by Steven Cohen
Welcome back to another edition of High-Def Digest's favorite bookmarks, where we spotlight some great scenes from various Blu-ray titles that we've found ourselves revisiting again and again.
With bookmarking capabilities allowing viewers to save their favorite scenes becoming such a common extra among many Blu-ray releases, we here at High-Def Digest thought it might be fun to take inspiration from this popular feature by spotlighting some of the scenes that we've personally bookmarked.
We're talking about the kind of scenes that literally reach out and grab you, that make you forget you're just watching lifeless pixels ignite and fade, that make your house rumble and eyes open wide with wonder. The type of scenes that simply make you smile from the sheer, infectious passion for filmmaking in their images and sounds.
In February I covered a tense plea for mercy in an empty woods, a horrifically comical battle between a man and his own hand, a hauntingly bizarre rendition of a classic Roy Orbison tune, an endearing and exciting homage to moviemaking, and a very infamous box's tragic contents. If you missed them, be sure to check out the February, the January, the November, the October, the September, the August, the July, and the June bookmark lists.
This month I'll be covering an iconic main title sequence, a soon to be forgotten monologue, fun zombie mayhem set to the vocal stylings of Freddie Mercury, a hero's call to action, and an honorable man's last stand. For those who haven't seen the titles featured, be warned that there are of course major spoilers ahead.
'Superman: The Movie' (Ch.1, 00:00:00 - 00:05:18) - Yes, I know what you might be thinking, and you're right, this isn't even really a scene at all, it's just the film's opening title sequence -- but what a title sequence it is. With 'Superman: The Movie' Richard Donner basically invented the big budget comic book film, triumphantly ushering in a heroic age of spandex-clad cinema. An age first introduced to audiences through simple, soaring text and a now iconic theme.
After a brief prologue featuring a child reading from a comic book, we transition directly into the world of the film. The music starts to gently rumble, giving us our first tantalizing hints of Williams' brilliant score. Suddenly, towering blue letters literally fly by, swooshing toward the audience like a bird, or a plane, or, uh… giant blue letters! As each new cast and crew credit flows over the backdrop of zooming stars and swirling cosmos, the powerful melody builds and builds. Finally, the theme explodes in an epic crescendo just as the red Superman symbol proudly appears. The stirring score serves as an exuberant call to the imagination, evoking all the magic and excitement of the character in just a few notes. Now synonymous with "the man of steel," it's a truly heroic theme if there ever was one.
As a kid I can remember sitting glued to the TV, my eyes mere inches from the screen as my parents popped in a VHS copy of the movie. As soon as those notes played, a huge, uncontrollable smile would form on my face. I knew what was coming and it filled my little heart with wonder. It was all I needed. Just those soaring, larger-than-life words and that lifting, epic music. Before I even saw Christopher Reeve don his red and blue tights, I already believed a man could fly, and to this day when those titles start to roll… I still do.
'Memento' (Ch.6, 00:36:19 - 00:39:26) - With its inspired twist on traditional film noir structure, 'Memento' is a truly innovative and brilliantly crafted thriller. While its unconventional chronology is certainly impressive, it's really the film's unique protagonist and his tragic plight that end up carrying the picture. Through the memory deficient Leonard Shelby, Christopher Nolan presents a man literally incapable of creating new experiences, incapable of moving on. To him every day is marred by the fresh sting of loss. This somber reality is perhaps no better enumerated than in a brief, reflective scene that sees the brooding insurance investigator lament on his unfortunate condition.
The sequence begins with Leonard (Guy Pearce) resting in bed with Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) seemingly asleep across his lap. Dimly lit in cold hues, he just stares ahead with an almost dazed expression on his face. Eventually, he speaks quietly to himself. His words come out in a gentle whisper, soft and fragile, as if in a dream. He reflects on his condition, on the pain of losing his wife. The camera slowly drifts in as his monologue continues, following the solemn rhythm of his words, getting closer as his sad emotions ramp up. Melancholy music creeps in, subtly enhancing the mood without overpowering the striking simplicity of Nolan's staging. Leonard goes on, describing how it feels like his murdered wife just left, that it always feels like she just left. If he could touch her side of the bed and feel that it was cold, he'd be able to understand the passage of time, but he can't. Unable to hold on to new memories, his perception is off. The camera cuts to Natalie, secretly awake and listening to every heartbreaking word. Leonard pauses for a moment as he comes to a profound realization. He then speaks the film's most insightful, poignant lines, "How am I supposed to heal… if I can't feel time?" Indeed, it is said that time heals all wounds, but poor Leonard doesn't have that luxury. His pain can't ease or dull, it's always fresh, always new.
The bittersweet music continues to perfectly underscore the minimalist imagery. Leonard gets up and leaves the room. Natalie feels the other side of the bed, still warm. She's experienced loss too, but Leonard doesn't realize she aims to manipulate him, not help. Understated and delicate, the scene strips down the film's protagonist bare, revealing his vulnerable core while expanding upon his unusual, tortured dilemma with moving insight.
