Saturday, August 21, 2010

The titles that didn't stand a chance

Two movies are coming out today that once had different titles -- either working titles, or actual titles that were being used in the original country of origin.

Neither title stood a chance. At least, not here in the U.S.

The first -- um, because I'm choosing to discuss it first -- is The Baster. Never heard of The Baster? That's because the title was switched (ha ha) to The Switch. The movie has been getting a decent amount of advertising play. And here's one Jennifer Aniston movie that might actually work. Doesn't Jason Bateman make anything he's in better? A blending of Aniston's usual audiences and Bateman's usual audiences could actually make this thing a hit.

But it could never have been with that original title.

When I first heard that Jennifer Aniston was working on a movie about artificial insemination called The Baster, I groaned. Yep, that's a baster as in a turkey baster. As in something you might jam up your coochie in order to impregnate yourself with the semen of a man (not present).

This image of Aniston and this title wouldn't have worked for a number of reasons:

1) It's just gross, in general;

2) It's gross specifically for Aniston, who is our girl next door -- lovable, sweet, and untainted by turkey basters working overtime;

3) It's sad specifically for Aniston, who has had such trouble finding a man she really likes, and might actually have to resort to the equivalent of jamming a turkey baster up her coochie if she ever wants to have a child;

4) The word "baster" itself is gross -- it shares too many letters in common with "masturbate," and it just feels kind of dirty to say.

So yeah, they were never actually going to use that title. I'm surprised they even show the part in the ad where Juliette Lewis playfully slaps Bateman's face and cheeks with the baster in question.

The second movie I'm going to discuss today is Nanny McPhee & The Big Bang. Haven't heard of Nanny McPhee & The Big Bang? That's because in the United States (and Canada), it's been neutered down to the more generic Nanny McPhee Returns.

And I have to think that has to do either with the stupidity of Americans or the prejudices of Americans.

I don't really know what the second Nanny McPhee movie is about, but I have to assume that its British title illuminates some essential part of the plot. But probably not something so essential that the words The Big Bang can't be excised from the title.

And why on earth would you need/want to do that?

Let's start with the less controversial of the two perspectives:

1) American audiences are dumb. Extra words in titles confuse us. Plus, there's a bit of a disconnect in this particular title. We know the original Nanny McPhee was about a warty and hook-nosed nanny who uses magic to shape up a brood of unruly kids, and that this probably took place sometime in the late 19th century or early 20th century. So what does that have to do with the theory of how the universe began? Either it's way too early (the big bang theory didn't come into existence as such until after World War II) or way too late (the actual big bang is supposed to have occurred "billyuns and billyuns of years ago," to quote Carl Sagan -- about 13.9 billion years ago, to be more precise).

2) American audiences are religious and prejudiced against any modes of thought that go against their religion. Given the great debates that go on this country between teaching evolution and teaching creationism, the distributors of Nanny McPhee & The Big Bang could not be blamed for realizing that their movie title contained a hot-button phrase that was likely to turn away "millyuns and millyuns" of viewers. Religious righters no sooner acknowledge the big bang theory than they acknowledge married gay people or Mexican immigrants. In fact, according to many of them, the earth is literally 6,000 years old. (Wrap your head around that for a moment.) Not wanting to shoot their potential box office in the foot, the distributors gave us the simpler and less controversial Nanny McPhee Returns.

I just recently saw the original Nanny McPhee and absolutely adored it. Early word is that this one is just as good, and that a third movie is already planned. News of the World, a British tabloid, apparently encouraged them to "roll on with Nanny McThree."

And if they can keep that clever title, I'll be really impressed.


Simon said...

I thought this Nanny McPhee movie was a prequel to the first one? How can she return?

Vancetastic said...

Well, I don't believe anything oh-so-permanent happens to her at the end of the first movie -- she's a magical being whose appearance is in the eye of the beholder. She materializes as needed.

Technically speaking, though, you're correct that she can't "return," considering that it's a new set of children she's in charge of.

Theis said...

In Denmark, where I'm from, "The Switch" has been translated to another english title - "Baby Surprise".

That's like the time "Cruel Intentions" was renamed "Sex Games" in Denmark. Not Danish for Sex Games but actually Sex Games - another english title.