March 2, 2006 -- On the Internet, computer nerds, time travelers, "Top Gun" pilots and SpongeBob himself have all had that "I wish I knew how to quit you!" feeling.
The Oscar-nominated kissing-cowboy saga "Brokeback Mountain" has provided comedic grist for some of the sharpest wits on the Web, where savvy amateur editors have created dozens of "mashups" and parodies of the film's trailer by slicing, dicing and splicing clips from other popular buddy films.
"I would guess that more people have seen fake 'Brokeback Mountain' trailers than the actual trailer," said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at New York's Syracuse University.
Indeed, for all the chatter surrounding the film, its comic success is outpacing its commercial success. "Brokeback" has pulled in a relatively modest $75 million at the U.S. box office since its December release, but it has generated nearly three dozen trailer parodies and some 42.2 million Google page references.
Quality Movie = Quality Parody
And these trailers aren't trash. "Brokeback to the Future," created by members of Emerson College's comedy troupe Chocolate Cake City, is an artfully edited montage of scenes from the "Back to Future" film series that featured Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.
Bookended between modified title slates from the "Brokeback" trailer and laid over Gustavo Santaolalla's emotive "Brokeback Mountain" guitar theme, the parody suggests that Fox and Lloyd's characters were spending their evenings working on something a little more earthy than a time machine.
"We're not trying to trash the movie at all. We love the 'Back to the Future' movies and we love 'Brokeback Mountain.' It just seemed so right, and so ripe for a parody," said Jonathan Ade, who spent a few bleary-eyed nights at his computer editing the piece with fellow Emerson College junior Patrick De Nicola.
And the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe Mighty McPilgrim opens its parody, "Broke Mac Mountain," with Jakob White staring blank-eyed into the face of an iMac. Frustratedly tapping on his computer mouse, he utters the line that's become the film's "show me the money" phrase: "I wish I knew how to quit you." Andrew Wollman, in the role of an earnest and understanding IT guy, enters to say, "Just hit Open, Apple, Option and Escape."
Like Ade of Chocolate City, Wollman said the film's trailer was a perfect fit for spoof. "It almost seems like a crime not to do one of these recombinant trailers. [The movie] has such a serious tone, it lends itself to ridicule, especially because for much of the country seeing two guys kiss is something that's giggle-inducing."
Syracuse University's Thompson agrees that the quality of the movie is what has led to these high-quality parodies. "It such a tempting target, because it's a good movie. ... To do a parody of a movie like, say, 'Gigli,' would be like shooting fish in a barrel. ... The fact that 'Brokeback' is such a solid movie based on such a great story makes it worthy of parody. Whenever something is elevated from movies to cinema it's begging to be made fun of," he said.
And "Brokeback" has got all of the ingredients that make it deliciously tempting: icons and great tag lines that are immediately recognizable.
"It's kind of like 'The Godfather,'" Thompson said, "It's so distinctly identifiable."
But what's particularly interesting is that the film seems to have created a national conversation, without yet capturing a national audience. "'Brokeback' has created this cultural space that everybody understands and gets whether or not they've seen the movie," said Thompson.
And the formula for the "Brokeback" parodies seems to work for every genre, from drama to science fiction to comedy and cartoon. "Top Gun: Brokeback Squadron," "The Empire Broke Back," "Brokeback: Dumb and Dumber," are among the big-budget flicks reimagined through a "Brokeback" lens.
In the pre-Brokeback era, the flap over the sexual orientation of Nickelodeon's SpongeBob seemed ridiculous. But "Spongeback Mountain" might give one pause. Again, it's amazing what Santaolalla's sweet guitar plucking -- and selective editing -- can conjure up. Is there some sexual tension between SpongeBob and Patrick, after all?
Even Ang Lee's Laughing
These Web-based parodies have found a home beyond the Net -- on Bravo's new series "Outrageous and Contagious: Viral Videos," which recently featured Mighty McPilgrim's "Broke Mac Mountain."
And as computer-editing programs become even more user-friendly, we can expect more of these mashups. "Anyone with editing software can do this. It's so much fun just to watch these things and start reimagining them," Ade said. He and De Nicola are already reimagining their next spoof. "We're working on a series starring us for a parody of "Lost" called "Unfindable."
The parodies aren't only entertaining to Web surfers, they're apparently enjoyed by the moviemakers as well. "All of us think it's hysterical. Even [director] Ang Lee is laughing about them," said a spokeswoman for Focus Features, the division of Universal Studios that released Lee's film.
"My God, you can't pay for this kind of publicity. Certain films just become a phenomenon. It's like 'Thelma & Louise.' When that came out, it just became part of every conversation," she added.
Thompson said the "Brokeback" parodies will certainly add to the conversation. "All of this stuff creates buzz, and maybe the buzz can survive on its own. Maybe we'll get to a point where we say, 'Who needs the movies'? But actually every time you see one of these parodies, it's just one more reminder that this movie is the movie to talk about."