And Therefore The Dialogue

Here’s a silly idea.

A site called (a listicles site that can only dream of being ran an article called “30 Movie Quotes That Mention The Title”:

The trouble is, I think they’ve got it the wrong way round in most of these examples.  They offer such gems as:

“Forget it, Jake.  It’s Chinatown.”  (From Chinatown)
“Welcome to Jurassic Park.” (From Jurassic Park)
“I’m Howard Hughes, the aviator.” (From The Aviator)
“We can’t… we can’t get in the panic room. That’s the whole point.” (From Panic Room)

The problem with all of these is that the title is clearly drawn from a concept already embedded in the movie’s plot, and therefore the dialogue.  That a film about a panic room should be titled Panic Room and also feature spoken references to the concept of a panic room is hardly noteworthy.  Similarly for a film about Chinatown mentioning and being called Chinatown; or a movie about an early pilot being heavy on the word ‘aviator’.

Some of their examples are a little better: while Minority Report is an important concept in the film, and therefore dialogue referencing it is inevitable, it does only become a clear plot point towards the end of the movie (if I remember correctly).  And while ‘Dark Knight’ is a very common epithet for Batman, the term is used only once, poetically (and frankly a little jarringly), at the very end of The Dark Knight.  It’s a central notion of the movie that the hero becomes the necessary scapegoat; the figure who bears the condemnation of society for the greater good.  But admittedly in this case (and don’t get me wrong, I can’t fault Gary Oldman as an actor) the line did seem a bit tacked on.

I could be really pedantic and point out that “E.T. phone home” doesn’t qualify as mentioning the title in dialogue, since that film was called E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial; so that line doesn’t contain the title.  If I’m forced to acknowledge that it has ‘E.T.’ in it, that was the character’s name.  Do we remark on mentions of Angel in Angel, or Castle in Castle, Sherlock in Sherlock, Taggart in Taggart, or Inspector Morse in Inspector Morse?  Of course not.  We might be a little more attentive if characters in Spartacus: Blood and Sand actually said the words, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” – because it would probably sound atrocious.

The key is that the dialogue must always sound as though it came first, and the title was taken from it.  If your script is forced to accommodate an unlikely sounding title, even if it’s a well-established title, it will grate.

How to do it:

“In the game of thrones, you win or you die.”  (From Game of Thrones*)

How really, really not to do it:

“So you’re all astronauts, on some sort of star trek?” (From Star Trek: First Contact)

[* Note for extra pedantry: yes, the TV show is called Game of Thrones, while the book is called A Game of Thrones, and it’s the first book in a series called A Song of Ice and Fire.  However, we have to accept, ASOIF fans, that the show and the books are two entirely separate entities.]

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