TWENTY-FIVE MEMORABLE CINEMATIC ENTRANCES
An art not just of stories but of wonder, cinema is perhaps at its best when it shows us things we otherwise might never have seen. Films that might be completely rubbish sometimes have one unique, redemptive scene, and films that are otherwise consistent might contain a moment that sticks out like a sore thumb.
To celebrate our inaugural theme, here are twenty memorable entrances—naturally of the most inclusive kinds—that are definitely worth checking out.
There are so many examples that could have been included, and as such this list is inevitably a personal one. Also SPOILERS much.
25. THE CORE (2003)
OK, so it’s kind of an obvious one: preposterous disaster movie in which scientists journey at length through the liquid rock of the earth’s mantle without instantly dying millions of times over. Of note for the ways it visualises the interior of the earth, as well as a lovely hiatus mid-film where they discover a non-molten cavern down there made entirely of purpley crystals. For journeys through the body of the planet see also Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, which has characters ride inside a rocket-rolling ball through tunnels in the earth, and the remake of Total Recall in which a kind of metro connects the ‘United Federation of Britain’ (ooh, scary) and Australia.
24. FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966)
Playing like a cross between The Crystal Maze and a colonoscopy, vintage science fiction adventure Fantastic Voyage can only be admired for the scale of vision it attempts. Not so much the microscopic, as a miniaturised submarine swims around inside a human body, but the grand: the production and special effects of this giant, walk-in biology are remarkable and, while they might not convince today’s CGI-engorged audience, the (ahem) interior design is so stylish is hardly matters.
23. SPELLBOUND (1945)
This Hitchcock doozy stars Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman as psychoanalysts, sort of, and is best known for the surreal, symbol-laden dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí. But earlier in the film, as the two characters confess their love for one another and move in for a kiss, we the camera embody Bergman’s point of view. Talking to us directly, like that early cinema confrontation of the bandit shooting at the screen in The Great Train Robbery (1903), we see Peck closer than we’ve ever been allowed to see a star before. Then, cutting to observe Bergman in kind, the actress’ ecstatic bekissedness cross-fades to the opening of a succession of three doors. The last door lets forth a bright light: Peck has unlocked her innermost sanctum. It’s a goofy literality in keeping with the rest of the film’s co-opting of psychoanalytic theory into Hollywood narrative, but one that offers us an earnestness we might otherwise be lacking in our contemporary cinematic lives.
22. NEXT (2007)
Talk about giving it to you on a plate. What could go wrong with a Philip K Dick adaptation starring Nicolas Cage as a precognitive Vegas magician?
Next is not by any stretch a good film: a miscast (and frankly bizarre) Cage shambles through yet another bastardisation of Dick’s work that just about manages to achieve being dull. Yet, toward the end, as Cage utilises his power to see which path the villains have taken, we see his gift visualised as multiple Cages setting off in multiple directions. This is the tree of possibilities, the perfect outcome generator and, as the multiple selves combine once more into the ur-Cage, we imagine that foresight is kind of like going somewhere we’ve already been.
21. WATERSHIP DOWN (1978)
This exquisite hand-drawn animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel is perhaps the most brutal film to have been given a Universal certificate. Masquerading as a family feature about talking rabbits, its routine depiction of death, suffering, massacre and destruction are trumped only by the pervading, tangible sense of mortality the movie fosters.
A film of burrows, of close underground passages, especial mention must be paid to the opening sequence in which the position of the rabbit in the food chain is reconfigured as religious tract, decked out in stylized visuals and sinister tone.
20. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)
Who doesn’t love this Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman movie? John Cusack plays a puppeteer who discovers a tiny door that leads into John Malkovich’s mind and allows you to experience what said famous actor does. Only when Malkovich finds out and enters his own mind, the universe short-circuits and things get Malkovich Malkovich…
Also of relevance and most certainly of note is Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, which sees disheartened theatre director Philip Seymour Hoffman dramatically restage his life within a giant warehouse.
19. EXISTENZ (1999)
Buttplugs never looked so good as they do in eXistenZ, David Cronenberg’s millennial tale of a virtual reality game played through biological consoles. Nineties favourite Jennifer Jason Leigh is the designer whose latest fleshy tech must be protected by Jude Law’s naive security guard, and Willem Dafoe is the garage mechanic who drills a hole in Law’s lower back so they can push an umbilical cord inside.
18. HOUSE (1977)
An otherwise underwhelming Japanese haunted house/light comedy goes bananas when the protagonist slumber party schoolgirls enter a certain room. Things appear out of nowhere and objects start flying as they attempt to break the curse of the titular abode, then one of their number gets their head caught in a lampshade. Via purposefully unrealistic special effects that make this seem more like a Youtube mashup or an animation that a straight-up cinematic experience, Hausu greenscreens disembodied fly-kicking limbs onto psychedelic backdrops as a cartoon cat screams and begins to spew blood – thus anticipating the aesthetic of our contemporary internet culture by decades.
