A film can open with a shock, a fast paced action sequence, a gripping voice-over, a moment of comedy or so many other possibilities. Opening scenes can help define your experience with a film and the best opening scenes can pin you to your seat excited about what the next two hours may bring.
In a new and occasional feature the writers at HeyUGuys will select some of their favourite opening sequences and talk about why they love them so much. We’d also love you to get involved so feel free to leave comments or contact us in all the usual ways to let us know what your favourites are. The third opening sequence in our series is one that left me breathless and is one of my favorites.
When asked a while back what my favorite most memorable opening scenes were, two immediately popped into my mind. The Matrix was one of them and the one I’m going to focus on here.
I remember going to see The Matrix in the theater right when it was released. I didn’t know very much about it other than it was science fiction (that sold it for me) and that it starred Keanu Reeves. I went into the film thinking it was just going to be more sci-fi shlock and it was just going to be bad, bad, bad. I distinctly remember being completely flabbergasted at that first 5 minutes. I then turned to my friend and said “Ok, this might not be so bad after all.”
The film starts with a group of police officers converging down a dark hallway, approaching a door. After kicking in the door they enter a dark room to find a woman, who we find out is Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) , clad in leather, or actually it looks more like vinyl, sitting at a desk in front of a computer. The only light in the scene is provided by the flashlights being held by the police. The shot cuts and begins to pan up from behind the monitor so we see Trinity’s face and the light behind her as she raises her hands.
Meanwhile outside, the police are greeted by what looks to be agents. The lead officer in charge informs the agents he has teams in place and they are bringing her down to which the agent replies his men already dead. Cut back to the interior and we find out exactly what the agent meant as we watch in awe how Trinity quickly and efficiently dispatches the officers.
The fight scene and subsequent foot chase scene are really what set this opening scene and film as a whole, apart from anything else at the time. Trinity’s hang time shot set a precedent for what the rest of the film would deliver. The following rooftop foot chase scene is pure brilliance. The shot as the chasing agent jumps the gap between buildings and lands on one knee with his gun drawn is one of my favorite shots. It halts the scene for just a second, before continuing on at a hectic pace.
Diving off the top of a building, through a window, rolling down a set of stairs landing on her back with guns drawn showed yet one more strong female character that was capable of taking care of herself. This opening scene put Trinity in the upper echelon of female action characters normally reserved for Ripley and Sarah Connor. The scene finally ends with Trinity running into a phone booth to pick up the receiver. Turning around to see a diesel truck headed her way she puts her hand up to the glass just as the truck drives the phone booth into the wall.
I really think this scene is flawless. By the end of the scene you know you’re in for something special. This film came out at a time when special effects were getting really good, but along came The Matrix and with it, the WOW factor. The Wachowski’s had made this cutting edge film and re-set the bar. The darkness of the scene lends to the mystery of the scene as well. Who is she? How can she move like that? Why is the law after her? What the heck did I just see?!?! It leaves you with questions and makes you want to stay so you can find the answers. Most of all, it grabs you by the collar and gets your attention right from the start. That, my friends, is what an opening scene is supposed to do.
The following films in the trilogy may not have lived up to the first, but that opening scene in The Matrix will always top my list and I will never forget that feeling of seeing it for the first time.