You may have heard about the new Spider-Man musical on Broadway. Apparently the production is suffering all sorts of problems. Aerialists are breaking wrists and feet, the budget has boiled over $65 million and a radioactive spider bites the main guy -- almost immediately! Talk about bad luck.
You want to know what I think? I think all the money lost, all the concussions suffered and all the ill-fitting spandex can be blamed on one supervillain -- the title, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."
This title is a real head-scratcher. Well, specifically the part after the colon; the part before the colon is fine. More than fine. I like it! It's very informative and helpful. Who is this musical about? Spider-Man! What kind of man is he? A spidery man! It's the after-the-colon part I can't wrap my head around. "Turn Off the Dark"? Turn off the -- what? The dark? How? How do you expect me to turn off the dark? I suppose I could do that by turning on the light. But then just tell me to turn on the light! I mean, does the title of your musical really have to be a brainteaser?
Semantics aside, I'm not altogether clear that this subtitle serves much purpose. A subtitle, as far as I, Professor Michael Showalter, Ph.D. (pending), am concerned, should introduce some important new information, or hint at what's going down. " Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" is a very successful subtitled title. Why? Because we know that in this installment, the Empire will, you guessed it, strike back! How about this: "Star Wars: Chicken and Rice"? Less successful, although certainly intriguing, and -- You know what, that's a bad example of a bad subtitle because "Star Wars: Chicken and Rice" actually sounds awesome.
My point is this: Be prepared to deliver on your subtitle. "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" better have a song up its spidey sleeve about the power bill. (And by the same token, I'd expect "Star Wars: Chicken and Rice" to include an epic battle scene between intergalactic space hens and grains of varying size and nutritive value.) But I'm doubtful there is such a song in the show. And that's just misleading marketing.
Am I saying that the producers of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" cursed themselves from the start by subtitling an otherwise flawless and in no way problematic production with a subtitle so flawed and way problematic as "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"? No, I didn't say that. Am I implying it? Mmm, perhaps. Am I also implying that I could do better subtitling? Oh, for sure.
How about "Spider-Man: The Musical"? I can't believe this great title was completely overlooked. Or what about "Spider-Man: On Broadway"? Or, if you want to get a little "out-of-the-box," as seems to be the thing these days, how about "Spider-Man: Spider Sing, Spider Dance"?
Subtitling is hard, I know. Not everyone can do it. But if you're going to try it, don't be vague or cryptic. Which would you rather rent: "Apocalypse Now" or "Apocalypse Now: Sometimes"? Um, "Apocalypse Now" is title enough, thank you.
And don't get lost in the poetry, guys. Poetry, shmoetry! "Turn Off the Dark" may seem totally mysterious and alluring, but the more I think about it, the more irritated I get -- and I really want to get irritated while reading a title. "Driving Miss Daisy" or "Driving Miss Daisy: Turn Left at Life"? Turn left at life? Is Life a crosswalk at the intersection of Existence and Humanity? If so, why? And where?
Finally, don't get too smart. Had "Big" been called "Big: What Does It Even Mean To Be An Adult?" I would've run screaming from that theater and thereby deprived myself the distinct joy of watching Tom Hanks jump on a bunk bed.
Obvious subtitles, those are fine. Encouraged even. I really would've appreciated something like "127 Hours: Be Forewarned He Saws His Arm Off" before sitting down to see that one.
(Michael Showalter is the guy behind the hit comedy film "Wet Hot American Summer," as well as "The Michael Showalter Showalter" and numerous comedy productions. You can read his blog at michaelshowalter.net, follow him on twitter.com/mshowalter, and pre-order his new book, "Mr. Funny Pants," at amzn.to/mrfunnypants.)
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