Thursday, May 6, 2010

Improper terminology

The big news in geekdom this past weekend was that a release date was announced for Christopher Nolan's third Batman movie: July 20, 2012. Stay tuned to your local entertainment blog for the eventual reveal of the title.

I didn't take issue with the release of the news, but I did take issue with how it was reported.

Namely, in certain outlets, I saw the story reported with variations on the following headline:

'Dark Knight' Sequel Gets Official Release Date

I know the general public has a short memory span, but come on, this is ridiculous.

It's as though an excellent little movie by the name of Batman Begins never existed. (An excellent little movie that I happen to think is more excellent than The Dark Knight.)

Sure, The Dark Knight did capture the zeitgeist in a way few other films have, in a way that far outpaced Batman Begins. It was the second-highest grossing movie of all time in the U.S. until Avatar came along and pushed both it and Titanic down a notch. And Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker struck viewers in a way they hadn't been struck before -- the fact that he died only gave the performance extra weight.

But none of these reasons make it right to go switching up the terminology.

The only really meaningful definition of the word "sequel" is "the second movie in a series." That's a little narrow; a sequel can actually refer to any of the subsequent movies after the first. But each sequel is defined by its relationship to the first movie, not to any of the others. And if you say just "the sequel to such-and-such," without any other modifier, you're talking about the second movie, not the third or any other. It has to do with the definite article "the" vs. the indefinite article "a."

But you wouldn't say Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is either "a" sequel to Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood, or "the" sequel to Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood, now would you? No. Both of those movies are sequels to the original Friday the 13th, God help them.

It's the same with Batman 3. Which will not be called Batman 3, I'm sure, but will certainly struggle to find something as distinctive as The Dark Knight, while still reminding viewers it's a Batman movie.

And I don't really think it was just a semantic error, calling Batman 3 the sequel to The Dark Knight. A headline writer's only job is to be clear and succinct, and perhaps a little funny if the situation calls for it. (Or, if you're The New York Post, to string together as many rhyming single-syllable abbreviations for common words -- abbreviations that no one uses -- as possible, while still making some modicum of sense.) A headline writer knows exactly what is commonly denoted by the word "sequel" -- he or she just chooses to ignore it if pandering to his/her audience.

But is it actually pandering to call the next movie the sequel to The Dark Knight? You could argue it both ways. It's true that significantly more people saw The Dark Knight than Batman Begins, even if it would seem like a logical prerequisite to see the first film first. So maybe the headline is just trying to appeal to as many people as possible. Besides, perhaps calling it "Third Batman Movie" instead of "Dark Knight Sequel" would just make people think of a crappy movie by the name of Batman Forever, which was Joel Schumacher's first Batman movie, the third in the original reboot of Batman movies. "Dark Knight Sequel" drives home the idea that we're still on this particular series of reboots, and haven't somehow slipped back into the age of Schumacher's Batman, with his nippled breastplates and bulging codpieces.

Sometimes, stuff like this is just fun to talk about -- no more, no less.

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