THE POPCORN REEL EDITOR'S DESK - a
weekly word about the movies
THE CASE OF SEQUEL SUBTITLE-ITIS
Monday, June 19, 2006
Every year sequels pop up -- it is a given that whenever a certain film arrives, a sequel is sure to follow, particularly at this time of year. What is more interesting is a relatively trivial observation: the amount of sequel film titles with a colon to separate their subtitles.
Gone, or nearly gone are the days of "Spider-Man 2", "Lethal Weapon 3" and "Rocky 4". These days one is more, or at least just as likely to encounter sequel films that have a lot more to say: "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift", or "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties", or "X-Men: The Last Stand". In these three cases the number of the sequel is not even mentioned. Goodness knows why these subtitles are part of the film's title. After all, rare is it the person who blurts out the entire title of a film when buying tickets for it at the box office.
Furthermore, the subtitles can be deceptive. In the case of "X-Men: The Last Stand", which has made nearly $220 million to date and is currently the highest-grossing film of 2006, we find out that this is anything but the last stand. Even before the big money rolled in for Brett Ratner's film, events in the film signaled that the comic-book mutants-turned-big-screen heroes would be at it again. Rule: if you intend a film to be the last in a series, then that intention should remain, box-office gross notwithstanding. Another film that failed to adhere to this rule was "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade". Recently it was announced that Harrison Ford is in the process of getting a fourth Indiana Jones adventure moving to the big screen, with Steven Spielberg to direct once again.
So where subtitles are concerned, what is wrong with just saying "Garfield 2" or "X-Men 3"? At least these films renamed in that form, would fit comfortably on most manual marquees. In this vein, "Mission: Impossible III" seemed marquee conscious. The film's title was abbreviated to "M:i:III". A nice, tidy title, which all who follow that series of action films know, has made an indent on the worldwide box office.
Then there are upcoming film sequels that might share the same title as their originals. For example, this November the sixth edition of "Rocky", the Oscar-winning 1976 film about the boxer played by Sylvester Stallone, is entitled "Rocky Balboa". And how different for example, is "Batman Begins" (2005) from the original film "Batman" (1989)? Both films begin a series of Batman films, don't they? What about "Superman Returns", which opens on Wednesday? How does that title differ from "Superman II"? After all, "Superman II" the second film in the series, and directed by Richard Lester, implies that the Man of Steel will be back, doesn't it?
Perhaps the biggest offender of the subtitle morass are the Star Wars prequel series. While the first three offerings "Star Wars", "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" seemed like good titles for a trilogy of films, "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace", "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" and "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" seem far too long. Maybe I've spent a little too much time studying this, but again, isn't just easier to rename these prequel films Star Wars Episode I, II and so on? It makes things clearer and simpler.
Colon or no colon, subtitle or no title, the "Star Wars" prequels released in 1999, 2002 and 2005 respectively had one thing in common: they made mountains of money worldwide. George Lucas had a windfall. Interestingly enough, the box set of DVDs re-titles the first three Star Wars films -- or at least the first one, which is entitled "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope."
There are other sequels this year that have relied on conventional wisdom, such as "Basic Instinct 2", which flopped mightily worldwide, and next month's "Clerks II", a comedy directed by Kevin Smith. For every conventional wisdom maker however, there are films like last year's "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous", or the upcoming July 7 release "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
Sequels and titles can make all the difference or none at all. One thing however, remains true: it is the money, not the colon or the long subtitle that follows the title, that dictates whether audiences around the world will see more of the same-named titles or subtitles for future films.
In about a year from now, we shall see.
Omar P.L. Moore
The Popcorn Reel