Just to set the mood, the following analysis features videos of all of the seasons' title sequences, and some of the special stand-alone episodes they have done over the years. It also includes two never used ones produced for season one.
"Supernatural" Title Sequences
Title sequences are visual imagery described as â€˜the conveyance of ideas and information in forms that can be read or looked upon'. Visual communication solely relies on vision, and is primarily expressed with two dimensional images, including signs, typography, drawing, graphic design, illustration, and color. It also explores the idea that a visual message accompanying text has a greater power to inform, educate, or persuade a person or audience.
Reality in TV is rather subjective but can be carefully constructed utilizing visual concepts. Imagery involves one or more of your five senses (hearing, taste, touch, smell, sight). In title sequences, sight and sound are used to set the mood. Words, colors and noise are used to stimulate your memory of those senses, and as Supernatural is a horror/sci-fi show, negative memories are what the series wants to encourage. The main ingredient within horror is that the viewer can relate to it somehow, and that there is always something unexpected approaching. The whole genre is build upon people's fear of the unknown and anxieties. According to H.P. Lovecraft, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
The graphic presentation of the titles cards incites fear, danger and anxieties in the audience getting our focus, and setting the stage for the shows content, in this case the Winchester normality. In their world, our type of normality is an illusion, and not knowing the truth can get you killed. Supernatural's cold open and title sequences invite us into the darkness, where reality hides. The Winchesters can't be part of our normality, so we must enter theirs. Pulling us into their world quickly gets us set for the various levels of chaos, distortion and conflict we will experience.
The artists have used drawings, illustrations and signs to envelope us in the paranormal, occult, ancient mythology, monsters, ghouls and magic. Supernatural's title sequences relies on graphics, sound and color. Color is the first aspect people see, and, without our realizing it, can have a profound effect on how we feel both mentally and physically.
While perceptions of color are somewhat subjective, our reaction to color is instantaneous. There are some color effects that have universal meaning. Supernatural title cards make use of all colors of the spectrum and a brief discussion of the colors used will help explain why they give the effects they do and why the artists chose them for the title sequences.
Colors in the red area are warm colors. We associate red with love, danger, violence, anger and energy. Red can evoke a fight-or-flight response; raise blood pressure and increase heart and breathing rates allowing the body to react quickly in survival situations. It is often where the eye looks first, and can be seen from the farthest distance; hence society uses it on emergency exits and stop signs. Red is all about excitement and energy which is why red cars get more tickets. Ticket givers notice the movement of the red car more prominently, and from a much farther distance. Thieves also have a preference for red cars. More of an energy surge associated with stealing it.
Red is the symbol of life and the color of blood......that life giving liquid we all squirm when we see oozing and seeping in areas outside of the body, especially is large quantities. Not surprising this color is used in all of the season's title cards. Danger, violence, and blood are always in the Winchester world.
Yellow is another color that Supernatural uses in abundance. Cheerful sunny yellow is an attention getter. However, people lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms, and babies will cry more. It is the most difficult color for the eye to take in, so it can be overpowering if overused. And that overpowering effect is used in a number of the title sequences.
Colors on the blue side of the spectrum are known as cool colors and include blue, purple, and maroon. These colors are often described as calm, but can also call to mind feelings of sadness or indifference. Purple and maroon embodies the balance of red simulation and blue calm. This dichotomy can cause unrest or uneasiness. Blue represents peace and harmony, but also depression. Blue can slow the pulse rate, lower body temperature, and reduce appetite, applications that in our normality are a signs of sickness or death. The opposite effect as red, blue is cold and depressing, a reaction Supernatural is going for.
Black represents evil at its apex. The cowboy in the black hat was almost always the "bad guy". It represents power, sexuality, sophistication, elegance, mystery, fear, evil, sadness, mourning and death. It's a serious color that evokes strong emotions, and too much black can easily overwhelm people. Not surprising that all of the title sequences start with black background, the total absence of light and color.
Each season's title cards had something to do with the overall story or plot of the season. Though the titles cards have changed every year, some aspects have remained the same, and though all have different elements, all have a level of sophistication that makes them equally great, especially since you can see how each title sequences fits in so well with its particular season.The show has also deviated from season's title sequences for extraordinary episodes where they were going after a very special effect, A Very Special Christmas (3.08), Monster Movie (4.05), Monster at the End of this Book (4.18), and Changing Channels (5.08).Those are discussed later in the article.
