Thursday, 10 February 2011

Does what it says on the fin

Although it's spent the best part of the last fifteen years being repeatedly voted as audiences' favourite film, The Shawshank Redemption was considered a flop when it was first released. Despite several Oscar nominations, the film's period setting, and the fact that it was a non-horror Stephen King adaptation, left most movie-goers pretty non-plussed about the prospect of a two-hour prison drama.

However, one of the most commonly-cited reasons for its theatrical underperformance was its title. If you're standing outside the box office, trying to decide which movie to spend your money on, is the phrase 'Shawshank Redemption' really going to motivate you to take a punt on a ticket? As an aside, consider how much worse it might have fared if the novella's original title, 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption', had been retained.

The issue of naming a film is a thorny one - how to build intrigue and interest, whilst making it clear to prospective audiences what they can expect. Recently, films like 'Snakes On A Plane' and 'Hot Tub Time Machine' have taken the opposite tack, ensuring that no-one would wander into a screening without knowing exactly what they're getting.

Now, it would be easy to blame this current trend for Ronseal-style naming conventions on the exponential dumbing down of entertainment. But actually, with movies now increasingly dependent on that all-important opening weekend, it's vital that they make a splash from day one.

Giving people an explicit idea of what a film is about, seems like a sure-fire way of guaranteeing bums-on-seats. But it also means that studios have an obligation to keep the promises they're making in their promotional campaigns.

So it's interesting to see that David Ellis, director of Snakes On A Plane, is taking a similar approach to naming his new movie as with his earlier ophidian epic. Originally developed as Shark Night 3D (hardly in the same oblique league as 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'), the film has been tentatively renamed 'Untitled 3D Shark Thriller'. At least no-one's in any danger of rocking up at Screen 3 expecting an insight into the criminal underclass in Brazil's favelas.

Ellis told "I hated the original title... so at our weekly production meetings, I made everyone on the crew come up with names — CHUMS, FINS, TERROR ON THE LAKE — but they all seemed kind of cheesy. And so until I hear a better name, I like what we’ve got right now: UNTITLED 3D SHARK THRILLER The title says everything you need to know: 'We’ve got sharks.' 'It’s in 3D.' and, 'It’s a thriller.'" Suffice it to say, this justification may well prove to be the only logical decision in the entire enterprise.

An unnamed studio executive was also canvassed for his opinion and concurred with Ellis. Interestingly, this source (presumably remaining anonymous to protect his designated studio parking space) speculates that the only other option available to producers is the "highbrow" approach, which he describes as "From the people who brought you AVATAR, comes…". That's the kind of sophisticated thinking that makes Andrei Tarkovsky look like the director of Big Momma's House.

The other benefit of this new trend, is that film critics can save themselves the time and effort involved in watching a movie before reviewing it. I imagine a number of them are already sharpening their quills in advance of Untitled 3D Shark Thriller's impending debut. As for me, I'm off to take in a double bill of my favourite nineties blockbusters - I was thinking Killer Future Robot 2: This Time He's A Good Guy, paired with Bisexual Icepick Murderess. 

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