A story by any other name

Posted: April 28, 2014 in watching, writing
Tags: , , , , ,

Peter Jackson has changed the title of the third Hobbit film from There and Back Again to The Battle of the Five Armies. So what, many might say. After all, isn’t this just marketing?

No. The title of a story matters. It sets the tone. It prepares your expectations. It says something about what you’re about to see. It’s a part of how you tell the story.

'I was blond and clean shaven when I started watching this film.'

‘I was blond and clean shaven when I started watching this film.’

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a story about the military, about cold war style spy shenanigans, about people frozen in time. The name sets the tone perfectly.

The Book With No Name is a story about wise-cracking criminals and chancers, with a supernatural element thrown in. The attempt of the title to evoke something mysterious mis-sells the book, sets false expectations and generally doesn’t work.

Jackson knows what he’s doing. You might not agree with his approach to the Hobbit movies, but there’s no doubting that he’s a very capable film-maker. The change of name shows a shift in focus to epic warfare, away from the whimsy that lay at the heart of the original book. Sure, the battle was part of that story, but it was the culmination of a journey towards grandeur, not the focus of the story.

Jackson’s gone big with these films, and he’s clearly setting out his stall in re-naming the film. Personally, I think that turning the Hobbit into a multi-film epic in the style of The Lord of the Rings is a mistake, but given what he’s doing the re-naming is clearly the right choice.

Anybody got any good examples of stories with perfect names, or terribly misleading ones? I’m sure there are better examples out there than the first two that popped into my head.

  1. Michelle Mueller says:

    The Golem and the Jinni comes first to mind since that’s the novel I’ve read most recently. It’s a perfect title. It establishes who the main characters are and that the novel itself is character-focused. (It was also an excellent novel.)

    I can’t really think of misleading titles off the top of my head.

  2. John Moley says:

    I know this is something of a tangential point, but regarding the multi-film epic-ness of The Hobbit Trilogy: I have to admit that I also had reservations when I heard about the direction this project was taking, but I think it was a knee-jerk reaction on my part born out of seeing too many film franchises spun from insufficient material. However, what was the commonly heard criticism of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Too much of the books never made it to the screen… even in the 726-minute extended blu-ray edition! It’s worth remembering that The Hobbit films also incorporate material from The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Heck, I grumble about the trimmed-down version of A Song of Ice and Fire that makes it onto TV, and they get more than 45 seconds per page! It took me a while to realise it (and a nudge from the folks at Spiral Groove – link below), but I’m glad we’re getting another Middle-Earth trilogy. And I hope it isn’t the last. 🙂

    • I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone criticise the LotR films for not getting enough on screen. I’m not saying people haven’t offered that criticism – I’m sure some have – but I know plenty of people who were happy with LotR at the length it is, myself included. And while I recognise that this is Jackson taking the opportunity to put as much on screen as possible of the Middle Earth he loves, I still think the tone and length don’t do the story of The Hobbit justice, or make a well paced story. I think this largely comes down to our different views on adaptations – who’d have thought that Bilbo Baggins would be the new Wolverine?

      • For me, the Hobbit movies’ issues aren’t about the new scenes or the stories themselves, it’s just that each scene seems unnecessarily extended, like you could quicken the pacing a bit, or chop 30 seconds off some of the expository scenes and full minutes from the fights and make it a much tighter movie. By the end of the barrel ride in the second movie, I almost felt like it was becoming a parody of itself.

        • Same here. It wasn’t about the purity of the core story – I don’t think that’s what a good adaptation is about – it’s about the fact that I was somehow bored during an epic battle scene.

  3. petrosjordan says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Gabriel Garcia Marquez lately since his passing, and I think that 100 Years of Solitude is a title which perfectly evokes the eerie, melancholy mood which permeates that novel.

  4. Jim Butcher’s Changes. Doesn’t lie.

  5. Sue Archer says:

    Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Perfect title for a beautiful work.

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