by Coop Cooper
As I browsed the online Hollywood rumor sites and trade publications (a daily ritual of mine), I came across a poster for a new Tom Cruise film scheduled to release this summer that I wasn’t familiar with. The sci-fi/action film “Edge of Tomorrow” wasn’t something I remembered hearing advanced word about which was surprising considering Tom Cruises’ films are often hyped long before they even begin shooting. I did some quick digging and realized I had heard of this film, but under a different title. “All You Need is Kill”, based on a Japanese novel, was a much more clever and memorable title than the generic one that replaced it. It could be dismissed but this is the second time this year that the word “Kill” has been removed from a major studio film title. The upcoming sequel “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” has been changed to “Sin City: A Dame to Die for”. It has been widely speculated that these name changes came about because the studio heads now think the word “Kill” has become too provocative to be included in a film title.
Is this a case of political correctness run amok or is something else going on here?
Odd that the studio (Warner Bros.) which released “The Hangover” film series would worry about such a triviality but there seems to be a double-standard on ‘political correctness’ where crude comedies are involved. These comedies exploit as many taboo subjects as they can, delving into racist, sexist subjects that would be decried in a more ‘serious’ film. For example, the Chief of the New Jersey Ramapough Indian tribe denounced the recently released Christian Bale thriller “Out of the Furnace” for its portrayal of his tribe in the film, calling it a “hate crime” against Native Americans. “The Hangover” films didn’t receive the same scrutiny for their stereotypical portrayal of Asians.
Satire done well often seems to get a pass. The Comedy Central cartoon “South Park” has been getting away with it for years through clever writing and by being equal opportunity offenders. No group is unscathed and like “The Simpsons” and “All in the Family” before it, the majority of the controversy these shows got was from pushing the edge of censorship standards.
In a way, this makes sense. Holding a warped mirror up to show a humorous slant on our problems as humans can make for effective satire, especially when it pushes a few buttons. However, when it’s done poorly, it’s a disaster. The new sitcom “Dads” by “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarland has been critically panned as one of the worst shows of the season. Even worse, it’s been described as overtly racist and sexist. Perhaps if it had been funnier like “Family Guy” (which spouts racial/sexism jokes with impunity), the critics wouldn’t have been so offended.
But what about “All You Need is Kill”? Could it be the pundits who always complained that Hollywood favored violence over sex are finally starting to see a turnaround in attitudes? Not likely. Horror films are consistently becoming more graphic and violent while nudity in major studio films has steadily decreased. I suspect any perceived backlash to a title like “All You Need is Kill” is due to knee-jerk reactions to sensitive political topics of the hour. The “Kill” in the title may be equated to “murder by gun” and guns are politically charged topics at the moment, but these things change with time and media coverage. Movies which were once considered controversial by title and content like “Bastard Out of Carolina” (1996) – back when ‘family values’ was more of an issue – may seem tame after a few years when that issue had waned a film like “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) is released to great critical acclaim. Right now, health care is such a volatile issue I have doubts any new medical-themed film or TV shows would get a green light anytime soon.
I’ll never forget when I was living in Hollywood, I had written a Civil War-themed screenplay and was trying to shop it around to producers. Soon after, the tragic events of 9-11 happened and I was told by a producer that Hollywood wouldn’t be doing any movies with ‘war’ in it for awhile. He was right. When a bitter pill turns the stomach of the American public, Hollywood usually runs in the other direction. An ill-timed school shooting might have shelved “The Hunger Games” films for several years. If the year was suddenly 1985, the James Bond film “A View to a Kill” might have been titled “A View to a Thrill”.
Politically correct or not, Hollywood runs a high-risk business and this is how they operate. They hedge their bets just in case they read the social tea leaves wrong. As the legendary screenwriter William Goldman says of the industry: “Nobody knows anything.” I accept that. However, I really would’ve like to have seen a movie titled “All You Need is Kill”.