Film Titles in Translation: The Sequel

Hot on the heels of my last post, which was a bit heavier than usual, I thought I’d get back into familiar territory with something a bit more fun. Seeing as my first post on the translation of film titles had a fair bit of interest and was so fun to write, I thought I’d write a sequel about sequels.

Rather than looking at films that simply add ‘2’ or ‘3’, which would hardly be the most interesting read, I went for films that aimed for a bit more in the titling, often using the name of the first film as a basis for other titles in the series. As you can imagine, with the title of the first film often being completely transformed in translation, this can cause all sorts of problems, and translators have had varying degrees of success over the years.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are some of the funnier and more interesting examples I came across.

The Terminator Series

Starting with one of the biggest movie series around, it is interesting to see how translation deals with the changing subtitles in each film which often contain biblical references. While ‘Judgement Day’ is changed to its accepted cultural equivalent in both French and Italian (‘Le Jugement dernier’ and ‘Il giorno del giudizio’) and ‘Rise of the Machines’ is translated closely, ‘Terminator Salvation’ was cleverly retitled ‘Terminator Renaissance’ in the French over a more literal translation as it retains the biblical nature of the title and sounds much better than ‘Terminator Salut’ (literally: salvation) which could be mistaken as meaning ‘Terminator Hi’.

The Die Hard series has some of the most confused naming across the series that you’ll ever find. While the English versions add a unique tagline, retaining the crucial words ‘Die Hard’ (Die Harder, Die Hard with a Vengeance etc.), several of the European releases made this kind of linking impossible from the outset.

The first film in the series was released as ‘Trappola di Cristallo’ in Italian and ‘Piège de cristal’ in French meaning ‘Crystal Trap’ while the second was named ’58 minutes to live’ and ’58 minutes to die’ in France and Italy respectively. Both of these titles relate much more closely to the plot but carry no link between the two films.

After this, presumably due to the growing global stature of the series, and realising the need to try and make up for these early mistakes, each of the films just used the English ‘Die Hard’ in the titles, followed by a translated tagline (e.g. ‘Die Hard – Vivere o morire’ (to live or die) for ‘Live free or die hard’ in Italy) except the French version of the third film which stuck with its initial tactics and named the film ‘Une journée en enfer’ (A day in hell).

One final, interesting note on the series is that in the German release of the first film, the German names of the terrorists were changed to American equivalents in order to make it easier for the audience to identify with the protagonist by inverting the enemy’s cultural bases. As such, Hans became Jack, Karl became Charlie and Heinrich became Henry.

The Naked Gun

While the Die Hard translators failed to keep a common thread going throughout the series, the titles of this trilogy are dealt with well in both French and Italian, and in two distinct ways. While the Italian sticks close to the original titles, adopting a clever translation for ‘The Naked Gun’ in ‘Una Pallottola Spuntata’ (lit. A blunt bullet, keeping the idiomatic nature and some of the innuendo of the original) and adding fitting taglines, the French translation completely transforms the title but keeps it consistent and fitting throughout the series: The first film becomes ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver la reine?’ (Is there a cop to save the queen?), the second ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver le président?’ ( Is there a cop to savethe president?) and the third ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver Hollywood’ (guess), each referring closely to the individual plots.

Dumb and Dumber

Together with the sequel/prequel ‘Dumb and Dumberer’, this pair have two of the most challenging titles around. With their use of the comparative that cannot be replicated in many languages and the ungrammatical nature of the second mirroring the subject matter, any translator has their work cut out. (For me, the title was one of the only good things about the second film)

The Italian deals with it literally and chooses to avoid the wordplay of the second title as much as possible: ‘Scemo e piu scemo’ (lit. Dumb and more dumb) for the first and ‘Scemo e piu scemo – Iniziò cosi’ (Dumb and more dumb – How it started) for the second. Meanwhile, the French version managed to avoid any trouble by leaving both titles untranslated.

Fortunately in Quebec, with the equal status given to both English and French meaning that all films are released in both languages, we get two interesting titles. The first becomes ‘La cloche et l’idiot’, quite a literal translation which uses colloquial language in a similar way to the English, and the sequel becomes ‘Plusse cloche et très zidiot’ (lit. More dumb and very idiotic) but with the spellings changed in a ridiculous manner to mirror the idiotic nature of the content, showing that even some more complex linguistic games can be replicated to an extent in a foreign tongue.

Laziness Prevails

Nevertheless, for every translation that is well thought out and takes cultural and linguistic concerns into account (how about ‘East is East’ becoming ‘Fish and Chips’ – written in English – in France…), there are times when the translator seems to consider the wordplay in the title just too much of a hassle and resorts to boring, unimaginative naming. This is the case with ‘The Fast and The Furious’ sequel ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ becoming ‘Rapides & Dangereux 2’ in Quebec and just ‘Fast and Furious 2′ in French’

Further examples of this kind include ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ (the sequel to Excellent Adventure) which becomes ‘Les Aventures de Bill et Ted’ (the Adventures of Bill and Ted) and ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel’ (I haven’t seen it, honest) becoming ‘Alvin et les chipmunks 2’ in French. Some of the least inspired titles around.

Finally, before I go, I thought I’d include one little bonus translation. A few weeks ago I was asked: ‘why does ‘The Hangover’ become ‘Very Bad Trip’ – written in English – in the French release’

The answer: while French does have an equivalent for a hangover (‘gueule de bois’, literally a wooden mouth), the phrase ‘faire un bad trip’ is widely recognised by French people and reflects the film’s US roots in a comprehensible manner. So there you have it.

