathing monster to which we are accustomed through our own experiences of fairytales as children. The use of all these sound effects is that it links the sounds to mental imagery which is steadily built up throughout one’s life, which creates more realistic imagery in the mind to heighten the sense of involvement with what is occurring in the film.

The ripping of the page and the slamming of the book shocks the viewer as it is the cue for the music to abruptly stop, and the viewer subconsciously already knows that their preconceived perceptions of the film are about to be dramatically altered.

The cynical laugh which follows the ripping of the page is used to bring out the theme of comedy, as well as other instances in the introductory scene such as the flushing of the toilet and the grunt.

Shrek passing wind, as well as his gargling with mud are both thoroughly disgusting, and far from our stereotypical ‘handsome prince’. The fact that he shatters a mirror with nothing but a glance shows that Shrek is truly ugly, however the kiss later on in the opening scene hints at a potential love theme despite his appearance.

The noises of the fire and the weapons show that our hero is a villain in the eyes of some, and the people who oppose him would potentially try to hurt him.

Combined, the sound effects are all used to influence the viewers opinion of the film through its subversion of what they thought would happen, as well as its use in bringing out the themes which will be shown in the duration of the film (such as comedy love and subversion of traditional fairytales).

Another vital technique which is almost always employed by film makers is voiceovers (or narratives). In ‘Shrek’, the opening narrative is from our protagonist Shrek himself, but in a Standard English tone- which you would hear when a traditional fairytale were properly intoned by the rich families which would have afforded such books in those times. For example ‘Once upon a time’, ‘brave knights’, ‘fire breathing dragons’ and ‘loves first kiss’ are all used in the vast majority of old fairytales.

In a massive contrast to the tone used in the opening, Shrek reaches a point upon which his accent becomes stronger and more aggressive- which we coincidentally link with violence. This is far from the image of protagonists which frequent the older legends.

Shrek speaks colloquially, saying ‘like that’s ever gonna happen’ which is followed by a loud sarcastic laugh. This is again not what we would expect from a hero, especially when it is followed by the exclamatory sentence ‘What a load of..’, the implication of what he was going to say is clear, and yet it is censored by the flush of a toilet. This is used as a metaphorical flushing away of conventional ideas and again brings out the theme of subversion.

The setting is important for film makers, as it often represents greater opportunity to increase characterisation, making the audience feel more involved in the film, as well as making them more inclined to watch further.

‘Shrek’ is opened with a spotlight illuminating a leather bound medieval book which has the appropriate enchanted air. This is then undermined by a large green hand entering the picture and tearing a page from the book. We soon realise with horror that the place in which such a magical atmosphere was created was indeed a toilet, which we cannot help but to find funny (therefore furthering the theme of comedy).

The opening of the door introduces us to the second setting. Which is a dirty, grimy swamp based on greens and browns unlike the blue and silver hue’s which we would find around nobility and ‘handsome princes’. The swamp is filled with hideous invertebrates such as grubs, slugs and insects. The overall effect is disgusting, yet interesting and comical which makes us want to find out more about it, as well as Shrek, whom it is intended to represent.

Characterisation is possibly the most vital of all techniques employed by film makers. A typical ogre conjures images of murderous, ugly, smelly, bloodthirsty beasts. On the other hand when you think of the fairytale heroes like princes, you think of tall, handsome, brave warriors. Therefore Shrek does not follow the lines of a typical protagonist- he is more ‘human’ and is victimised right from the opening, so we automatically like him as we feel we can somewhat relate to his circumstances. We want him to ‘win’ on his noble deed because he is the underdog in the situation, making us feel closer to him than an estranged prince for example, whose life we could only imagine in dreams.

Shrek is introduced to the film though a toilet. He primarily yawns and rearranges his underwear which gains a certain amount of endearment from the viewers, whilst also creating a comical atmosphere. This theme continues when it becomes clear to us that the page ripped from the fairytale book was used to wipe Shrek’s bottom.

As a character Shrek is fat and repulsive, showering in and gargling mud, using the innards of insects to brush his teeth, and passing wind on many occasions. Whilst all of this is vile, the viewers will find this funny as they can see certain aspects of themselves in him, for example after Shrek passes wind, he makes a cute expression, the likes of which we would normally find on a small child. We cannot help but to love him for the innocence that he displays which is again a part of the theme of comedy.

The colour used in a film can be highly effective, for example reflecting the mood of a scene or giving/ removing emphasis from certain locations. The book is brown to show the age of the book for it to have been bound in leather, unlike the more recent paperback and hardback books we would find in today’s bookshops and libraries, which also reflects the traditionalistic theme of our older fairytales. Inside the book certain words or letters are drawn in gold leaf, which again suggests the age of the book, as well as the preciousness of such a tome, making it brighter and more visually appealing to the children of the era whom would have read such books. The bright bold colours such as reds and blues remind us of our own childhood, and the books we used to covet, therefore leading on our expectations of a more traditional fairytale, which is subverted by the entrance of the large green hand (which is not a primary colour, and so not often used in children’s books.

The swamp is in greens and browns, which suggests the closeness to nature someone living in close proximity must have. Our hero Shrek, unlike traditional princes is dressed in dirty creams and browns which is in vast contrast to the blue and gold clad prince from the fairytale book which we were first introduced to.

When Shrek goes on to kiss the sign, his lips turn red which symbolises romance, and hints at the potential of him being kissed later in the plot. However the red on the sign he kissed represents the danger, which is directly linked to the reds and oranges which are portrayed later in the opening, through the red sky and the orange flames of the violence ridden villagers whom seek our protagonist’s blood.

