Monday, January 28, 2008

A Brief History of the Middle East, in 3 Minutes

I love good informative design. It's a difficult task to combine information, entertainment, and good design. But thanks to the on-going writers' strike, and our NetFlix account's associated vigorous workout, we recently stumbled across a surprising and impactful combination of these elements in the inventive three-minute opening sequence for Peter Berg's The Kingdom.

Observers frequently notice when filmmakers embellish their movie credits with elaborate music and graphics. The creative opening and closing credits for recent films James Bond, Ratatouille, Shoot 'Em Up, and Superbad come to mind – each a kind of short film in-and-of-itself that is both visually unique and thematically tied to the parent film. The Kingdom's opening sequence is a welcome addition to – if not an improvement on – this theme precisely because it is both strong enough to stand on its own but also blends seamlessly into the subsequent film.

In an effort to set up his Middle East action thriller, director Peter Berg commissioned motion design boutique PIC, an LA-based entertainment and motion design boutique, to create a unique title sequence that would detail the history of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Berg's only mandate was to educate and entertain the audience at the same time.

To create The Kingdom's opening sequence, PIC assembled three minutes of historical audio and video news footage, examining 72 years of the history of the U.S.'s involvement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and wove them together seamlessly with geopolitical information graphics to move the story forward. With a focus on the discovery of oil, political and business relationships, cultural tensions, and modern day terrorist actions, the opening title sequence provides what Ain't It Cool News calls the "perfect beginning" to The Kingdom. Universal even took the unusual tactic of posting this opening sequence for The Kingdom on Yahoo to market the thriller.

PIC believes it won the contract for The Kingdom's intro because of its idea to couple bold graphics with archival footage. In particular, the designers felt a powerful juxtaposition of a map of U.S. oil consumption becoming the twin towers, then struck by a plane as the screen goes black, sealed the deal for the boutique agency. It's certainly the most dramatic sequence in a montage full of striking moments.

According to Entertainment Weekly, producing the three-minute clip took PIC nine months, during which the agency spent dozens of hours fact checking and obtaining rights for the audio and video footage that appears in the piece. All 128 shots had to be approved — a process that was expensive and unusually time consuming. PIC did everything from calling Dubai at 12:30 in the morning, convincing CNN to release their exclusive footage of Osama bin Laden walking with the gun over his shoulder, befriending a brother of Saudi Arabian ambassador Adel al-Jubeir to obtain interview footage, and culling through hours of home movies from an American who grew up in Saudi Arabia in order to dig up images of people playing football and swimming in a pool on an expatriate compound in the kingdom.

And the work, tedious as it was, paid off. Robert Redford was so impressed with what PIC did for The Kingdom that he hired the firm to create the beginning and ending credits for his political drama, Lions for Lambs. And Charlize Theron encouraged PIC to work on her boyfriend Stuart Townsend's upcoming film, Battle for Seattle, for which the group is creating a title sequence that tells the history of the World Trade Organization.

As observers of good design who also share a deep interest in history – that of the U.S. and the Middle East in particularPIC's opening for The Kingdom was a welcome introduction to a difficult subject and a solid film. FB

1 comment:

Anonymous said...