Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Film titles: X of the Y

X of the Y film titles

I watch a lot of films.  Not vast numbers, and I'm not a film expert, or a film critic (despite writing articles full of criticisms of films - that's another story), but I've noticed an interesting or peculiar trend in the names of some films.

Return of the Jedi
Revenge of the Fallen
Revenge of the Sith
Dark of the Moon
Planet of the Apes
The Night of the Hunter (I haven't seen it, but apparently it's a thriller)
Pirates of the Caribbean

Even, historically, "Night of the Living Dead".  I haven't seen it - nor do I want to - but it's included in this rather strange list of films which has the title form "X of the Y".  I started thinking of the films I've seen, and then, in addition I've had a glance through various lists of top 100s or top 500s, to see if I could find many more.  Funnily enough, most of them are science fiction - the majority of "normal" films (as various people would call them) have "normal" titles.  So, my question is:  Why do they have the title format "X of the Y" and not "The Y's X".   Why not have, "The Apes' Planet" and "The Caribbean Pirates" or "The Sith's Revenge"?  I suppose there are various reasons, and I'm considering the following.  It could be:

*  a bad case of apostrophobia (people not knowing where to put the apostrophe), 
*  creation of uncertainty in the title (is there one Y, or more than one?)
*  a literal translation from a foreign language, 

Is it a bad case of apostrophobia?  No, it's not a real word, but it appears to me that an increasing number of people don't know how to use an apostrophe, and so they leave it out completely, or, in the case of film title writers, they rewrite their prose to avoid the need for one.  How do you punctuate the straight version of "Revenge of the Fallen"?  Is it "The Fallen's Revenge" or "The Fallens' Revenge" or do you go for "The Fallen Revenge" and completely lose the 's' and the apostrophe?  In each case, the meaning is slightly different - it's also explicit in each title that there is either one Fallen, or more than one, or in the last case that the Fallen has moved from being a noun (stating what it is) to an adjective (describing the type of revenge).  In this case it's also a little clumsy.  As far as the film goes, the accurate title would be first one (there's only one Fallen), and the second one looks clumsy.

The Star Wars films benefit from having Jedi and Sith which are single and plural terms - one Jedi, many Jedi, one Sith, many Sith -  so there's still a degree of uncertainty in how many Jedi and Sith are involved when you move to the straight form:  "The Jedi's Return", "The Sith's Revenge" and in fact "The Jedis' Return" would be incorrect.  However, "The Night of the Living Dead" is another where the Y is a plural term (I am assuming there's more than one of them, having successfully dodged the film so far), but "The Living Dead's Night" sounds equally menacing to me.

So perhaps it really is a case of developing uncertainty in the title, rather than explicitly stating that there's one or more of the Ys, which is my second suggestion.  The Revenge of the Sith - we really don't know how many there are - is it one, two, six or ten?  The Revenge of the Fallen has this benefit - as mentioned above, is it one character called the Fallen, or is there a group of fallen characters (which would be more likely)?

"The Dark of the Moon" is a good example of this: the straight version would be "The Moon's Dark" which sounds like the obvious statement that the Moon is dark.  The form used in the film title makes it clear that it's the Dark belonging to the Moon; this film title is unusual because dark isn't usually a noun, but an adjective - more mystery and uncertainty, which works well for the film.  

The other option - a literal translation from a foreign language - is unlikely, since most films aren't taken from e.g. French storylines, although it does fit.  For example, "le jardin des enfants" translates literally as The Garden of the Children, but would be written as the Children's Garden (another plural).  Or how about "La maison de l'homme grand" which is The House of the Large Man...  okay, it's a poor example, but it also shows the power of the plural group - compare that to the House of the Large Men.  No?  Perhaps not.

So, it seems we're going to be stuck with X of the Y - especially, as my list shows, in the science fiction genre, where the deliberate ambiguity that's created by the long form outweighs the simplicity of the Y's X form.  An extension of this is to sequels, where you could have Z of the X of the Y, for example, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is worth double points.  

Are there any others?  Are there any more Z of the X of the Y in particular?

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