Just as the end credits of a movie used to be brief—“A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating,” anyone?—studio branding that took place before the start of a film used to have a little more impact back in the day than it does now. And not just because, in ye golden oldie days, it didn’t take an international conglomerate of a dozen different corporate entities to get a film made (in fact, usually it took just one), but also because those responsible really knew how to cue up your excitement with the appropriate fanfare.
The brothers Warner had their Max Steiner trumpet cue against their classic “WB” shield (it’s blasphemous to say, I guess, but I much prefer the striking Saul Bass-designed ‘70s logo, see above); 20th Century Fox got you in the spirit by way of those searchlights and the Alfred Newman ditty that George Lucas loved so much he gave the near-defunct musical heraldry new life by way of including it in the Star Wars films; RKO Radio Pictures had their beep-beep-a-beep-beeps; Universal had their airplane; the Rank Organization had that excellent gong; MGM’s Leo still delivers his roar…etc. etc.
This, however, is the Movie Studio Fanfare with the highest quotient of pure awesome. It blows you to the back of the seat every time. This logo presentation assures you, we mean business:
That awe-inspiring music cue was composed by Joe Harnell. It is also not his only work of absolute genius.
Just for a moment, I’m thoroughly indulging the cantankerous urge to scowl they don’t make ‘em like they used to, mournful that by and large, the seemingly endless show reels of studio and production company logos that precede many films today—each snazzily-rendered 10-second animation connecting a Warner Brothers release of a Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, DC Comics, Bad Hat Harry Robot co-production of a Bleeding Edge Lightstorm Joint! (I made that up, but it’s not much of an exaggeration)—proves to be more of a wearying sit than an excitement-priming experience.
Not to mention that by the time you get to the third or so logo after the lights have gone down, you can feel the restless murmur gathering force in an audience that was just told to shut up because the show was about to start. Well? When will the damn show start?!? You can’t blame them. I can’t, anyway.
It simply isn’t “fanfare” anymore. It’s just branding. It’s advertising. It’s “awareness.”
My obligatory qualifier, because I can’t resist one, will be to say that I remain a sucker for a good logo and the quality of product it will typically signify: I’m talking to you, Focus Features, Roadside Attractions, Studio Canal, Pathé, Paramount Vantage, Weinsteins…I’m sure there are others. Those are the ones that pop into mind.
A fine solution might be to block all of these animations onto a single screen at once whenever the film is the product of a co-production between three or more entities, the way you see film festival sponsor logos stacked tall and wide across a single frame…or the way a racecar driver appears in a uniform adorned with his corporate benefactors’ patches. Seconds are precious when you’re attempting to focus the mood. Not sure if we should call this an artistic failure, a marketing failure, or maybe both. But it’s indeed a failure that grows worse with each passing year, especially in the sacred dark of the movie theater.