It takes The New York Times exactly 700 words today to admit their trend piece on the length of movie titles may very well be another entry into the canon of article-length specious claims. The crux of the article is that “with studios churning out more sequels than ever, and eager to link their new releases to existing brands or signal a franchise in the making, titles have grown exponentially.” But there’s not a supporting figure in sight — just a mess of selective evidence: from Twister, Speed and Armageddon to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It’s not that it’s necessarily incorrect, it’s that it never proves it’s right. And then it sort of admits it’s wrong.
In what’s known in journalism as the “To be sure …” paragraph, when making an argument, it’s common to note some exceptions to the side you’re offering. Observe:
And filmmakers over the decades have used elaborate titles to convey humor. The short “I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney” marked Ben Affleck’s directing debut in 1993. “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” arrived in 2006. And, of course, there was Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” all the way back in 1964, and, three years later, the somewhat less timeless “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad.”
Then we’re offered the upcoming releases Salt and Inception as counterpoints. In other words, long titles are not the rule nor are they new, unless, of course, doing it to humorous effect negates title length, which it doesn’t. “But never before have these book-length compound titles been so ubiquitous, and so frequently impenetrable,” we’re told. And we’re just supposed to believe it, because, like: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (To be sure, truly absurd. Maybe the real story here was just about excessive colon use, only touched on in the piece.)
But for example: How about an average word-length for the top-grossing movies year by year? Or a rundown of title length on the AFI 100 list? (A quick glance shows there are only two colons.) A simple Google search turned up the longest titles of all time, and not surprisingly, some are old!
Hopefully all of the Times researchers are devoted to something more substantial, but throw us a figure or two. And if they’re not on your side, perhaps the piece doesn’t need to exist at all?