All the season title sequences begin with an explosion of color. In season one, a bright flash of blue erupts on the screen and then fades to the original black color. In season two, the colors of reds, orange and yellow explode into a fire ball of blinding white light. Season three starts off with a big bang of white hot light, which eventually drifts into a cold expanding galaxy. In season five, the black background disappears into a white hot light from which a dark color explodes in a swirling red field and then returns to is white hot background. Even their special presentation, A Very Special Christmas, started with a yellow ornament that exploded into a hot red yellow color, and then dissipated into a white field for the subsequent graphics. With tremendous force, and searing heat, explosion always shock onlookers with fear and the feeling of being powerless....certainly aspects of every season of Supernatural.
In all seasons, the series used the single word â€˜SUPERNATURAL' in large and small font, rapidly zooming in and out of focus. The greatest aspect of this part of imagery is its ability to distort our visual perspective, making cognitive and information processing skills difficult at best. The rapid movement of the word gives the feeling of disorientation and loss of control, blurring the distinction between reality and normality, between our world and the Winchester's. So much so, that we know they're in danger when their reality turns â€œnormalâ€, all bright and shiny and optimistic as in the opening of Changing Channels (5.08).
Besides the visual imagery, sound also sets the mood. The sound sequences of all the title cards were similar. The burst of spectral white noise and static with the visual explosion, disconnected clanging, crashing sounds, otherworldly ghostly howling and rushing wind, and the every present beating heart. Season four added a demonic blood curling scream to the mix, which, of course, sends chills down everyone's spine. Season five's beating heart was given more emphasis, although it can be heard faintly in other season's title cards as well.
Season One Title Sequence
The atmosphere the series was going for, from the very beginning, was dark. The first season's title card was fairly simple, but a few uncomplicated techniques were used to create visuals that had a powerful effect on what the audience felt. The title sequence started out with an explosion of blue color, and the static white noise. That got your attention! The black background superimposed with the rapidly changing text, zooming in and out of focus, gave the feel of chaos and loss of control. The gray/blue tone of the text represented the reality of the Winchester world, their true reality, which is dark, often violent, and very cold. Whenever I watch this I still get the feeling that something malevolent is out there, in the shadows, behind those letters, waiting to jump out of the shadows, and that's is certainly what happened in many of the season's stories.
Two alternative titles sequences for season one were produced but never used.
Season one unused title sequences
The first sequence starts with the same burst of noise the other intros have but this leads into a disconnected symphony of high and low piano notes, no rhyme, order or harmony, just chaotic sounds. The normal sweet harmonious chords that soothe are not found in this piece. This rattles the nerves and sends cold chills through you. Not as bad as fingernails on a chalk board, but close.
Coupled this discord with the sound of thunder and your psyche is on high alert. Just the sound alone sends your system in to overdrive. The visual field has rapidly changing caricature images of creatures, weapons, people running, scenes and imagery out of color from our normal. Add the red letters of â€˜SUPERNATURAL' moving in and out of focus, overlaid flashes of color in shades of reds and yellows (the warning colors), and tones of blue for cold and depression, and you know you don't want to watch it in the dark or alone.
The second sequence is shorter and starts with the image and sound of dripping water, scenes that always visualizes dark, neglected, subterranean passages and abandoned, tombs, crypt and graves. This, with the flashing â€˜SUPERNATURAL' on the screen, is effective at conveying the paranormal experience.
These two title sequences are more complex than the basic design, but also more effect at delivering the feel of the urban legends and myths the first season was based on; and both include the impala which has been a pivotal part of the story from day one. The impala caricature was not lost however, it, or a very similar image, was used in the title sequence for Monster at the End of This Book four years later. These two were a lot more expensive to produce and repeating this type of intro every year would be more that the designs they when with. Still I thought the first one was very effective and the sound on the second was chilling.
Season Two Title Sequence
No question season two's title card was all about devils and the netherworld, the white noise opening and the fiery explosion, both the most universal symbols of hell. Also a beating heart is heard at the end of the sequence. The burning flame remind us all of the deaths of Mary and Jess and indicate the pattern of nursery fires that claimed some of lives of the mother's of the â€˜special children', a theme that permeated the season.
The word â€˜SUPERNATURAL', appearing out of the bursting flames in hot yellows, instills in us a high level of energy. As the letter â€˜A' changes to a Devil's Trap pentacle and fades back into the letter, we were guaranteed that demons and monsters were on the prowl, especially the yellow-eyed Azazel.
