Naming the Weather

Dimension Films plans to release a film this summer about alien abductions and, guess what?, they want to call it “Dark Skies,” and, no, it’s not based on the series we all know and love, “Dark Skies,” as created by Bryce Zabel & Brent V. Friedman, that aired on NBC in the 90s and that we’re working to reboot now in 2012.

– Part of a release issued by Bryce Zabel and representatives on 10 July 2012.

This reminds me of a guy I knew who was known primarily for making fan films and suddenly wanted to make an original no-budgeter called “The Wicker Man”. It was an SF/horror property, very much in the mould of urban teens messing with ancient forces they don’t understand and being horribly slaughtered by them, but with a time-travelling alien crime fighter inexplicably thrown into the mix. It also happened to be based on a piece of Doctor Who fan fiction (cue abject lack of astonishment), which only served to strengthen any impression that it might itself belong to the fan film genre.

When I explained to its director that everyone would likely think he’d gone and made a Wicker Man fan film or remake – owing especially to the original’s cult status – he just put out a notice saying, “We’ve changed the name because we discovered a film with this title already exists, blah.” Never mind that there’s no copyright on a title, so his public reasoning becomes, to say the least, overcautious.

The makers of Dark Skies (1990s TV series) and of Dark Skies (proposed alien abduction SF drama film) face a different impasse, but the fundamental problem remains the same. The name “Dark Skies”, while not trademarked by Bryce Zabel Productions back in 1996 in the overzealous way that virtually every name and title in, say, the Star Trek universe is, is distinctly associated with a particular intellectual property and has been for a decade and a half.

What needs to be observed to Dimension Films and its production partners, who only recently announced the development and early casting of their project anyway, is that the story and concept similarities between the two properties are too great. More important still is that there is a strong pre-existing awareness of the name “Dark Skies” associated with a specific UFOlogy-fiction brand, and that any UFO-themed film adopting the title will automatically be assumed by many people to be related to the series.

In short, we’re in “It’s-not-a-Wicker-Man-fan-film” territory again.

Here’s the bottom line related clincher. Any presumption on the part of the (typically die-hard) SF audience who are already long-term Dark Skies devotees, and even among those SF fans who are aware of what was at the time a significantly well-known programme among the TV SF fan audience, will lead to bad word of mouth for a movie that depends on a core (and growing) audience of SF fans to support it. An expectation will exist – bolstered by the current campaign on the part of Zabel to get his Dark Skies rebooted – that Dimension’s film is tied in. Or, if the movement to have its title changed is unsuccessful but sufficiently loud, that it’s trying to cash in on an existing cult audience.

Either way, bad move Dimension Films. In the world of SF fandom, there is such thing as bad publicity. Just look at what happened to Hulk when it was rejected by fans. Naming this film after a similarly themed but unrelated property with a devoted and long-term cult following in an arena where the geek dollar is crucial could be very bad for business.

Some places worth voicing your opinion, should you have one:
Dimension Films Facebook page

Dimension Films web page

Blumhouse Productions Facebook page

Alliance Films Facebook page

Alliance Films web page

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