Wednesday, July 6, 2011

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Coming soon to a theater near you, Chris Evans as that Marvel super hero fighting off the Nazis during World War II and it’s called THE FIRST AVENGER!
CAPTAIN AMERICA (aka THE FIRST AVENGER)

THE FIRST AVENGER? Wait a minute, isn't it called CAPTAIN AMERICA? Yes, it opens here in America on July 22nd with that title, but not elsewhere. In fact,  it's getting a name change overseas in at least three countries. Why? Distributors Paramount Pictures and Marvel chose to cater to the political sensitivities in Russia, the Ukraine and South Korea where the true American moniker might be seen as too jingoistic. Thus the film will be released under the title THE FIRST AVENGER in those countries. The studios have stated that they are open to further alterations if need be. How far will they go? One can imagine that the Iran receipts would be bigger if the title of the movie there was changed to CAPTAIN INFIDEL, but that would be just plain wrong I think.
BOOGIE NIGHTS (aka HIS GREAT DEVICE MAKES HIM FAMOUS)

Movie titles are a tricky thing. They have to fit the material obviously, but they also have to be compelling and sound attractive to audiences; many audiences throughout the world. And in foreign countries, some American movie titles just don’t translate, so they are changed to ones that are easier for a non-American audience to understand. BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997) was a film about the 70’s pornography industry and had a disco song from that time period as its title. That tune probably didn’t mean much in China, so the movie title was changed for its distribution there. Whether or not HIS GREAT DEVICE MAKES HIM FAMOUS is a better title can be debated, but it certainly was a more accurate assessment of what the subject of the movie was for the Chinese moviegoer. Ahem!

The list of films released in foreign countries with bizarre and hilarious name changes is legendary. Among some of the more uproarious ones from recent decades:

THE FULL MONTY became SIX NAKED PIGS (China); DODGEBALL became FULL OF THE NUTS (Germany); THE HORSE WHISPERER became HELD BY WIND IN MONTANA (Japan); THE MATRIX became THE YOUNG PEOPLE WHO TRAVERSE DIMENSIONS WHILE WEARING SUNGLASSES (France); and LOST IN TRANSLATION became MEETINGS AND FAILURES IN MEETINGS (Portugal).

Talk about lost in translation.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (aka IF YOU LEAVE ME, I DELETE YOU)

Usually for foreign markets the easiest thing to do is come up with a title that blatantly tells what the movie is about, albeit without any imagination or subtlety. Thus SUPERBAD became SUPER HORNY in Israel; ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND turned into IF YOU LEAVE ME, I DELETE YOU in Italy; BAD SANTA was translated into SANTA IS A PERVERT in Czechoslovakia; and GREASE was changed to the much less sexy VASELINE in Portugal. Somehow you can’t imagine the Brothers Gibb penning a hit tune about Vaseline being the word. Or maybe you can.

Movie titles in America are tricky to get right just as much. Sometimes a title that is too oblique or mystifying confuses an audience. The British political thriller THE GHOST (2010) starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan was changed to THE GHOST WRITER in America for worries that the audience would perceive it as a supernatural thriller. Some suggested that the latest James Bond movie in 2008 was marred by its odd titled QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Still, other titles may be appropriate but still confuse the average audience about what the movie is about. Examples like GLEAMING THE CUBE (1989), TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR (1995) or THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994) readily spring to mind. A film title may be spot on but if it's still obtuse chances are the film will bomb. And those did.
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (aka RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION)
Recent AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Morgan Freeman is still irate about the botching of the title of what many consider to be his greatest film THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994). Here is what he said:

It took a long time for word of mouth to kick in because no one could say it. It was 'The Shimshunk Reduction', 'The Hudsucker Redemption'; I mean people just couldn't say it, which really made me angry because I knew that at the time! The movie we made was called 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption'. Isn't that a great title? But they were like, 'That won't fit on the marquee.' So it took a year or two for people to say it. Some people still can't say it." 

I think an even better title for that classic would have been RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK PRISON. Isn’t that intriguing while still letting the audience know what the film’s setting is? And doesn’t the word redemption in the title give away the ending anyway?

I’m always amazed at some of the drawn-out titles that actually make it onto a marquee. In the sixties and throughout the seventies it was common to have endless, crazy titles as that time period was all about breaking the rules and thumbing one’s nose at convention. Thus, we were treated to marvelously bloated and long-winded ones like: DR. STRANGELOVE OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964); THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, OR HOW I FLEW FROM LONDON TO PARIS IN 25 HOURS, 11 MINUTES (1965); and WHO IS HARRY KELLERMAN AND WHY IS HE SAYING THOSE TERRIBLE THINGS ABOUT ME? (1971). Even a popular comedy like IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963) contained four uses of its titular adjective when three would have probably sufficed. Madness indeed.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING

Today, in our attention deficit disorder/MTV quick-cut/Michael Bay “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” world, a movie title that dares to be verbose is likely inviting problems. Did MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD bomb in 2003 because of its lengthy title? Well, it didn’t make much money even after it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, so perhaps it was an inhibitor. Still, the winner that year was a movie entitled THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING but perhaps its built-in audience helped moviegoers overcome that mouthful.

So what are some of the most ridiculous or prolonged or badly translated or unbelievably dunderheaded titles you’ve come across? Let’s keep the conversation going here, followers. Please share your nominees for The Most Astonishing Movie Title Ever

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4 comments:

  1. A couple thoughts come to mind after this very funny post.

    1. I’ve never looked it up until now, but it’s incredible how many hysterical and bizarre foreign translations there are of American movie titles! Too many to choose from. The craziness abounds in this arena. In fact, there are so many, I don’t think I could pick the wackiest one. However, I do have to give the Germans credit for what I almost think is a better title than ANNIE HALL. They dubbed it URBAN NEUROTIC. And, as a big Woody fan, I’m laughing to think how many of his other films could have carried that translation.

    2. Your mention of IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD caused me to look up the origin of that famous title, which probably was so long because half of Hollywood somehow made it into that film! The title’s origin sprang from SOMETHING A LITTLE LESS SERIOUS, then morphed into ONE DAMN THING AFTER ANOTHER, before arriving at IT'S A MAD WORLD. The writer and producer/director didn’t stop there though, adding “Mads” until it got to four, after a fifth was thought to be redundant.

    I cannot wait to learn the future foreign translation of Woody’s next film in 2012, THE BOP DECAMERON. Bop?

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  2. Probably NEUROTIC BOP, Fan With No Name. And thanks for contributing once again.

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  3. Oddly, no one changed "Free Willy" for its UK release.

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  4. So droll, so smart, a hilarious comment, Michael. Thanks!

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