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It's all in the subtitle

The publicity machines of major movie makers are turning to longer titles for new films as well as sequels.
DAVID GERMAIN, AP   2003-07-04 03:37:33  

LOS ANGELES -- Jaws -- says it all in four letters. Ghostbusters -- one word, three syllables and we catch its drift. Spider-Man -- enough said. Short, sweet titles are the ideal of movie studios and theatre owners, something that conveys the story in a nutshell, fits handily on posters and is easy to remember at the ticket booth.

So why are so many titles today such a mouthful?

"Like ours?" said Angelina Jolie, star of the sequel Lara Croft: Tomb Raider -- The Cradle of Life.

"I don't think people will refer to it with the full name. People, probably, in talking about it, will call it Tomb Raider 2."

Though most moviegoers likely will use such shorthand designations when they buy tickets, studios are piling on the verbiage in formal titles.

Fourth of July weekend brings such punctuation-laden names as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, which arrived on the heels of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.

Coming soon are Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, which follows last year's Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.

Down the road are Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Then there's Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, not to mention the final chapter of J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

The three instalments of Lord of the Rings simply followed Tolkien's literary subtitles. Makers of other movie franchises have begun adopting secondary titles for much the same reason, to distinguish a sequel from its forerunners and give viewers a sense of where that part of the adventure is headed.

"With a subtitle, you tell a little bit more of the story, what this one is about," said Arnold Schwarz-enegger, star of the Terminator flicks, which recounts humanity's battle against a hostile computer intelligence.

"Rise of the Machines tells you this is the one where you see it all happening, the machines trying to take control."

The previous sequel, 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, followed the same logic. The marketing team on both movies, though, also pushed the abbreviations T2 and T3 as variations that fitted nicely in advertising and rolled readily off ticket-buyers' tongues.

The makers of the Charlie's Angels sequel tried out several titles, including the abridgment CA-2, said producer and co-star Drew Barrymore. With the movie's explosive motocross sequence and high-octane stunts, the filmmakers settled on the subtitle Full Throttle.

"This film has a little bit more grit and action and a little bit more of a street-fighty element," Barrymore said. "So we wanted a name that represented that."

Original movies as well as sequels can get subtitle treatment. The makers of Pirates of the Caribbean added The Curse of the Black Pearl to let audiences know there was more to it than just the Disney theme-park attraction on which it was based.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer concedes viewers might find the title cumbersome.

"That's certainly an issue, but the first part of it, Pirates of the Caribbean, will stick," Bruckheimer said. "They certainly will know where to find the movie and what to ask for."

Some sequels still forgo subtitles, including the upcoming Bad Boys II, also produced by Bruckheimer. Sequels in earlier days more often just appended a digit, making theatre marquees a toteboard for such titles as Jaws 2, Back to the Future 3, Superman III or Rocky IV.

Subtitles have been especially useful as movie series pile up half a dozen or more sequels. Mention Star Trek III or Friday the 13th Part VIII and all but die-hard fans might pause and ask, which one was that?

Throw in the subtitles (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock or Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan) and more viewers recall the story line.

After its initial release as Star Wars, creator George Lucas retitled the first movie to Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope, with the two sequels formally called Star Wars: Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Episode VI -- Return of the Jedi.

The first movie remains universally known as Star Wars, while the two sequels are referred to by their subtitles. The full names have caught on with Lucas' current trilogy of prequels, whose first two instalments were Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones.

Such windy names can add a sense of literary pretension to Hollywood tales, not necessarily a bad thing for today's more sophisticated audience, which expects something fresh in a sequel beyond a numbered rehash of the original.

"I think the addition of a second title in a way elevates the form. If you get to Porky's 7, that just sounds awful," said Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, director of Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.

"If what you're doing with a sequel is serial storytelling, each part of the story gets a new subtitle, just like any other form of serial storytelling, like a Dickens novel that comes in instalments, or a comic book."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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