Director David Fincher is a Hollywood designer-auteur, and his films’ title sequences bear the stamp of his uncompromising, meticulous eye. One of the most famous ones comes from his blackhearted thriller Se7en, in which designer Kyle Cooper fused nightmarish atmosphere with actual character development into a short few minutes. That sequence quickly became legendary. Which meant that when Fincher asked Blur Studio to top it for the title sequence of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, he was asking a hell of a lot. Did they succeed? You be the judge:
Like the Se7en opener, Fincher told Blur he wanted the Dragon Tattoo credits sequence to contain references to the story about to unfold. The narrative references in Blur’s work are much more oblique than Cooper’s–Se7en’s title sequence brought viewers inside the mental abattoir of one vividly drawn character, whereas Dragon Tattoo‘s challenge was to integrate plot points from three novels and multiple characters. But there’s no arguing that the Dragon Tattoo sequence comes on like a freight train from hell all the same.
Few films these days even have title sequences, many of them opting for a cold-open style. The ones that do tend to offer digitally sexed-up, weightlessly flashy CGI wankfests. The Tattoo sequence is completely digital, but it doesn’t feel that way. The gurgling black oil that surges throughout the sequence feels thick, suffocating, anything but a CGI fiction. Intercut with shock cuts of Rooney Mara’s character convulsing (ecstasy or death throes?) and weeds quivering with insectoid malice–with Trent Reznor’s demonic cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song pulsing underneath–the effect is genuinely unsettling. Even the film’s iconic title is only onscreen for an instant before being strangulated by the inky nightmare sap (Tim Miller, the sequence’s creative director, prefers “primordial dream ooze”).
What Se7en and Tattoo‘s title sequence share most as pieces of expert design is their success at “training” the viewer for what comes next. Se7en just kept getting worse and worse, so much that when the final head-in-box moment comes, you feel just as blindsided and numb as Brad Pitt does. He gets no reprieve, and neither do we. Similarly, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was advertised at “the feel-bad movie of the holiday season.” Just in case you laughed that off as an ironic quip, remember that Fincher isn’t messing around. The first few minutes of the film smother you with menace– sticky, horrifying befoulment that you can’t scrape off, can’t escape, and will only get thicker, blacker, worse.