Back in the day–and I mean back, at a time when I thought Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings was the definitive version–I perused my parents’ bookshelves frequently in search of tomes with curious titles. A particular favorite: Is He Popenjoy?, an Anthony Trollope novel that, as a child, I couldn’t fathom reading but nevertheless intrigued me as I wondered if the character was indeed, well, Popenjoy.
Years later, I realized what had struck me about the title. It’s pressing, insistent. combining an unusual name with a terse question–making you want to find the answer.
I think a lot of filmmakers today could learn from old Trollope.
All right–bad titles aren’t necessarily a modern malady. They’ve existed even before They Knew What They Wanted debuted in 1940. But I think there’s a relatively recent tendency to drop the intrigue in movie monikers and take the easy way out. Just look at the past decade’s slate of Meet the [Silly/Generic Surname Here] flicks. Danger, Will Robinson. Dreary trend ahead.
I guess it’s a positive that filmmakers have eased up on putting exclamation points in their movie titles or experimenting with the excruciatingly wacky names that were so prevalent in the 1960s and ’70s. Yet we still get stuff like Fled and We’re the Millers, where the labels are either awkward (the former) or obvious (guess) while lacking any hook. True, that may not matter when it comes to popularity–Millers is evidence of that–but when it comes to quality cinema, don’t we want a title that can grab us? Shouldn’t it give us an idea of why we’d want to see the movie it’s tied to…without telling us too much?
I don’t think a film will necessarily be lousy if it doesn’t have an interesting title. But it’s hard for me not to judge a DVD by its case. Today, as I recall my times examining volumes on my parents’ bookshelf, I wonder if Trollope would agree with me on the importance of naming movies–adaptations of his works included.
Somehow, I don’t think Meet Popenjoy would fly.