Narcos Title Sequence Analysis
The title sequence for Netflix’s crime saga Narcos takes the viewer on a journey, showing them a glimpse of ‘King of Cocaine‘, Pablo Escobar’s drug empire. Showing the story of the international effort, involving the DEA, to bring down his enterprise whilst Rodrigo Amarante’s “Tuyo” plays on somberly in the background making Digital Kitchen’s introduction pretty epic. Using a perfect blend of past and present photos including archival footage from Escobar’s family photographer “El Chino” – along with sans-serif typeface, aerial shots of Bogota and a burning automobile, this title sequence is an iconic opener for such making it a hard hitting show.
The first shot is a close up of an old fashioned radio, showing hands turning it on. Over the top of this shot there is a white drawing overlay of the inside of a computer, showing memory chips which blend into the blue and red filter placed over the frame, this transitions to a bird’s eye view shot of the radio cassette spinning. This is a foreshadowing shot – a radio plays a major role in the capture of Escobar and so choosing this as the very first bit of imagery in the opening sequence implies that we will witness and experience his seizure in the near future. Having the radio as the first shot also belittles Escobar straight away – saying that his drug empire wasn’t as important as the DEA’s success of tracking his whereabouts through this iconic radio.
This then transitions with a mosaic effect into an aerial shot of Bogota that has a white grid overlay over it, the shot then zooms out whilst red circle markers simultaneously appear on the map along with white lines connecting them – showing that these are pinpoint locations. Handwritten white writing also appears in this shot conveying the message that this is a search for Escobar, the use of the map and the red circles are all indications of an investigation: pinpointing locations and distances. This all links to the DEA’s man hunt for Pablo Escobar.
A wipe transition takes us to the next shot of a bag of exploding cocaine, which starts off as a front camera view, and then switches quickly to a side view. White handwritten notes overlay this shot again and appear to be chemistry notes which is a major link to drug labs. The cocaine smoke moves in slow motion which makes it look important as it allows the viewer to focus on it for a longer period of time, it also gives the cocaine an aura of beauty as you can see the pure white substance dancing though the air. The exploding bag also implies that Escobar had mountains of cocaine: enough at least not to bat an eyelid at an exploding bag of drugs worth thousands of dollars.
An instant snap transition takes us to an orange, red and yellow coloured screen where a passenger plane is sat on a runway. Like previous shots, there is also white writing overlaid over the frame, it isn’t readable but it’s there to add texture to the shot, giving the feel of detective notes, implying that this is an intensive but also confusing search for Escobar. The camera pans from left to right showing the plane’s movement, bringing this shot to life rather than having it as a still frame. The red colours that overlay this shot are similar to colours of an explosion, which is foreshadowing events that take place in season two.
A wipe transition takes us to a front view shot of passengers sat on a plane, our point of view is as if we are looking at them from the cockpit – looking at them like an actor looks at its audience. Again, there’s a red and orange coloured filter over this shot, which is foreshadowing again, by linking the plane to fire. White rectangles and white crosses cover passenger’s eyes, which is obstructing their identities and objectifying them -this is a sinister link to the fact that Escobar didn’t value human life and did not care about who he harmed or murdered on his dangerous quest for political and economic domination.
Next we transition to a bird’s eye view shot showing gloved hands opening up a suitcase packed full of cocaine bags whilst white diagrams of suitcases are placed over the shot. The camera then zooms into the suitcase and the cocaine bags transform into stacks of dollar bills, as it does this the light in the frame gets brighter and brighter until it’s completely overexposed as the camera pans over the piles of money.
The shot then flashes to an extreme close up of Benjamin Franklin on a dollar bill, and then cuts instantly to a close up shot of stacks of money that has an orange glow to it. These stacks of money are shot from a low, side, angle, making the money look impressive, and has a split focus so part of the frame is blurry and out of focus: there is also a slight grain filter applied to this shot.
In the same shot we see someone chuck a pile of money onto the stack and the camera follows this movement in slow motion. These frames of money and drugs in the suitcases reiterates the extreme amount of money Escobar was making in the production and trafficking of drugs. The gloved hands opening up the suitcase also show how he was under investigation and how his drugs were being seized my law enforcement all of the time. I feel that the motion of chucking the money onto the pile of other money shows how Escobar’s income was so great that he just tossed money about carelessly: he had no reason to look after his money as he had so much coming in day by day and even though drugs were seized he knew he had enough to replace them.
