Tagline borrowing

Alex’s mention of Richard Posner’s blogging at Larry Lessig’s blog gives me an excuse to bring up one of the stranger examples of intellectual-property appropriation I’ve ever come across. With the exception perhaps of the first two Batman movies, I think the best superhero film ever is Alex Proyas’ brilliant Gothic fable The Crow. The movie’s plot is completely straightforward — it’s a revenge tale — but it’s visually overpowering, and Brandon Lee (who died near the end of filming) is great to watch. Anyway, the basic narrative conceit of the movie is that, after having been murdered, Lee has been brought back to life in order to hunt down the killers. As one of the characters explains, when a person dies, a crow carries away his soul. But if the death needs to be avenged, “Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to make the wrong things right.” It’s hardly T.S. Eliot, but the coda is memorable enough.

I was, then, a little disconcerted earlier this summer to see the trailer for Catwoman — a movie about a woman who, after having been murdered, is brought back to life to hunt down her killers — and hear this: “It’s been said that when a person dies, a cat can bring back their soul to make the wrong things right.” And things got even weirder last week when, watching the trailer for the Zhang Yimou film Hero — which Miramax has finally gotten around to releasing here two years after it came out in China — I heard the the voiceover describing Jet Li’s character as a hero who has returned — you guessed it — “to make the wrong things right.”

Now, I tend to be in the Lessig/Posner camp when it comes to intellectual property, so I’m not suggesting that anyone start talking about legal remedies here. And, to be fair, “make the wrong things right” may not be the most unusual sequence of words imaginable. But is it too much to ask for at least a cursory effort at originality from studios, and perhaps a less blatant lifting of others’ words? On the other hand, maybe the references were intended as clever homages to Proyas’ masterpiece, and I just missed it.


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