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Standard Establishing Spaceship Shot

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And it's still awesome after more than 40 years.

"Slow, awe-inspiring shot of approaching underside of spaceship. Thanks to the Star Wars Act, passed by Congress in '79, it is law."

So you want to establish your Cool Spaceship's power and destructive potential? Easy! Just have it enter the screen (usually from the top) and sloooooowly crawl forward. For extra drama have the ship suddenly appear in the distance with a small flash of light after coming out of hyperspace and then slowly crawl forward.

Compare Fighter-Launching Sequence and Emerging from the Shadows. Sister Trope of Standardized Space Views. See also Dramatic Alien VTOL.

Examples! Incoming!

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    Comic Books 
  • A non animate version of this is used in Wonder Woman (1987) when the sabotaged stranded in space vessel Diana and Natasha are on gets picked up by a huge Sangtee Empire ship. The imposing expanse of the ship coming in from "above" their tiny vessel looses some of its intimidation factor on second glance when it becomes apparent the thing looks like a misshapen whale, in accordance with the way all Sangtee Empire ships look a bit like mechanical sea life.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. Used for the Discovery in a famously drawn-out fashion.
  • Alien opens with the camera panning over the Nostromo.
  • At the beginning of Avatar we see the ship transporting Jake to Pandora.
  • Parodied in D.C. Cab, where the opening shot of a nighttime sky is interrupted by the underside of a passing yellow taxicab.
  • The beginning of Event Horizon is the camera slowly exploring a space station, with such costly CGI that it reportedly took up a third of the film's budget.
  • The opening shot of Independence Day has an alien ship flying over the Moon's Sea of Tranquility about to enter Earth orbit.
  • Pitch Black starts with a top-down view that show a small part of Hunter-Gratzner's first section, but mostly the container behind it. Then the camera slowly rotates and pans down the ship and it ends with the classic from behind view.
  • Played for Laughs in Spaceballs, with the introduction of the Big Bad's ship going on and on and on for well over a minute, while the orchestra playing the score grows more and more impatient.
  • Space Mutiny opens with an establishing shot of the heroes' spaceship in flight.
  • Used to show off the shiny new Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Half the movie is just fly-by shots of the Enterprise, or doing a fly-by over V'Ger.
  • Also used for the U.S.S. Kelvin in Star Trek (2009). Soon after they run into the Narada, which in one wide shot easily dwarfs the Kelvin.
  • The Trope Codifier is Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, which began with a Star Destroyer chasing Leia's much smaller ship. The scene is helped by the wedge-shaped design of the Star Destroyer making it appear larger and larger as it comes into the audiences' view.
    • The later films use the trope Once per Episode. The Super Star Destroyer Executor in The Empire Strikes Back, the Rebel flagship Home One in Return of the Jedi, the Jedi transport in The Phantom Menace, the Naboo senatorial ship in Attack of the Clones, and the First Order Star Destroyer Finalizer in The Force Awakens, which eclipses a planet in its shot.
    • The long panning shot of the Republic Venator-class Star Destroyer in Revenge of the Sith subverts this, as it ends to reveal hundreds of warships fighting the Battle of Coruscant in the distance, showing that this ship isn't particularly special. Yes, George Lucas loves this trope.
    • All five of the Star Wars Legends novels in The Thrawn Trilogy and the Hand of Thrawn duology by Timothy Zahn start aboard the Imperial Star Destroyer Chimaera, employing this Trope by inference.
      • In fact, every single Zahn Star Wars novel save for Outbound Flight (which opens with a light freighter in space) and Thrawn (which completely averts this trope) opens with a Star Destroyer in flight.
    • The Last Jedi changes it up with a planetary establishing shot, the camera zooming right past the Resistance fleet in orbit over D'Qar to focus on the base they are abandoning. Soon after, we get a standard shot when the First Order Dreadnought Fulminatrix drops out of hyperspace and prepares to attack, her behemoth size contrasted by the numerous Star Destroyers dwarfed by her presence.
  • Copied in the opening shot of the Italian Mockbuster Starcrash, simply because it was done in Star Wars.
  • Done with Sark's cruiser in TRON.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The sequel series to Armor Hero has an egregiously long shot at the start of episode 32 that takes a full two minutes. Half is spent viewing it from the classic angle (the bottom), and the other half is spent viewing it from the top.
  • Red Dwarf, particularly the epic opening titles used for series 1 and 2.
    • It's too much of an homage to Star Wars to be merely coincidental. And despite the tone of Red Dwarf the rest of the time, the establishing shot was a completely straight example.
  • A huge alien spacecraft, accompanied by much smaller fighters, looms slowly into shot over Moonbase Alpha in the Space: 1999 episode War Games. It is possible that George Lucas was influenced by this sequence as he was impressed by the special effects being used on the show and visited the studios during its production.
  • Used during the premiere of Stargate Universe to introduce the Destiny.
  • A regular feature on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Notably, during the title sequence, you can see crewmembers walking around through the windows behind the bridge just before the Enterprise goes to Warp.
  • Ultraman Tiga's opening sequence features a showcase of Earth Defence Force GUTS's various vehicles (and a few shots of the eponymous Ultraman). The centerpiece, however, is the launch sequence of GUTS' mothership Artdessei, which is interspersed throughout the opening. It has her start out sitting in drydock before rolling out to the elevator shaft, rising up said shaft, etc. It culminates with her takeoff, wings unfolding just as the theme song swells into its chorus. The classic underbelly shot is the very next one, with the ocean below and the shore on the horizon. Then finally, a frontal shot of her climbing into orbit with the Earth in the background, before Tiga takes centre stage. Very much appropriate, as her design is essentially a cross between a Star Destroyer and a whale.
  • Parodied and Subverted in The X-Files episode Jose Chung's "From Outer Space" where an opening shot of what appears like the underside of a spaceship under a night sky is revealed to be the underside of a cherrypicker.