17. ALTERED STATES (1980)
Splendid Ken Russell flick Altered States is a kaleidoscope of wacky trip sequences, bolstered together by the story of a monomaniacal scientist (played by William Hurt) who seeks to push experience beyond the everyday. Whether because he’s been in a sensory deprivation tank for a few too many hours or because he’s dropped acid in Mexico with an indigenous tribe and accidentally killed a lizard, Hurt takes a series of mental rides that eradicate the lines between real and figurative, between abstract and physical in a film that boasts one of the greatest, most captivating psychic journeys into oneself around. It also has a genuinely good redeeming love story element, a dry ice vortex and a screaming man-worm.
16. FROM BEYOND (1986)
Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptation From Beyond is pretty much the most fun you can have without artificially stimulating your pineal gland (reference). Jeffrey ‘Re-Animator‘ Combs plays the scientist whose sadomasochistic mentor disappears (well, his head does at least) after they switch on the Resonator they’ve been building. The device, it turns out, allows you to see another world—a world of pleasure and pain beyond the five senses—which, it turns out, starts penetrating through to our own. It also generates these delightful air fish (pictured).
15. ZERO FOR CONDUCT (1933)
Jean Vigo’s influential short Zéro de conduite—made just a year before the director’s death aged twenty-nine—is about a group of boys at boarding school rebelling against their teachers. By far its most memorable image comes as the boys stage a pillow fight in their dormitory; feathers everywhere, cascading in slow motion, they gather into a procession and march, slowly, along the aisle of beds. It’s a sublime moment that Vigo creates—a pocket of magic in an otherwise everyday setting.
14. SOCIETY (1989)
Brian Yuzna’s film about a teen whose background doesn’t fit in with his adoptive Beverley Hills family is ostensibly a big tease for that one climactic sequence: an orgy in which all the local dignitaries strip off and merge flesh with one another. This is Clive Barker meets Stretch Armstrong in a big bowl of pork soup, and once you’ve seen it you’ll never scrape it off your retinas.
13. BRAINSTORM (1983)
Directed by Douglas Trumbull, the special effects wizard behind Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brainstorm stars Christopher Walken as a scientist who develops a headset device that can record its users’ experience. After his fellow inventor dies whilst wearing the thing, Walken and his wife (played by Natalie Wood, in her final screen role) fight to get their technology back, eventually replaying that fateful recording and witnessing a glimpse of the afterlife. It’s a great conceit that culminates in a profoundly beautiful sequence, albeit marred somewhat by the recognisably traditional heaven imagery opted for.
12. ROBOT (2010)
Gloriously batshit insane Tamil film Enthiran is a gift that keeps on giving; highlights include multiple CGI babies, talking mosquitos, a song called ‘Kilimanjaro‘ set in Peru, and the categorical number one best ten-minute action scene ending ever recorded. Starring south Indian ‘Superstar Rajnikanth’ as a kind of Bicentennial Man for the twenty-first century alongside Bollywood royal and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, for one dance number we rush inside the eponymous android’s eye and down to his microchips then back out to witness THIS. Weep with joy, friends, for they have satisfied your every wish.
11. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008)
Surprisingly hilarious Hollywood stoner movie Pineapple Express starred James Franco in a breakout comedic role (not counting Spider-Man 3) who, alongside Seth Rogen, ends up on the run from a murderous drug dealer. Peculiar hired gun Craig Robinson almost catches up with them, missing them by mere seconds—as his novel method of timekeeping (pictured) demonstrates.
10. FREEJACK (1992)
What was this film even about? Like a drunk nineties version of Blade Runner made to the budget of Battle for the Planet of the Apes, this borderline unwatchable mess stars Emilio Estevez, Rene Russo and Mick Jagger as participants in some inspecific dystopian-set plot or other.
Make it to the end and you’ll see Estevez and Russo zip through a screen, through a wormhole into a glitchy digital world where they meet Anthony Hopkins. Revealed to be evil, Hopkins delivers the most swelteringly enjoyable line in all of science fiction-dom.
09. TASHAN (2008)
While not generally well-received, this Bollywood gem features, amongst other things, a knowing take on Anglophilia and a catchy song done in whiteface. It also contains one of the greatest character entrances you’ll see: Akshay Kumar as provincial hoodlum Bachchan Pande who, late for his role as the many-headed Ravan in a local production of the Ramayana, rocks up on a moped as his theme song plays. Kumar’s nine identical cut-out heads effect a truly singular image.
08. THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992)
Simultaneously the greatest and worst film ever made, this early nineties gem stars Pierce Brosnan (with an EARRING) as the doctor whose virtual reality technology boosts the intellect of idiot groundskeeper Jobe (a pioneering ‘Simple Jack’ turn by Jeff Fahey) before driving him mad with power.
Of note for the early digital aesthetic of its extended ‘virtual’ scenes, The Lawnmower Man is an enjoyably loose stab at technological prescience as its characters delve into cyberspace. Equally rewarding, however, are the opening scenes in which a test-subject chimp in a VR helmet plays computer games in a gyroscope then breaks out of a high-security facility. Two words for you: CHIMP CAM.
07. THE MATRIX (1999)
Oh, well, quelle surprise, it’s The Matrix…
The Wachowski Brothers’ near-perfect cyber noir provides one of the most well-rounded, exemplary instances of virtual reality in cinema available for viewing. Entrants into the eponymous construct live on shitty ships in an even shittier industrial wasteland, and download into the illusory digital world by having a very dirty-looking pipe shoved in the back of their head. Moreover, though, the aesthetics of binary code that drape their way across the film imply an atomisation of the world and individual more undermining than any specific narrative threat the film contains.
A mainstream Hollywood success that’s also something of a good, thoughtful film, this is nothing short of a cinema landmark. How else can we justify the misjudged sequels, the slew of bloated spectacles the directors have gone on to produce, and—most insipid of all—the fact that for a while back there people thought it was OK to leave the house in three-quarter length leather jackets?
06. INCEPTION (2010)
Who wants to go to a warehouse and attach themselves to a drip!
Another high-quality mainstream Hollywood success, Christopher Nolan’s exquisite, tightly-plotted intellectual action thriller about dreams and dreams within dreams (and dreams within dreams within dreams) features a to-die-for cast and a series of great set pieces. Hard to overrate, each element of this movie is finely balanced and expertly handled; even the palpably tragic love story with Marion Cotillard, reaching as it does a shameless fever pitch, will have you at bonjour and leave you heartbroken.
05. WOMAN OF THE DUNES (1964)
A long Japanese treat based on the novel of the same name by Kobo Abe (a writer of impeccable central conceits), this dazzlingly dark wonder sees an insect collector on a field trip trapped by local villagers in a sandpit inhabited by a lonely widow. Unable to escape the pit and forced to incessantly dig sand alongside the woman, with whom he becomes increasingly intimate, this is a spellbinding tale of imprisonment, impotence and fatalism that’ll have you repeatedly checking for the nearest exit.
04. WORLD ON A WIRE (1973)
OK, OK, so it’s not a movie per se — but Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s epic TV serial presents us with one of the best (and most goddamn stylish) cyberpunk entrances ever.
Predating The Matrix by over twenty-five years, this adaptation of curiosity sci-fi novel Simulacron-3 (on which 1999 film The Thirteenth Floor is also based) makes it seem one hundred per cent feasible that you could download into a verisimilitudinous virtual reality world in Germany in the early seventies. Creepy and thrilling, with a real pervading sense of uncertainty, World on a Wire wows through deftly-dealt understatement.
03. TAXIDERMIA (2006)
Cut to a tit—a big, fat tit with a big dark nipple as a baby is being breastfed. Pan to the side and a window with frosted glass, moving close to the frosted glass, the crystal of the glass as we go through and outside, and out, to a giant bird’s ass. The bird takes a shit.
György Pálfi’s affrontive Hungarian horror/miscellaneous masterpiece offers us this, the most devastating and unexpected of shot transitions. Implicative of a cinema that’s as transducive as human consciousness, this form of visual segue was perfected in Pálfi’s earlier, less shocking (in fact very charming) film Hukkle.
02. STALKER (1979)
Tarkovsky’s masterpiece is, in effect, one long entrance: a Writer and a Professor travel into the ruinous, off-limits ‘Zone’ at the mercy of the eponymous journeyman. Their goal is the Room—a chamber like any other but for its ability to grant your innermost wish.
By the end of the film, after everyone’s been plodding through the Zone for hours (yourself included), you don’t care whether the characters reach their destination or not; a prime example of the director’s cinema of miracles, we have all by that point been on a much more important journey.
01. THE GAME (1997)
David Fincher’s stately but pacey paranoiac thriller stars Michael Douglas as the recipient of what we would now call an alternate reality marketing experience, in which his life gets taken over by a real-world narrative played out via tricksy actors. Never knowing if it’s real or not—never knowing if we’re still in The Game—this transcends the stock ‘Was it all a dream?’ type ending and broadens the horizons of what’s real, what’s possible, and what may or may not be staged. It’s a film that near perfectly employs catharsis, uncertainty and surrender, and it’s a neat modern noir to boot.