The title sequence for BBC’s Top Gear is presented in a very stylish way through the clever use of split screens. Initially, it conveys a sense of sleek technological sophistication by means of the black background and borders surrounding each element of the frame. This can also bare a relation to the high spec technology attributed to modern day sports cars and the sophisticated interiors found in top-of-the-range luxury cars. More significantly, the screen is for the most part split into either three rows or three columns in what can be interpreted as representative of the three main presenters of the show – each with their own unique outlook on motoring.
The first split screen shot in the sequence (appendix A) shows three different high spec sports cars, filmed from different angles, and in different locations. At first glance the diversity afforded to the programme in terms of content and production is clearly evident, as is the presenters’ predilection for raw power and size. This diversity is also apparent in the overall tone of the programme as can be seen in the second split screen (appendix A2). It shows three scenes out of one of their more lighthearted segments of the show. The contrast between the more serious product reviews and the more humourous challenges is evident right from the start. The third split screen (appendix A3) once again refers us to the power associated with high performance sports cars (and the more serious side to the show), clearly denoted by means of an accelerator pedal being “floored”.
At this point in the sequence we get to meet the three main presenters, if only through the power of suggestion. In the next two split screen shots (appendix B) we can clearly make out Richard Hammond’s silhouette, and images from two of his inserts produced for the programme. In the first split screen we are shown a Bugatti Veyron attempting to race a Royal Air Force Eurofighter, in the second we are shown the championship winning Renault Formula One racing car. This association with the ultimate “boys’ toys” suggests a jovial disposition and boyish charm about our presenter, perfectly in keeping with the nature of his character.
Next up we are served an equal dose of composed shots and silhouetted figure, but this time featuring our next presenter (appendix C). James May’s interest in cars seems centered around science, technology and gadgetry. This is clearly depicted by the close up shot of the remote control, which when operated, launches the Reliant Robin Space Shuttle. Furthermore, in the second shot we can see in our presenter’s silhouette clearly holding the remote control with the launch as a backdrop.
Following on, and again in silhouetted fashion, we are introduced to Jeremy Clarkson (appendix D). Jeremy is of course well known for his cynical outlook and his tongue in cheek dry humour; he is always the one coming up with preposterously ridiculous fixes, and exciting plans and ideas for any challenges they may face, in a most entertaining way. This can be derived from the extraneous imagery used for his background, a speedboat (surely not in a car show?), a Fiat Panda limousine (quite a ridiculous concept), a Peel P50 (not worthy of a mention comparatively speaking), and fire.
Moving on now, the fiery images come into stark contrast with the next split screen (appendix E), further suggesting diversity, and nicely leading on to the title caption with our three main presenters silhouetted over it, this time standing in a group. By looking at the imagery on this frame it becomes very apparent that a certain boyish or youthful camaraderie is suggested. The fact that they are portrayed as a younger, slimmed down versions of themselves, and that Clarkson seems to boast a body of hair not seen on him in many years, clearly supports a play on the stereotypical male mid-life crisis. Furthermore, there are also humourous connotations to them forming a typically chauvinistic ‘men only’ club, where women drivers are irrelevant. In reality, three men in their fifties, clinging on to the remnants of their long gone youth, is central to the sarcastic wit and cynical outlook conveyed in the humour.
This becomes quite evident when Clarkson simplistically presents the upcoming features (appendix F), and in this particular episode he goes on to say “tonight, we kill a fat man, a donkey gets overtaken, and James wears women’s underwear on his head”. The comically absurd voiceover does in fact suggest the level of seriousness which the program inserts need to be afforded by the viewer, and in this particular episode we can extrapolate that the piece will be of a “tongue in cheek” nature. A quick reminder of the programme title and the main concept is presented at this point by way of a return to the title caption (appendix G), followed by a split screen showing the three main presenters’ favourite sports cars, again, as diverse in their characteristics as are they when compared to each other.
The Title Roll ends on that final split screen shot, but at this point the director cuts to a crane camera which frames the split screen as seen on a hanging studio monitor screen (appendix H), and then actions the crane camera to swivel and pan across to a wide shot showing our three main presenters on the main plateau, surrounded by the guest audience, and ready for action. In this setting, our presenters come across as accessible and down to earth, a character trait not normally associated with the average celebrity. The implication here is that the programme is directed at the general public, the normal man or woman on the street, and that our presenters rubbing shoulders with the guest audience portrays Top Gear as a show for the people, by the people.
As already established, we can gauge a significant pre-disposition towards powerful sports cars, “big boys’ toys” and gadgets, and that their youthful silhouette and the macho connotations in the imagery suggests a play on the stereotypical midlife crisis. Having also read into the different nature of our three main presenters, we can sense the humour that will ensue from the characters playing off each other. The jovial Richard Hammond, labeled a hamster due to his vertically challenged nature, brings youth and fun into the equation. James May, referred to as the geeky Captain Slow, is portrayed as old and boring, always last in any speed related challenge they may undertake. And of course, Jeremy Clarkson, who comes across as the sarcastic, bully-esque gang leader, who wins most of the challenges in the name of the humble car.
The soundtrack used on the title sequence also has predominantly (aged) macho connotations to it. A revamped, more energetic and modern version of the Allman Brothers song entitled “Jessica”. Originally by an all-male country music outfit, the song pays homage to a pretty lady named Jessica, but in this version, the soundtrack centers around the main guitar riff which again, moves it further towards a more masculine choice of music.
Generally speaking, the overall tone of the title sequence points us towards the true nature of the programme. Although there is a strong element of technical reviewing and factual reporting on cars of every class and budget, there lies within it a strong incline towards humour and light hearted entertainment, and therefore should not be taken too seriously.
Christian Gadd (1235 words).
Semester 1 (September – December 2013) : Language and Image.