A debate that’s gradually been unfolding over the past few years in the film-criticism section of YouTube is the value of CinemaSins. a YouTube channel best known for their “Everything Wrong With _____” videos in which they go frame by frame through movies, nitpicking everything from continuity errors to acting/directorial decisions and everything in between. The director of Kong: Skull Island, Jordan Vogt-Roberts responded to their “Everything wrong with Kong: Skull Island” on Twitter, calling the channel “infuriating” and “terrible.” Since JVR’s Twitter thread, more and more video essays have popped up on YouTube to scrutinize CinemaSins’ manner of criticism.
One thing they deem to be a movie “sin” is the fact that movies will often have a line of dialogue in which they’ll say the title of the movie. Whenever a movie does this, the CinemaSins Narrator will exclaim “Roll Credits,” as though the title of the film can only be mentioned in the absolute last line of dialogue. So here’s the point I mean to make. Usually, when you watch a film, you know the title of it. So, with that in mind, when they say the title of the movie in the movie, there’s a buzzword that goes off in your mind. It clues you in. You say, “Oh, they’re saying the title of the movie. This must be important.” So, below, I’ve compiled a couple of moments that I think really show the effectiveness of the script name-dropping the title of the movie.
No movie quite made me realize just how useful saying the name of a movie can be than Get Out. Ostensibly, Get Out was the inspiration for this post. (This section has minor spoilers for Get Out.) In an interview with Stephen Colbert, writer and director Jordan Peele explained that he got the title of the movie from a bit from comedian Eddie Murphy. The bit pokes fun at how white people in horror movies ignore the warnings of poltergeists and haunted houses. Eddie Murphy explains that if he hears a haunted house eeriely whisper “get out,” that’s exactly what he’ll do.
The words “Get out” seem rather obvious in the context of a horror movie title. But when they’re said in the context of the movie? Forget it. It’s amazing.
Before this point – ignoring the opening scene – everything in Get Out seems just a little askew, but not quite outright horror. It’s just a little spooky. But when this slightly-askew person suddenly lapses into this behavior, it’s a bit of a tipping point. Before, things just seemed a little bit wrong, but this was an outright warning to the protagonist. It’s the first really scary moment in a movie that, up to that point, has just been building the proper atmosphere.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
SPOILERS Most of the content on this blog since mid-November has been Star Wars-related, so I hope that my readers will allow me one last indulgence.
My favorite part of the most recent Star Wars movie was the confrontation between Luke and Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren says confidently, “When I kill you, I will have killed the last Jedi!” Technically, that is the first time “Last Jedi” is used in the movie, but Luke’s response is, in my opinion, the best line of the movie.
“Amazing, every word of what you just said was wrong. The Rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the Last Jedi.”
It’s a powerful moment. The dialogue is played over footage of our heroes Leia, Poe, and Finn escaping, and Rey using her force powers. And Luke’s quote doesn’t just establish Rey as the hero of this film, and the future of the franchise – it sets up the little epilogue scene at the end of the film. Luke will not be the last Jedi, because anyone can use the Force, like the little kid who uses the force to summon his broom. This quote promises that the series will move beyond the Skywalker line. And also, it’s just really awesome. Like how Luke brushes off his shoulder? Forget it.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
(I almost included Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 because of the scene in which Hermione tells the story of the Deathly Hallows. It’s impressive because it’s a big moment that obviously has an impact on Part 1, but will also impact Part 2.)
And that’s neat and all, but what Harry Potter and the (title object) has the greatest impact on the plot of the individual book/film? Goblet of Fire? Pfft, the Goblet is barely in that movie. Prisoner of Azkaban? Forget it, they never refer to Sirius by that title. The Chamber of Secrets? All right, that’s getting warmer. The Half-Blood Prince? Yeah, that’s where it is.
The biggest moment of Half-Blood Prince is, far and away, MAJOR SPOILERS when Snape kills Dumbledore. Then, when a very upset Harry chases down Snape to try to fight him, he tries a spell he learned from the Half-Blood Prince.
And all right fine, the first time the Half-Blood Prince is mentioned is fairly early in the movie/book, when Harry first receives the textbook that used to belong to the Half-Blood Prince, but still – the biggest moment in relation to the Prince is when his identity is revealed.
When Harry chases after Snape, using the Prince’s “Sectumsempra” spell, Snape turns around and reveals that he is the Half-Blood Prince and created that spell.
Okay, but what’s the significance of this moment? Well, the Prince has been responsible for several of Harry’s most significant victories over the year – thanks to the Prince, Harry won a competition in his potions class, defeated Malfoy in a duel, and saved Ron’s life. To reveal at the end of the story that Snape – the man who killed Harry’s main father figure – is the Half-Blood Prince and ultimately the main villain of the whole film/book adds an ominous element to the early sections of the story. What might have been a helpful, albeit mysterious figure has now become his worst enemy.
One of the most memorable things about The Prestige is Michael Caine’s opening and closing monologue.
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”
If you’ve seen The Prestige, you know that there’s only so much I can say about it without giving away the twist(s). But this opening monologue foreshadows the rest of the movie, introduces the theme of making things disappear and bringing them back, and also explains the anatomy of a magic trick to all the non-magicians who might be watching the movie. But none of these things stick in the audience’s mind half as much if Michael Caine did not say the words “the Prestige.”
Game of Thrones
Okay, so this is kind of the exception among the titles I’ve selected. The rest of the selections for this post are movies, and this is a television show. If you’re familiar with the show (or better yet, the books,) you probably know the quote I’m going to highlight. Spoilers for Season 1.
During the first season, Ned Stark finds out that the king’s son is not his legitimate child. He tries to warn the child’s mother, Queen Cersei, that he is going to alert the King to her infidelity, telling her that she needs to leave the city, or else she will likely be executed. Cersei chides Ned for not doing all he could to secure the throne for himself.
Game of Thrones has gone on for seven seasons and has created a plethora of pop culture iconography. There are so many memorable moments and lines. But is there any line more iconic than Cersei’s ominous warning to Ned?
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Now, obviously, this phrase isn’t just significant because it has the title of the show in it. It’s a turning point. It’s iconic because it’s our first warning to the kind of world Ned Stark has found himself in – namely, a dangerous one.
Cersei’s defiance in this scene and for the rest of the first season shows the Darwinistic aspect of the show. And honestly, the aggressive Darwinism of this show has made Thrones what it is today. In Game of Thrones, your flaws will get you killed. If you adhere too aggressively to a prophecy that you will be king, it will get you killed. If you mistreat your son, it will get you killed. If you forget to feed your dogs, it will get you killed. And as anyone with the surname Stark can tell you, if you hold your honor above all else, honor will get you killed. The “when you play the game of thrones” quote is Ned’s first indication that he is in – wait for it – over his head.
CinemaSins, I think, has a lot of wasted potential. They’ve got better series (that fewer people watch), like Movie Recipes or CinemaSins Jeremy’s Dear Hollywood. And at it’s best, Everything Wrong With is bearable and actually makes some good points. The issue is, at its worst, it is toxic nitpicking. If they took the high road and focused more on things they liked and providing thoughtful criticism, their channel might be better off. (The problem with taking the high road is that it gets considerably less views.) The first thing would be to re-evaluate what constitutes a movie “sin,” which brings me to the point of this post. Sure, plenty of movies have a ham-fisted insertion of their title, but I hope I’ve provided enough examples of useful use of titles to show why “Roll Credits” is not a valid criticism of movies. Saying the title of the movie in the movie isn’t necessarily a misstep – sometimes, it’s an exclamation point.