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A "Dr. Phil Special"

For True Connoisseurs of Movie Credits

Q: When is a movie REALLY over?

A: When the last of the film goes through the projector.

Many old B&W films put their credits in the beginning. And they didn't go on for nine minutes, like some of the modern technological blockbusters. The movie would end, you'd get a logo for the company and the lights would go on. At some point, though, the main credits showed up at the end and eventually everybody decided that they had to be listed. Do we really need to know who the lawyers were on the company the guaranteed the completion bond? Maybe not, but getting your name on the screen is cheap for the film company to do and it makes your film resume a matter of public record.

Some of us really like movie credits. But even the more die-hard credit watcher knows that most people stand up and go the moment that the credits show up. At least most modern films go through a bunch of the "big honchos" in the production company, plus maybe the star's names, before they get around to running through the full cast listing. That gives the bulk of the audience time to get out of my sight lines.

Increasingly it is impossible to read credits for movies shown on network TV. They either split the screen and reduce the size of the movie window to less than half the screen size, which shrinks the letters as well, or they retype the credits and run through them as breakneck speed on one side of the screen, in order to fit in another commercial for some upcoming network show.

And if you've ever wondered where a pop song from the movie soundtrack fits into the movie, it is often just for the credits. Sometimes that cheeses off the artist -- Prince with his song for Batman. Sometimes it is specially designed to tie everything together -- Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" for Titanic.

Dr. Phil's theory of movie making is that there should be a prize for people who make it all the way through the credits -- that's why I call them Dr. Phil Specials.

There are at least three broad types of Dr. Phil Specials:

(1) The Live Credits

Credits don't have to be boring and they don't have to be white letters against a black background. They can at least have a fun lead-in, if nothing else, or something fun intercut between the credits.

(2) The Extra Bit at the End

The credits are over and we've even gotten through the logos of the American Human Society, the unions, the soundtrack recording company, etc. But you can still put a small scene at the end. Sometimes this is crucial, an extra bit that the majority of the movie goers won't know about -- and we can go out of the theatre with a smug "I've got a secret" look. Sometimes it is just a little something extra for fun.

(3) The False Ending

Having sat through many showings of James Cameron's Titanic in movie theatres, I can attest to the following: At one point nearly everyone starts to get up when we cut to a choppy sea surface at night. But then the treasure hunter and the old lady's granddaughter start having a conversation. Everyone is confused. Haven't we already been through a three-hour movie? The ship sank, everybody died. Isn't it over? Ah... but... Cameron's going to suck you back into the story -- because most people, faced wtih the tragedy in the North Atlantic of April 1912, have forgotten about the big ugly blue diamond. There's more movie, one more mystery to solve. And that allows Cameron to end up with a mysteriously upbeat ending -- is it the old lady's dream? ... is it supposed to be Heaven? So that when we finally pan up and into the overhead light and then fade to black, people feel better. And then Celine Dion's chart topping song takes us into the credits. You'd be amazed at how many would stay at least through the first part of the credits because of "My Heart Will Go On".

Last Update: 16 November 2002