An instant transition takes us to a blurry, front facing shot of a man dressed in camouflage, holding a rifle, with a bandana over his mouth and nose. In front of the man there is a table with cocaine bags laid out on top of it, there are also canisters on top of the table that could contain cocaine, this shot is showing us that the soldiers have seized Pablo’s drugs.
This shot has a grainy filter over it; there are also scratch mark textures on top. This shot makes the viewer see how serious the search for Pablo Escobar was: the man holding the rifle makes the viewer see that law enforcement weren’t afraid to use weapons or violence in their attempts either. The grainy, scratch textures add an aura of distress to this shot as well which could metaphorically imply that the seizure of these drugs was a messy one – involving casualties and a mass struggle. White Xs and lines appear over this shot as it comes into focus, comments also appear and the man’s arm twitches. The Xs also highlights the fact that this was a police investigation: X marks the spot – like pirates in their search for buried treasure.
An instant transition takes us to a shot of Miss Columbia wearing a swimsuit whilst inside a postcard, making her look like a tourist attraction as postcards usually have landmarks on them. There is a red stamp on top of the photograph and an overlay of red wavy lines, there is also handwritten text over this frame as well.
In this frame, the waves in the background of the postcard wave slightly, giving the viewer the illusion of a moving wave. The woman in this frame also moves side to side in a boomerang effect just like the waves. By doing this it links the beautiful woman to the natural qualities of the ocean: serene and calming. The camera zooms in and then comes into focus, which could imply that Escobar was blinded by beauty, living in a hazy dream of expensive things, but he will crash back down to reality in the near future. I feel that this frame shows the beauty in Columbia, which links to Escobar who lives a life of luxury surrounded by beautiful woman.
This then instantly transitions to a close up shot of a woman’s manicured hand on her thigh, we can see that the woman is wearing a blue satin dress and that she has a diamond bracelet on her wrist. Blurry white writing and an official seal are placed over this shot, which then pans down, and to the right, revealing bed sheets. This is all suggesting a sexualised theme, but also showing class and expense.
An instant transition then takes us to dark footage of the same woman lounging in her dress, which is followed by the camera zooming out whilst red and blue lights are added as a filter over the shot. By changing to dark footage of the same woman this shows the sinister side to Escobar: he loved to be surrounded by beautiful woman who had class and sophistication but they were prostitutes all the same and he bought them with his blood money: they were his property to love and hurt however he wanted. This is also shown through the next frame, which is an extreme, close up of a woman biting her lip in a sexual way, furthermore highlighting Escobar’s sexual obsession and nature.
The next frame transitions instantly to footage of Escobar’s estate which is actually a photograph, but the creators projection-mapped it and turned it into a sort of home video (panning right) which is trying to recreate the vibe that El Chino had in his very intimate photographs.
This then transitions to close up shots of running flamingos and zebras, which are from Escobar’s private zoo. The running zebras are shot using a tracking shot, which follows them from a bird’s eye point of view as they run. These archival shots add a personal feel to the title sequence as the viewer feels like they are looking into private shots of Escobar’s life, which is ironic because for years nobody could get close enough to him but now his life is open access. By including the zoo in the title sequence this shows how he had the money to pretty much own anything; he really did live a fantasy life.
Next there is a close up shot of Pablo sat on a motorbike surrounded by his crew who are also on motorbikes, as the shot zooms out we see how many are actually there and how a few of them are children. This archival shot, yet again, projects a personal and familiar vibe. It makes the viewer feel close to Escobar, connecting with him on a friendly level, seeing him in casual clothes and with a relaxed look on his face, as if he doesn’t have a single care in the world.
This shot however can also show him as a sort of cult leader, which is what he actually was. He used to befriend vulnerable people with his fun loving facade, making them trust him and then once he knew he had their loyalty, this was when he started to take advantage of them. Escobar was known for the way he used children throughout his evil schemes to contact him on police movements and plans, so including them in this shot really drills in that he had no limits. If he wanted something done he would use every need possible to complete it, even if it involved innocent children who knew no better.
