Written by Frank Cotolo
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Topics: Hollywood, Jaws

Saturday, 29 May 2004

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Jaws was a short movie title. So was Suspicion and, of course, the shortest was M. Things have changed. Today movie titles are anything but succinct.

How about these: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life. Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.

No one seems to know why movie titles are becoming so long. Cicero Blankhead, a man who has studied titles of books, movies, pamphlets and breakfast foods, said it has something to do with the public consciousness. "People tend to be episodic-minded," he told me at a lunch we had in a café near Paris where he was attending meetings to change the name of the Eiffel Tower. "With a subtitle a piece can tell a little bit more of what this one is about. It really is nothing new, because many classic books originally had long titles. But publishers back then were concerned that people would shorten the titles, anyway."

Blankhead gave a few examples while spilling a glass of wine. He told me that Robert Louis Stevenson's book, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde was originally submitted to the publisher as The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde: To The Depths Of The Good And Evil In Us All. Dissatisfied with that title, the publishers cut it down to simply Dr. Jekyll. Stevenson had a fit and the compromise was to call it The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.

More radical, Blankhead said, combing his hair, was the novel Ivanhoe. "It was, of course, the main character's name," he said, "but the title of the manuscript was Big Brave Knight: The Adventures, The Danger, The Skullduggery Of Ancient Times When Men Wore Armor. It is a matter of insecurity on the part of the author and that hasn't changed. Today, screenwriters, who rarely write movie scripts alone anymore, want to be sure that the title is sometimes better than the dialogue, just in case anyone figures out the movie sucks."

Verbosity was born, Blankhead said, in Great Britain and still resides there. "No one uses titles for things more than the British," he said. "They name every street and mew, every neighborhood and sometimes even give their breakfast toast names. So, when they write a piece of literature, it is a stream of words within words. The titles, obviously, must be long, too."

Blankhead said that even Ian Fleming's publisher had trouble with the original James Bond titles. "Fleming knew that short, powerful titles would be best, but he went through many drafts to find the right one. Goldfinger, for instance, went through a hundred different titles before he arrived at the one-name title. He started with All That Is Gold Cannot Stay: The Nefarious Man Named Goldfinger. He changed that to Deadly Finger Of Gold: Death's Color and later renamed the book Mr. Goldfinger's Big Job: Operation Grand Slam and some others. Don't even ask me to give you some draft titles for Thunderball."

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