'Shaun of the Dead' (Ch.30, 01:10:42 - 01:13:30) - A loving mishmash of horror and comedy, 'Shaun of the Dead' is a fun celebration of genre mayhem. A big screen evolution of the style they developed on their wonderful sitcom, 'Spaced,' Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg come away with a humorous, gory, and absolutely charming flick. The film's juggling act of tones comes to a head in one particularly memorable sequence that uses a classic Queen track as the backdrop for some kickass zombie action.
Trapped in a pub, our rag-tag group of survivors attempt to wait out the zombie epidemic. The camera ominously cuts between the group, each one bracing for the worst with nowhere to go and nowhere to run. Suddenly, a zombie pops up out of nowhere and the characters scramble, preparing to defend themselves. Just as things are starting to look bad for our heroes, the jukebox in the corner kicks in and Queen's "Don't Stop me Now" starts to play. The jaunty tune perfectly juxtaposes against the dire situation, undercutting some of the drama with a playful burst of humor. Wright then turns up the style knob on his directing chair to eleven, throwing in some kinetic camera movements and quick cutting. The song continues to play as Shaun (Simon Pegg), Ed (Nick Frost), and Liz (Kate Ashfield) attempt to fight back against their undead enemy. With nothing else handy, they use pool cues as weapons. They circle the zombie and bash it over and over again in unison, each hit perfectly timed with the beat of the music. The lights flicker as one character fiddles with the fuse box, again, completely in unison with the song. The whole scene becomes a kind of gleeful zombie music video. Some of the characters even get into the spirit of the track and move along to the rhythm. As the humorous chaos ramps up, more common pub items are used as deadly weapons, including a fire extinguisher and darts. The scene ends when the zombie's head is smashed into the jukebox, abruptly concluding the song.
The entire sequence perfectly encapsulates the movie's fun mixture of tones and genres, balancing excitement, scares and tongue-in-cheek humor, all to the timeless, rocking beats of Queen. When the inevitable zombie apocalypse comes, I now know exactly what to load up on my iPod as I bash in some undead skulls. I suggest you do the same.
'Unbreakable ' (Ch.22, 01:17:34 - 01:22:19) - Though M. Night Shyamalan has been the recipient of some much deserved vitriol for his last few lackluster efforts, for me, even the laughable aftertaste of 'The Happening' can't quite sully the strong work he did on 'Unbreakable.' A low-key deconstruction of superhero mythology, the film weaves a slow burn narrative that sees an unassuming, reluctant man finally discover and embrace his place in the world. The moment a hero truly accepts his destiny is always an important and memorable milestone, and David Dunn's call to action is no different.
After finally admitting to Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) that he's never been injured or sick, David (Bruce Willis) enters a train station ready to take the next step. First masked in shadow, he walks out into the light, prepared to use his gift. The camera tracks overhead, giving us a good look at the bustling station filled with citizens. David peers around, wearing his simple work attire -- a raincoat and hat -- a perfect real world stand-in for a cape and cowl. As people move by, David stands still, studying the situation. He scans the crowd and then bumps into a lady dressed in red. Instantly we flash to a vision from her past, revealing a crime she committed. Back in the station, she walks away, disappearing into an anonymous sea of people. James Newton Howard's powerful score propels us forward as David realizes what he must do. The camera closes in on his arms while they slowly extend out into the crowd. The messianic image evokes thoughts of self sacrifice with David literally opening himself up to the sins and transgressions of his surrounding brothers and sisters.
While he makes contact with more commuters, Shyamalan once again flashes to quick glimpses of their misdeeds, revealing an instance of hateful racism. Wardrobe color is again used to spotlight and single out the wrongdoers in the crowd, separating them from the innocent. David's head bursts up. He's getting the hang of his powers and grows determined. Howard's music hits a new rousing beat, putting us in sync with the character's increasing drive and heroic momentum. We cut to another flash, this time to a rape. The drums kick in, ramping up the urgency and gravitas. The camera dramatically circles David as he plans his next move, deciding who to go after. While walking back, he bumps into a janitor, transitioning us to the worst crime of the bunch -- a home invasion and murder, but there is still time to save the victims. The camera shoots up from David's shocked expression toward the ceiling and a screaming effect bursts from the soundtrack, giving visual and auditory form to the character's distress. He's found his target and follows him, determined. The once triumphant music eases into a solemn melody, espousing the heavy burden and lonely responsibility that comes with seeking justice.
Throughout much of the film, David Dunn seems rather listless and unfulfilled. In this scene, for the first time we see a spark of purpose ignite within him. As a hero in a corrupt world, his is a path laden with many hardships, but he accepts and embraces this destiny with courage and bravery, and Shyamalan reflects this through the very form of his filmmaking. Through the director's camera tracks and cuts we are thrust into a pivotal turning point for the character, realized brilliantly with heroic bravado.
'Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season' - Episode 9 "Baelor" (Ch.8, 00:50:00 - 00:55:10) - Love or honor. That's the essential choice that Ned Stark (Sean Bean) is forced to make in HBO's masterful series 'Game of Thrones.' Throughout the entire season, Ned stands tall as a shining beacon of virtue in a world rife with corruption. As the serpents and sharks around him vie for power and control, he chooses a different path altogether, seeking truth and justice. He understands how the "game" is played, but he refuses to play it. Unfortunately, as the season nears its end, the character's stalwart ethics place him in a very precarious situation. He must proclaim allegiance to a false king, brand himself a traitor and accept exile, or face execution. Based on everything we know about the character, the choice seems simple at first. After all, Ned does not fear death, and it's clear that to this proud northerner, dishonor is a fate far worse than any mere beheading -- and yet, the situation is not as simple as it first seems, for it's not just Ned's life on the line, but his two young daughters' as well. The dilemma comes to a head in the closing minutes of the series' ninth episode, resulting in a breathtakingly staged and utterly devastating sequence where Lord Eddard Stark is forced to finally choose between love and honor.
As a crowd gathers to hear Ned's confession, Arya (Maisie Williams) scans through the commotion, desperately looking for her father. The poor, disheveled girl climbs under a statue of Baelor that rests in the center of the square, giving her a good view of the action. Ned is then brought out cuffed. While being dragged through the angry mob, he spots his daughter by the statue. Ned is clearly concerned, not wanting Arya to witness what might soon transpire. Right before reaching the stage, Ned sees Yoren, a loyal Night's Watch recruiter. He calls out to him, screaming "Baelor," then glances toward the statue. Yoren turns, sees Arya, and gets the message. Ned is then positioned upon the platform, forced to address the hateful crowd. At this point, it's still not clear what he will do or say -- possibly even to the man himself. He turns to each of his daughters, and seeing no other option, he finally decides -- choosing love, choosing family. Slow moving shots across the square and dramatic crowd POVs draw out the tension and drama. The delicate, swooping camera movements present a false sense of calm, masking a slight air of discomfort that lurks just beneath the surface. Ned takes one last look out at the angry crowd, and then speaks. He does exactly what he was told to do. He confesses to a treason he did not commit. He hails Joffrey as the rightful king, putting a pompous smile on the little bastard's face. Sorrowful music underscores the action, as we all mourn the once steadfast honor of Lord Eddard Stark. Or do we? After all, is there anything more honorable than protecting one's family?
The filmmakers continuously cut between Ned, the angry crowd, and his worried daughters, perfectly engendering a sense of uncertainty and chaos through editing. Though things seem fine for the time being, the rhythm of the cuts creates an unshakeable, nagging feeling that the mood could change at any moment. Accepting Ned's confession, Joffrey reveals the sentence the Queen has set for the Lord of Winterfell. He is to be shown mercy, but he must join the Night's Watch and live in exile at The Wall. For a brief moment, it seems like tragedy might actually be averted. It doesn't last. Suddenly, Joffrey's demeanor changes. He claims that the Queen and Sansa have the "soft hearts of women," and that under his rule treason shall not go unpunished. Before we even have a chance to readjust to the shifting tides, Joffrey calls for Ned's head. The music grows tense. We dramatically circle Arya as she watches the blood thirsty crowd. Much like the camera itself, the situation is spiraling out of control. She pushes her way through the mob, ready to defend her father, ready to put her "dancing" lessons to good use. As impossible and farfetched as it seems, as a viewer we want it to happen, we're practically trained for it to happen -- we want the little girl to leap to the stage and single handily vanquish evil. We want her to… but we know she can't. The guards push Ned down. Once again, the tempo of the editing creates a level of confusion, chaos, and tension. Everything is happening so quickly we barely have time to fully process it or brace ourselves for the bloodshed. Yoren grabs Arya before she can reach her father and tells her not to look. Ned's own massive blade is brought out.
Everyone pleads for the madness to stop, and it has to -- doesn't it? This is the star of the show. This is the protagonist of the story. He can't die? Can he? Alas, it is soon clear that there will be no last minute reprieve for Eddard Stark. No sudden deus ex machina to save our hero. HBO really is about to kill off its leading man, once again daring to go where few networks tread -- fully willing to shoulder potential audience backlash in favor of undiluted storytelling. The sound dulls, becoming almost muted, placing us within Ned's state of mind as time slows down. He looks to Sansa, scans over the violent crowd, and then spots the statue of Baelor -- Arya now gone. At least he knows his daughter is safe. Deep, isolated breaths fill the soundtrack, easing us toward the inevitable tragedy. The sword is lifted. Ned looks down, accepting his fate. Arya closes her eyes. The blade descends, and the camera cuts away right as it slices cleanly through Ned's neck, giving us an almost subliminal hint of brutality that leaves most of the horror to our imagination. We see Arya, eyes closed. The sound of the sword slicing still fills the air. Birds take flight. The young girl looks up and sees them fly. Their soft, fluttering wings are all we hear. She closes her eyes and the screen gently fades to black. Perfectly paced, acted, shot, mixed and scored, the scene offers a tragic but powerful end for a truly memorable and beloved character. Though Eddard Stark is gone, his death and memory continue to have a lasting impact on the events of the show. In the end, with his daughters' lives on the line, Ned chooses love. It was the honorable thing to do.
We'll be back next month with some more of our favorite bookmarks, but for now, what do you think of these picks? What are some of your own favorite bookmarks?