Monday, October 12, 2009

The title that changed

There's a movie coming out this fall called Pirate Radio. It seems to be the latest in a long line of films more or less made possible by The Full Monty, where plucky Brits pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to fight the establishment in unorthodox ways. It's directed by Love Actually's Richard Curtis.

Haven't heard of it? Maybe that's because it was advertised earlier this year as The Boat That Rocked.

In fact, as you can see on the right, a Boat That Rocked poster was the only poster I could actually find on the internet when I used the search terms "pirate radio movie poster." And that wasn't the only "oops" about this movie -- as you can see if you read the fine print, it was also originally scheduled for release in May of this year. And I know this poster isn't just showing the British release date, because it came out at the beginning of April in England.

It's not unusual for a title to change from one country to another, and not just when the languages are different. But it is a little unusual when you see the same trailer for the same movie with two different titles. When I saw the trailer at the theater today, I thought, "Oh, here's that Boat That Rocked trailer again." So I was a little surprised to see the new title pop up at the end. (Okay, I wasn't really all that surprised, since I had already seen the re-branded trailer a couple weeks ago. But I was reminded of it again today, hence this post).

It seems to me like a clear case of dumbing down. I very recently discussed the phenomenon of making foreign titles less complicated for Americans, but it appears that this applies to not-so-foreign titles as well, as long as they are even remotely grammatically unconventional. The Boat That Rocked isn't my favorite title in the world, but it does have a certain cleverness to it. After all, here you have a movie about a bunch of DJs who took their act out to sea to fight the prevailing radio censorship laws in England of the late 1960-early 1970s. (In fact, I believe it may be based on a true story). So the boat literally rocked, but it's also a play on the familiar proverb "Don't rock the boat." Titles that work on multiple levels work for me.

When you come right down to it, Pirate Radio does the same thing. Pirates are traditionally people who ride the seas, but "pirate radio" also refers to stolen, anti-authoritarian radio in the general sense, removed from a nautical context.

So why don't I like it as much?

I guess it's just the dumbing down I resent, the attempt to make it a sort of "rad" title. Clearly, they're trying to appeal to the same young viewers who were taken in by the ideology of a film like Pump Up the Volume. I was 16 years old when Pump Up the Volume came out in the summer of 1990, and I count myself as one of those people. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. But it does reduce some of the sophistication level I rely on from my British films. The Boat That Rocked seems a lot less crass than Pirate Radio.

However they name it, though, I'm not all that interested. One of the highlights of the trailer is supposed to be when a line of rebellious DJs are strutting down the street, and one of them runs into a lamppost. In fact, the audience I watched with today tittered at that point, right on cue. But it's a pretty lame and lazy kind of humor, if you ask me. I mean, how could you not see a giant post like that right in front of you?


Daddy Geek Boy said...

I think Pirate Radio is a much better title. IMHO.

Vancetastic said...

There's no doubt that it's snappier. However, it is also much more American. I like my British films to be more British. I'm surprise they didn't rename Love Actually as Love 'N Shit, Yo!