Toronto Star critic Peter Howell is lamenting the current dominance of one- or two-word bullet movie titles like Next, Vacancy, Fracture, Disturbia, The Invisible and The Condemned. “Whatever happened to movies with evocative titles like The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?,” he’s asking.
Howell asked me for a quote about this and posted a portion of what I sent him, but here’s the whole schpiel:
“Hollywood has always kept titles down to two or three words. Occasionally a four-worder like The Guns of Navarone slipped through in the ’60s, but more often not. That said, if some American producer were to remake Shoot The Piano Player today, it would probably be called Piano Man or Chords or something along those lines.
“Hollywood marketers have been on a campaign against marginally high-falutin’-ish titles for a good 25 or 30 years, or roughly since the advent of the mass-market blockbuster movie syndrome, which kicked off with Jaws in ’75 and then Star Wars in ’77.
“Why did Columbia and Taylor Hackford drop the allusive and haunting Out of the Past (’47) in favor of the more macho, two-fisted sounding Against All Odds when they did their 1984 remake ? Four syllables, one word shorter…that was one of the first modern-age dumb-down moves along these lines that I can remember.
“How about Bertrand Tavernier‘s currently shooting In the Electric Mist, with Tommy Lee Jones in the lead role? James Lee Burke‘s original book title is “In The Electric Mist With the Confederate Dead” — a fantastic title. Couldn’t fit on the marquee but wow, what a great choice of words!
“One-word bullet titles are easier to remember for people who haven’t made much of an education, and of course shorter is almost always better in our attention-deprived world, but titles with poetic or allusive qualities are even less in favor now than ever before.
“The reason is because of the under-35 cyber generation is a shorthand generation in more ways than one. The relentless clutter of information and images that pour into our computers and PDAs demands a savage pruning on the part of the reader, video-watcher and movieoger. They speak cyber-ebonic in their text messaging — “r u coming to the party?”, “LOL”, etc. — and this is the kind of language by which they process the world. Marketers, one could argue, are simply following suit.
“I personally prefer Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to Blade Runner, but that’s just me.”