Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lean & Mean

Here, let me publicize a question we've all asked each other at one point or another in the last couple months:

Does dropping two instances of the definite article really constitute a new title?

Oh but wait, they also turned that ungainly "and" into an ampersand. Which is much longer to type out as a word, but two characters shorter as a symbol.

Fast & Furious is, of course, a sequel/reboot/reimagining/reheating of The Fast and the Furious, which came out in 2001. In between there has been 2 Fast 2 Furious (one of my favorite titles of all time) and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.

The latest title invites some jokes, but we shouldn't be surprised. Here you are seeing brand recognition at its finest. Whether it really is a sequel or a reboot doesn't matter. The tagline is purposefully ambiguous about the answer to that question: "New Model. Original Parts." What matters is that this lean and mean new title allows you to imagine it as either. Subconsciously, it tells you that the product is back to some pure, undiluted version of itself.

You see, the third title in this series is what studios are trying to fight these days. Having a colon in your title was all the rage a couple years ago, but nowadays, it gives people a bad case of sequelitis. "Wait, so this third movie is now set in Tokyo? And there are none of the same characters? How far have we moved away from our original concept?" It's no surprise that Tokyo Drift earned only $62 million domestically, less than half of the $127 million made by its predecessor. Meanwhile, 2 Fast 2 Furious dropped only $17 million from the $144 million taken in by the original. Maybe it was that awesome title.

So with Fast & Furious, Universal is telling us, "Hey, this is the closest you're going to get to that first movie you loved." (Which wasn't really all that great, let's be honest.) Having Vin Diesel reappear for the first time certainly helps, but the title is what really drives it home. It says, "Let's get back to the basics. Only, a bit more rad."

Reboots have done this for a number of years now. Just think of last year's Rambo. Not surprisingly, it is the shortest title in the series, though Rambo III misses that by a mere three lean and mean roman numerals. (Nowadays, we would never see a movie called Rambo: First Blood Part II). Rambo basically says to you, "Forget all you think you know about John Rambo. This is the essential John Rambo, as that brief and memorable five-letter title will tell you." Sylvester Stallone seems to like that stuff. Rocky Balboa followed a similar idea, with the addition of the last name adding an authenticity that told you you were getting the real deal with this one. (Though I'm kind of shooting my point in the foot here, since the title Rocky Balboa actually has more letters than any other title in the series).

Star Trek is on board for this too. Even the original movie wasn't called Star Trek, it was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. (Talk about something you'll never seen again in a title). This Star Trek is making a conscious play for non-Trekkies, who get confused by concepts like "Wrath" and "Khan" and "The Undiscovered Country" in titles. It says, "Forget all that static, that Search for Spock, that Insurrection, that Nemesis. This is all you need to know and will ever need to know about Star Trek." We'll just have to see how they title the inevitable sequel.

The other thing the leanness and meanness of Fast & Furious does is it makes the title more vulgar, more pedestrian, more mainstream. If you think about it, the original title was highly poetic for a commercial action movie, almost literary. Or at the very least, it calls to mind other things entirely. It was very close to the title The Filth and the Fury, a 2000 documentary about the Sex Pistols. Other titles coming to mind: The Quick and the Dead, The Falcon and the Snowman (okay, that's different) and The Slow and the Dim-Witted (okay, I just made that up). Anyway, the point is, there's a certain high-brow quality, a certain intellect, to titles patterned The Blank and the Blank. The very phrasing is an embrace of abstractions. There are many things a movie about drag racing wants to be, but intellectual is not one of them.

But even if it were the exact same title, that's hardly something we should be surprised about either. Reboots go by the exact same title all the time, just as remakes do. The goal is not to make it easier to find in IMDB. They give you the year in parentheses if you want to do that. No, the goal is to put asses in the seats. And I can guarantee you Friday the 13th sold a lot more tickets with that title than it would have if it had been called Friday the 13th Part XII: Jason Joins Facebook.

The question is, will I see it? Nah. If I didn't even see 2 Fast 2 Furious, it's clear that no title is enough in itself to put my ass in that seat.


Daddy Geek Boy said...

I disagree that this is a reboot. I think a reboot is when a franchise has lost steam and after a few years, comes back in an entirely different version. Think Star Trek. F&F is a sequel.

I'm not sure why titles have lost the numbers these days. But it's the world we're living in.

One more thing to think about...the Fast & Furious franchise has done very well internationally. So even though the gross from Tokyo Drift (a pretty good movie, by the way) were softer in the US, it did really well around the country. Make no mistake about it, these movies mint money, which is why they keep making them.

Vancetastic said...

I agree that the only evidence of it being a reboot rather than a sequel is the (near) reuse of the original title. Everything else points to sequel. But I do think there is an intention to capitalize on the massively successful "reboot trend" and to kind of link this movie with that trend. Surely you can't say it's just a straightforward sequel with no other layers working.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

I've heard it being described as a true sequel to the first one, picking up the story where that one left off.

Vancetastic said...

But wasn't Paul Walker in the second one? Is it going to go the route of the Highlander series and just pretend some of the sequels didn't exist? Then again, I guess I don't really care, nor will its audience. Fast cars? Tough guys? Tough chicks? Who needs anything else?