    Video Games 
  • The Lindblum in Final Fantasy XIII makes its first appearance by slowly emerging from a huge cloud.
  • FreeSpace 2 does this numerous times, the most noteworthy being the intro. At the end of the scene, the camera pans out above the planet, where a fleet of GTVA ships flies in, including the GTVA Colossus.
  • The Opening Sequence of the first game in the Galaxy Angel gameverse features the Elsior crawling upward, behind the five Emblem Frames piloted by the Angels.
  • The ship database of Infinite Space does this when viewing ship information. It's also the victory screen after battles and the "Press Start" screen when the game starts up.
  • Halo:
    • Halo: Combat Evolved opens with the Pillar of Autumn floating by as it approaches Alpha Halo.
    • Most of the games do this at least once, such as the assault carrier and In Amber Clad in Halo 2, and the Long Night of Solace supercarrier in Halo: Reach.
    • Halo 4 does this several times with the Infinity, sometimes with an escort fleet, and with the Didact's ship.
    • Halo Infinite opens similarly to Combat Evolved, with the Infinity floating by as it approaches Zeta Halo — but immediately after it enters the frame, it quickly gets pulverized by a fleet of Banished warships.
  • Mass Effect:
    • The first game mixes this with shots of Shepard walking through the interior on his/her way to the bridge.
    • The first scene after the Illusive Man's office in the second is the Normandy exiting hyperspace and flying towards the camera. Turns into a Bait-and-Switch when said ship is completely destroyed mere moments later. The first establishing shot of the new ship is when it is still in drydock. The dock lights gradually turn on as the camera slowly tracks down the hull of the ship.
    • Played straight so often in the third game that the times it's not used can be counted on one hand. An entire thousands-strong fleet does it in formation at one point.
    • In Andromeda, the first shot in the title galaxy is of the Hyperion exiting hyperspace in this manner and then starting the wake-up sequence after its centuries-long flight.
  • The introduction movie to Quake II has the human assault carrier slowly emerge from the bottom border of the screen.
  • The original login menu of StarCraft II had the Hyperion over the screen and then go off to hyperspace. Apparently it goes right behind the screen and does it again. Turns into a overly long gag if you stay on the login screen for a while
  • Star Fox opened with the first boss ship emerging from the top of the screen, heading towards Corneria and dispatching fighters.
  • Continuing with the Star Wars examples, the introductory cutscene to X-Wing includes a squadron of Star Destroyers descending into planetary orbit about to attack a group of Mon Calamari Cruisers.
  • Bowser is introduced this way at the very beginning of Super Mario Galaxy.

    Web Original 


Video Example(s):


The Eldridge

The introduction of Xenogears, where The Eldridge is traversing until an unknown force impedes it.

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Main / StandardEstablishingSpaceshipShot

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