A title by any other name …

Emmett Fitzpatrick

Contrary to the title of my last article, I consider myself anti-cynical, and I tried to convey that in last week%s column entitled -There%s nothing wrong with being cynical.’ As an idealist, however, I am trying to look past the minor gaffe as a springboard for this week%s column. Reading the title made me cringe a little bit, but it got me thinking about how important the title is in any form of form of entertainment, be it a movie, book or play. In many ways, it%s more important than the body of work itself. In my example, I received a text message that called me a cynic, obviously because of the title. After my initial dismay over the fact that people would see me in such a way, I knew that I had an idea for my next column.

I am convinced that the title of a movie has a direct correlation with its success at the box office. Take, for example, the recent movie -Invincible.’ The average guy hears the word invincible and immediately thinks of himself, or the man he wants to be. It%s no surprise that the same guy would be attracted to a film of that title without knowing exactly what it%s about.

The next thing he notices about the movie is that it involves football, and he begins take the movie producers% bait. If the guy happens to be from Philadelphia, the producers can start reeling him in, as they know that no true-blooded Eagles fan would turn down a chance to see a movie about their beloved team with a title filled with that much testosterone. The producers of -Gridiron Gang’ also used this formula, as most guys love watching action on the gridiron, and every guy, whether he admits it or not, dreams of being in a gang some day.

In other cases, the title can serve as a deterrent to the mindless audience to which it appeals. Everyone loves -The Shawshank Redemption,’ but Andy Dufregne%s classic tale only grossed $27 million in theatres, a modest figure compared with -Bruce Almighty,’ for example, which grossed ten times that number. I can just picture moviegoers thinking to themselves, -What is a Shaw Shank,’ and why does it need to be redeemed? Even though after hundreds of viewings of the movie on TNT and TBS I can safely say that the title is perfect for the movie, it certainly did not translate to box office numbers.

So many movies are lost to the public largely in part to their title, and that%s a shame. I mentioned to a friend that I had recently seen -Match Point,’ a Woody Allen psychological thriller that I highly recommend. His response was simply, -Isn%t that a chick flick?’ Based on the title and the limited marketing for the film, I can understand why he would think that, and there is a romance that plays a relatively major part in the story, but what movie doesn%t have some sort of a love interest? Even -Braveheart’ and -Gladiator,’ two anti-chick flicks, so to speak, have at the heart of their premises a basic love story.

Still not convinced that titles are more often than not misleading? Ask the editors of any major tabloid, if they employ any. In the world of more mainstream magazines, you can bet that the people at Newsweek and Time know what sells copies. Preying on the religious right and their immense impact on society (the topic of a completely different article to be sure), these magazines run at least one cover per year featuring a picture of Jesus with a catchy title such as, -Who is the real Christ’ or -Does God exist? New Scientific Research is unsure.’

Some titles are definitely a bit less confusing. I know what I am getting into when I watch movies like -Hard to Kill’ or -Death Wish.’ I can rightly assume that Steven Seagal and Charles Bronson will be cleaning up the streets using their own brand of justice in the aforementioned films.

Still, I%ve become less sure about what I%m getting into with these titles, and I fear the day will come when I pick up a book or see a movie titled something like -Bloodbath at the 50 Yard Line’ only to find that it is in fact a romantic comedy starring Ben Affleck and Kate Hudson.

*Editor%s Note: Last week Emmett Fitzpatrick%s column was titled incorrectly. There, in fact, is something wrong with being cyncial.