Saturday, July 30, 2011
Straight to the point
I thought up the idea for Cowboys & Aliens about ten years before producer Steven Spielberg, director Jon Favreau or the seven credited writers ever did.
(You don't have to mention this to them. I'm not planning to sue or anything.)
Except in my version of the story, the aliens were attacking during Revolutionary War times. There was something about the image of early Americans frantically reloading muskets while aliens wiped them out that appealed to me. Of course, the Americans would have to win in the end, but in the meantime, there would be a lot of powdered wigs blown off of a lot of heads.
Of course, their idea is better. By using cowboys, not only do you have better weapons that are easier to load, but you've also got an actual established genre: the western. Besides, Cowboys & Aliens is a much catchier title than Minutemen & Aliens.
"Catchy" may not be the word for Cowboys & Aliens as a title, actually. "Straight to the point" might be a better way to describe it.
That's right, the title of today's big release is all concept and no poetry. This is not necessarily a bad thing -- it's just funny. It tells you exactly the idea behind the movie without any pesky metaphors or abstractions to get in the way. "If cowboys and aliens occupied the same territory in the space-time continuum, this movie is what you would get." Almost like the title was a placeholder until they came up with the real title, and they just ended up keeping it. If all movies followed this bare bones title philosophy, a movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be called Memory Erasers. And many of us wouldn't have gone and seen it.
But it really works here, I think. It gives the movie a bit of a kitschy, B-movie feel, one that helps rather than hurts its cause. It tells me about what to expect from Cowboys & Aliens -- a fun summer ride that isn't going to be too deep. But not in a bad way.
So it got me thinking of other titles that leave no room for nuance, that get straight to the point of what the movie is about. Now, in a way, that's the primary goal of any title -- you want something memorable that will give the viewer a good idea what they have in store. And so a lot of movies do this in some way or another. But not that many of them do it in such funny, obvious ways as Cowboys & Aliens. Sure, the title Nixon is straight to the point -- you're seeing a movie about Richard Nixon. It works a lot better than Not a Crook or Corruption or Impeached or any other title they could have come with for a movie about Richard Nixon. But it's not funny, and that's the big difference.
So, I've come up with a list of titles that do strike me as funny in some way, because they totally eschew any sense of subtlety in communicating what the movie is about. Ten seems like a nice round number, don't you think?
10. Hot Tub Time Machine. "This movie involves a hot tub that functions as a time machine." Yep.
9. Four Weddings and a Funeral. And all the action will take place within the course of these five events.
8. Three Men and a Baby. "There are three men taking care of a baby, and shenanigans ensue."
7. Walking and Talking. I almost didn't include this one because it's actually sort of abstract -- you don't necessarily know what it's about just from the title. However, once you've seen the movie, you realize it distills the essence of an independent movie: people walking around and having conversations.
6. Monsters vs. Aliens. I sort of think of this as the template Cowboys & Aliens used.
5. Zombie Strippers. "Strippers become zombies, and shenanigans ensue."
4. Love & Basketball. "This movie is going to have some love, and it's going to have some basketball. If you like those two things, you should see it."
3. Hobo With a Shotgun. "A homeless guy has a shotgun, and shenanigans ensue."
2. 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. What more do you need to know? I guess how they got there might be of interest.
And of course, #1 ...
1. Snakes on a Plane. Yep.
Would love to hear any you might like to add ...