Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cooler Project: “This is it!”

[The Cooler is calling on movie fans to help investigate an obscure movie phenomenon. Details below.]

Picture it: You’re a charming drifter with no money to your name who is good with a charcoal pencil and the ladies. It’s April 1912, and over the past few days you’ve won passage on the inaugural voyage of the RMS Titanic in a hand of cards, fallen in love with the most beautiful passenger on board and sketched her naked. Now you’re clutching the rails at Titanic’s stern as the enormous vessel sinks into the Atlantic like a straw dropping into a milkshake. In a matter of seconds, the icy ocean will engulf you. And so you look to the woman to your right, who not too long ago you were getting to know biblically, and you say …?

Well, if you’re Jack Dawson, a character in the 1997 film Titanic, written by James Cameron, you say: “This is it!” Of course you do! Because you’re in a movie. And that’s what people say in a movie when the action is about to reach its orgasmic peak, especially if the screenwriter is someone who has seen the original Star Wars a time or twelve. But is that what you would say if you were a genuine 1912 smooth-talking wanderer? I doubt it.

Before we go further, let’s consider the preposterousness of the line as employed in the film: By the time he makes it to the rails of the ship’s stern, poor Jack, played by a teenage-heartthrobby Leonardo DiCaprio, has been beaten, handcuffed to a sinking ship, locked in steerage and shot at. He’s also watched passengers fall to nasty bone-crushing deaths when the ass end of the ship lifted skyward. To the point, he’s damn lucky to be alive. And so it’s almost humorous that only now, after so many brushes with death, does Jack finally determine that this is it.

The thing is, Jack is right. And we know he’s right. Because we know that Titanic will sink, and we know that Jack won’t perish before it does. Yet we also know that most people who put so much as a toe into the Atlantic that night didn’t live to tell about it. Based on that, there can’t be any dips left in the rollercoaster for Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose. But if Titanic were a monster movie instead of a historically-inspired epic, and if Jack was to be outdone by a creature from the deep instead of hypothermia, don’t you figure he’d have the foresight to hold out until the Kraken rose from the depths before recognizing the unavoidable gravity of the situation? I do. In the movies, heroes don’t panic until it’s absolutely necessary.

The point here isn’t to pick on Titanic. “This is it!” is an exclamatory line found in oodles of movies. But the implementation of “This is it!” in Titanic speaks to the phrase’s ubiquity. We’ve grown so accustomed to its presence that we hardly notice it, even though the line is often meant to cue the audience. When Jack yells “This is it!” he isn’t really speaking to Rose. Instead it’s Cameron speaking to us, and what the filmmaker is actually saying is: “This is it! It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The doomed ship has stayed afloat for almost 3 hours, but now it sinks at last! Watch this!”

How long have screenwriters been writing this way? And why do so many movie characters utter that popular line, considering how rarely people seem to use it in real life? The answer to the first question is that “This is it!” has been around since at least 1977. George Lucas’ Star Wars pictures have provided more famed catchphrases (“Use the Force!” “I am your father!” “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy!” “Yippee!” … okay, maybe not the last one), but perhaps no line has been as influential as the observation of X-wing pilot Red Leader, who at the beginning of the trench run on the Death Star exclaims plainly yet decisively: “This is it!”

Was that the first “This is it!”? Probably not. But at the moment I’d wager that there isn’t a more significant usage of the phrase. Yet I’d like to find out for sure. That’s why The Cooler is announcing the first of what it hopes will be numerous obscure cinema history projects:

Bloggers and movie fans in general are encouraged to submit via e-mail or the comments section any known or discovered usages of “This is it!” This isn’t a blog-a-thon. There’s no deadline. No lengthy description or analysis is required. The Cooler will take all submissions and post them to form a chronological history, giving credit to those who submit. Together we will seek to identify all the branches on the “This is it!” family tree.

If you’d like to take part (once, twice, 20 times), The Cooler requests that all entries include the following: name of the film, name of the character (and actor) who utters the line and, if possible, one or two sentences explaining the situation that prompts the remark. Please be sure the line is, exactly, “This is it!” And please be sure the usage is similar to the above. “This is it?” and “This is it!” are two entirely different expressions.

All of that said, please join this effort. I expect it to be long in development, and so this item will soon receive permanent placement in the right column of this blog so that it can be easily found by those who encounter a “This is it!” and want to submit it. How many treasures we find in this archeological dig, time will tell. But we have to start somewhere, so the project begins now. This is it!

E-mail entries can be sent here. Subject: This is it.

“This is it!” History

Star Wars (1977)
Spoken by: Red Leader (Drewe Hemley)
Situation: Rebel X-wing fighters, now evading pursuit from Imperial fighters, take position for the trench run on the Death Star.
Submitted by: Jason Bellamy (The Cooler)

Ghostbusters (1984)
Spoken by: Louis Tully (Rick Moranis)
Situation: A building explodes prompting a vision of increased doom.
Submitted by: Ali Arikan (Cerebral Mastication)

Titanic (1997)
Spoken by: Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Situation: Jack and Rose, at the stern of the Titanic, prepare to plunge into icy waters as the ship swiftly disappears into the Atlantic.
Submitted by: Jason Bellamy (The Cooler)

1 comment:

Ali Arikan said...

Here are a few instances I could think of off the top of my head.