In films, writing (or copy) is used to emphasise certain things, or to gain a certain effect that is otherwise unattainable through the use of spoken words or props. This often includes the names of actors and actresses, film titles, and sometimes on props to make some things clearer to the viewer.

In ‘Shrek’, the first letter of each page is illuminated, as is typical in older books whilst the rest of the text is written in an old English font which makes the book seem steeped in age and gives it an almost magical aura. Special words generally associated with fairytales are in a red bold type, such as ‘love’, ‘locked away’, ‘dragon’, ‘brave knights’ and ‘true love’s first kiss’. Very cleverly hidden through use of a technique that is not dissimilar to Shakespeare’s own in Romeo and Juliet, a forewarning of what was to happen in the film is hidden. When Shrek rips a page from the book, the page below the one ripped foretells of a ‘wedding day’ which does indeed happen in Shrek’s own tale.

The title of the film comes up surrounded by thick gooey mud in green lettering which reminds us that this is not to be a normal fairytale. Mike Myers name appears in mud spat out by Shrek whereas the name of Eddie Murphy is found carved into wood behind the mirror that is smashed by Shrek’s face. Cameron Diaz’s name appears through the formation of pondweed which collates as a result of Shrek passing wind, however there is a small flower, a burst of colour on the otherwise murky coloured screen which hints at the femininity of her character, and possibly of the love that could bloom later in the film. John Lithgow’s name appears in maggots, which is perhaps used to represent the small stature of the character he does the voiceover for, as well as his squirming, unpleasant attitude.

Shrek is seen to create a sign with the words ‘BEWARE OGRE’ inscribed, which shows he does not want contact with anyone because he knows he is not liked. The ‘Wanted, Ogres!’ sign in the village shows that the villages are out to get Shrek, to capture him and potentially harm him in the process which again, makes us feel for Shrek and his portrayal as a beast. It also brings out the theme of subversion- our main protagonist is seen by the rest of the cast as an outcast, someone to be despised and hated rather than having the noble hero status we are so used to from the conventional fairytales.

The camera angles, if used correctly can be a potent tool in a film maker’s arsenal, Shrek being no exception despite the fact that no actual cameras were used in the production of this animation. Choices on the ‘shots’ do indeed need to be made to make films effective, no matter the medium used to create the film.

‘Shrek’ opens with a long shot of the book, raising our expectations that this will indeed follow the lines of the older more traditional fairytales. This is followed by a very slow zoom to the individual pages, focusing on such things as the handsome prince and ‘true love’s first kiss’ which emphasises the fairytale element of the film. This entire atmosphere is however destroyed with the close up of a overly large green hand ripping a page from the book before slamming it shut.

There is then a long shot of the toilet which Shrek proceeds to burst from, creating comedy. Following this, there is a wide shot of Shrek’s dwelling which proves his unconventionality. Before the extreme close up of Shrek’s unattractive body, there is a close up of Shrek smiling, which coincides with the time the lyrics ‘shape of an L on his forehead’ are sung. There is another extreme close up of Shrek using a caterpillar as toothpaste, and a shot over his shoulder as he cracks the mirror before him. All of this is put together to show how repugnant his manners and habits are, but still adding to the comedic effects of the opening, for example the high shot of Shrek passing wind which promptly follows the cracking of the mirror.

There are close ups of the wanted poster, as well as the notice sign upon the door in the village. These are both used to show how hated Shrek is as a character for the simple reason that he is a ogre. A medium shot is used when the villagers are exiting the pub, and an over the shoulder view as they plan their attack upon Shrek. There are close-ups as the villagers grab the weapons they will take on their endeavour. There is a wide shot of people running across a field at twilight holding burning torches, all of which is used to create and build tension and make the viewer want to watch on as the film progresses.

I have now analysed all of the techniques employed in the opening scene of ‘Shrek’, and can say with much confidence that the film makers have been very successful in their creation of an effective opening. I believe that the most important technique used in the opening of this play was the characterisation of Shrek, as without the characterisation the audience would not care for our main protagonist, or what will happen to him later in the film, allowing them to lose interest. It is always important to build a strong link between the hero and the audience because it will make them feel more involved in what is happening, and more inclined to follow the story to the climax. Without proper characterisation, I believe that all other aspects of an opening become irrelevant because if the viewers do not care for the characters, they will not much care for the subtle delicacy with which the camera angles are conveyed, or the quality of the setting.

I think that the second most important technique, not only in the opening of a film but throughout its duration, is the music. It is the music that can evoke past experiences in the mind of the viewer, as well as make them feel more involved in the scene. Certain music can take the level of fear of a viewer to the next level, as well as make them feel as though they are in a safe surrounding where it is needed in the film, lightening the mood of the audience before delivering another shock for example.

This film has been highly successful and is regarded as a revolutionary breakthrough in the film industry. It is seen as highly significant in terms of its originality as well as its use of so many techniques, to truly make the viewer feel involved and in touch with the characters portrayed. This film is out of the norm, and truly keeps you holding your breath as you wait to find out what will occur next in this original tale.

All together, I believe that the opening of ‘Shrek’ was well devised and planned, then carried out with exact execution, making it so successful the viewer cannot help but to watch on. It brings out the main elements that will come out in the film clearly, and keeps us guessing what will happen.
© Copyright 2009 Gabriel Everto (gabriel-everto at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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