In some title sequences the text starts and ends as a bright white light, but not here. While the sound instills in us a high level of anxiety, the extreme use of yellow warns us to look away or shield our eyes.
For me this was a high energy exciting display, loved the every growing ball of fire. I really expected a fast pace season, and I wasn't disappoint. The introduction of Sam's abilities, the special children, the development of Azazel, and the magical colt all made the title card a very good representation of the season's episodes.
Season Three Title Sequence
This title sequence deviated slightly from the first two, but many elements were still the same. The Key of Solomon pentagram appears after the white light explosion followed by thee "SUPERNATURAL" text in pitted silver, white, blue and gray tones. The Key of Solomon is a grimoire, a book on magic, attributed to, of course, King Solomon. Such books typically include instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms and divination and also how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as angels, spirits, and demons. Many editions were written in Latin, Sam's second language, and date from the 1600's.
The Key of Solomon Book I contain conjurations, invocations and curses to summon and constrain spirits of the dead and demons, forcing them to do the operator's will. Try as I might, I could not find the meaning of this exact pentacle. However, I did find a similar pentacle in an online version of the book depicting the scorpion. It was the fifth pentacle of Mars, â€œWrite thou this pentacle upon virgin parchment, because it is terrible unto the demons, and at its sight and aspect they will obey thee, for they cannot resist its presenceâ€. Certainly a good invocation if you looking to save your brother from hellâ€¦.the entire theme of season three.
The image quickly changes now to silver lettering with rising whitish clouds, maybe an ethereal essence of a long lost spirit. The mist, tinged with a maroon hue, changing into the cold of blue. The addition of the red tones adds an additional level of malevolence we associate with bruising, blood or death,
The cool colors of blue and grey are used to give the cold feeling of the dead of space, the cosmos erupting in a burst of cold colors expanding into a vast void. No doubt the abstract perception of space and time, that only heaven or hell could represent. As this series based some of it's mythology on Milton's Paradise Lost, this would aptly fit into his poetic imagery.
For me, this is the best title sequence of the series. Love the mystery of space and the concept of â€˜between' worlds. The â€˜unreality' of the brother's reality seems the strongest for me with this sequence.
Season Four Title Sequence
No explosion here, just the rapidly frantic beating of crow's wings giving a feel of panic and confusion. Crows have long been associated with magic and occult, so a good way to portray the sinister, malevolent angels of the Winchester world. Done in black and white photography, the sequence really sets the mood of gloom and depression, and anyone who remembers the Birds (also film in black and white), understands the terror and death that follows those rapidly beating wings. Certainly announces the coming of the angels, even down to their dark shadowy wing silhouettes.
The lighting and contrast in the sequence, black wings against the white sky, enhances the split between life and death, good and evil. The sequence then slowly begins to materialize the blood red "SUPERNATURAL", evoking all those feelings associated with the color. As the wings fade to an all black background, we're returned from ancient times to the present day. The rapidly zooming, in and out focusing of the letters repeats the panic and confusion of the present time reminding us of the Winchester's dark, violent, and deadly reality.
This is the only audio track that includes a scream, a terrifying one at that, which always struck me as unusual as ear-piercing, blood curling screams are a mainstay of horror. However, after this title sequence, no way you could think anything from that world would be anywhere near our sense of reality. The title sequence does its job.
Season Five Title Sequence
While this was the year of the apocalypse, the title card really was not complex. As always the black background appears and changes to a blinding white. A dark red drop of dye explodes in a swirling red field and then returns to is white hot background. The text appears as the red color dissipates, but this time is deeps in color to black before flickering and jumping off the screen. This is the only sequence in which the text is black. The white noise and static is carried through from the previous season, suggesting continuity, but now the sound of heartbeat increases...more akin to Sam's heartbeat when possessed.
Of course, we all cringe at the sight of the swirling red color. Any symbolism of ebbing blood gives one reason to pause. No doubt the sequence represents a sign of the prophesied bloody finish of the apocalypse. But I think it could also pertain to the ebbing of the brother's relationship, though tied by blood, and the special bloodline they share.
I'd definitely rank it above season four's sequence, but it didn't impact me as much as season two and three sequences did.
Coming in Part II, a look at the "Special Presentations" of "A Very Supernatural Christmas," "Monster Movie," "Monster at The End of This Book," and "Changing Channels."