This then transitions to a shot of somebody pouring cocaine out of a bag, and then traditions to an aerial shot of a stand alone building which is billowing out black smoke as it is on fire, almost like there has just been an explosion as the camera pans right, showing the mass destruction from all angles. Having the pouring of cocaine before the shot of the burning building links these two scenarios together: showing how Escobar’s drug empire is destructive and dangerous.
This transitions to a shot of a child sat in a living room watching the Colombian President on the TV, linking this scenario to loss of innocence and the dependability by including the child- it also shows how the President is making a stand: broadcasting himself to the public and looking strong with a powerful pointing gesture. The camera then zooms into the TV set, showing the still of the president pointing out of the TV making it look as if he is pointing directly at you – the viewer of the title sequence. Using this makes the viewer understand how much chaos Escobar created as he had the Columbian President bargaining with him on multiple occasions.
The next shot is an establishing shot of the Columbian landscape as the camera zooms in and pans right: passing over the mountains in the forefront of the frame. A similar shot is used further on in this title sequence, but has the title NARCOS plastered all over it, I feel like this untouched shot of the landscape is expressing the peacefulness and beauty of the land without the presence of Pablo Escobar and his Narcos. This shot is nostalgic and full of sentiment, showing how Columbia is struggling to find peace.
An aerial shot of a road in Columbia appears next, from a bird’s eye point of view. We see cars in this shot driving along the road whilst white grid overlays the shot, making it look like a map. The camera moves up the frame, following the direction of the car and sweeps right along the street, making this feel like a surveillance mission, informing the viewer again that there was a man hunt for Escobar and that everything was being questioned and analysed.
Next we are shown a looking down shot of a dead body in a pool of blood, forensics are at the scene and a newspaper clipping saying ‘Cocaina’ obscures the dead body. The camera then zooms into the frame revealing the body from behind the headline metaphorically showing how there’s more to the cocaine business than what we are told in the media, there’s a whole world of violence and extremism brought on by Pablo Escobar that is killing Columbia bit by bit.
The shot then switches to an eye level action shot where we can see a tank and armed soldiers from the Columbian Army running behind it, this shot makes us feel involved in the situation as we are no longer on lookers – we are directly in the field of action. These shots start to give the viewer power, as we feel more involved in the scenario, being at eye level and so close to the action it’s like we are there too, fuelling us with rage and adrenaline.
Next we see a zoomed in shot of stairs to a grand building, which is surrounded by armed soldiers, showing armed enforcement in protective gearing jumping over the walls. This shows how the government was reacting to Escobar’s acts of terrorism; the camera angle makes this mission look covert almost as if we are watching on like spies. This shot is very important as it foreshadows a horrific event that occurs in the series, showing the battle between terrorists and democracy.
This then ironically transitions into a portrait photograph of Escobar wearing a suit and looking somewhat normal and average. However there is a red filter over this shot which taints the shot with feelings of rage and terror, the red represents the bloody path of destruction that Escobar walked and shows how one person can never be given that much power ever again.
White writing appears on the right of the photograph and with the climatic theme song coming to an end we see information being covered line by line by white blocks, obscuring it, implying that this information needs to be covered up and erased. This could metaphorically show how so much went wrong in the hunt for Escobar and not only through loss of innocent lives but also by how the government and the DEA handled the situation.
The third to last shot is an archived picture of the real life DEA agent that becomes a major character in the series. This photograph has been placed in the middle of the frame, surrounded by headshots and photographs of Pablo Escobar’s sicarios making it look almost like a photo album.
There is also a somber red filter over this shot just like the previous one with Escobar, which oddly links these two people together, implying that they both took every need possible to achieve their goals, even if it was illegal. I think having the DEA agent appear after Escobar shows that they had the last word though and that they won this fight.
The penultimate shot is an establishing shot of Columbia, similar to the shot I mentioned before of the Columbian landscape, but this time we have a darker perspective. A black banner dissolves onto the middle of the screen where NARCOS is plastered on top in white capitals, showing the title of the series but also showing how the NARCOS destroyed Columbia throughout Escobar’s lifetime as the black banner gives off a dangerous feel, tarnishing the beautiful landscape underneath.
Finally we are left looking at a burning car in the centre on the frame, billowing out black smoke as the theme song reaches its conclusion. The car is iconic, still in the midst of destruction, slowly burning away, making the viewer stare at it somberly, eager to watch on, knowing that this series will be packed full of suspense and devastation.