Adios.

Landlocked comedy and swearing with style

While many American comedies seem to have no problem making the leap onto TV screens all over the world – Family Guy or South Park being great examples of how Western ideas can be transferred successfully to other countries – it’s not always the same for their British counterparts, who often seem too tied up in their own culture to be able to cross borders.

Take for instance the classic British comedy ‘Only Fools and Horses’ (from which the previous post’s clip was taken) which, for such a hugely successful programme, has never even been aired in neighbouring France, or perhaps ‘The Royle Family’, whose depiction of typical British life is deemed too foreign for non-British audiences and which, apart from tentative releases in Holland, Finland and Portugal where a high level of understanding of British culture is assumed, has also failed to gain a wider audience.

For an example of why these comedies are so hard to translate, let’s take an example from yet another successful British comedy that has failed to provoke laughter beyond the British Isles: ‘One Foot in the Grave’. (The show was actually released in Germany as Mit einem Bein im Grab but, rather than being a simple translation, this was a complete adaptation of the programme, swapping the Meldrews for Viktor and Margret Bölkhoff.)

Listening to the intro theme (although it wouldn’t pose any real problems if the programme were to be translated as it could just be left in English) we can gain an interesting insight into one of the reasons that these programmes fail to cross over with nearly every line containing highly idiomatic uses of language relating to aging which don’t have ready equivalents in a foreign tongue: ‘too long in the tooth’, ‘OAP’, ‘clapped out’, ‘run down’ etc.

It is this close proximity to the English language and a cultural boundness caused by obscure references and linguistic games that prove too hard to break down. One extreme example of the importance of the use of language in the series can be found in the episode ‘The Dawn of Man’ where the crux of the entire story revolves around the similarity between ‘popcorn’ and ‘cop porn’!

It’s not all doom and gloom though as some series do manage to achieve success on foreign soil. One famous example is ‘Father Ted’, which has accumulated many French fans thanks to its appearance on heavily Westernised channel  ‘Jimmy’ (named after James Dean and Jimi Hendrix), which is known for helping Anglophone series make their way onto French screens, and due to the fact that the premise of Catholic priests in an isolated community is one that is relatively easily transferrable.

Father Ted S01E01 with French subtitles

Indeed, the nature of the situation comedy and the relatively few obscure cultural references which are integral to the plot allow a fairly simple subtitling process. In the first episode, only a few alterations are made for the French audience and most references are simply left unchanged e.g. ‘Toffos’ at 16:05 or ‘Top of the Pops’ at 7:20.

The only alterations of note are seen when Ted’s reference to nuclear waste as ‘the old glow in the dark’ is simplified to ‘déchets’ (waste) and when the reference to Terry Wogan and another TV presenter is creatively subtitled as ‘PPDA et Pernaut’, referring to two equally famous French presenters – Patrick Poivre d’Arvor and Jean-Pierre Pernaut – and these changes are often made due to the nature of subtitling, where constraints of time and space limit opportunities for explanation or the use of long-winded phrases.

Probably the most significant challenge of translating Ted is replicating the various swear words that the programme has to offer. Interestingly, the general tendency in the French subtitles is to soften the swearing: ‘gobshite’ becomes ‘demeuré’ or ‘crétin’ (half-wit, cretin), ‘feck off’ is changed to ‘dégage’ (clear off), while ‘feck’ is rather cleverly reproduced as ‘fier’ which is not actually a swear word but plays on its similarity to ‘ficher’ (to not give a fuck about) in a similar way to ‘feck’ and ‘fuck’.

So there you have it, once all the swearing is dealt with it seems that some comedy can make the leap while others remain just too British to amuse our foreign neighbours.

The Magic of Translation

After recently posting on issues that don’t relate directly to translation in the traditional sense, I wanted to try to write something firmly on topic while still being accessible and targeting popular culture.The area of discussion in this post is literary translation which, while evading the majority of professional freelance translators, is still a huge part of the profession.

While much of the current focus in Translation Studies hinges on the acceptability of the prevailing strategy when working with literary texts which, due to a prioritisation of commercial interests, is to ‘domesticate’ the foreign text – to make the text read fluently so as not to pose difficulties to the reader and, ultimately, to give the impression that what you are reading is not a translation (one great metaphor I’ve come across likens translation to contraception in the way that the less it is noticed, the better it seems!) – I wanted to look at a quick example to try and simply demonstrate the extent of creative re-writing involved in literary translation in order to offer a small indication of the challenges posed by attempts to transfer meaning.

And what better example to use than the biggest of the big bestsellers: the Harry Potter series.

This series of books poses a huge range of translational obstacles and the overall aim of the translations is to try to reach the foreign audience with as much as possible of the many levels of meaning still in tact.

Features of the original such as the creation of new words, the repeated use of rhymes, anagrams, acronyms and cleverly formed names are just a few examples of such challenges and, by taking a few examples of wordplay and showing how they were dealt with, hopefully the strength of the translations – which ensured that the series became a global bestseller – will be clear.

As briefly mentioned above, names in the book often contain small plays on words and descriptions of the very character they name, with the example of Mad-Eye Moody being one prominent case in point. The French translation as Fol-Oeil Maugrey (with ‘maugréer’ meaning to grumble) manages to replicate much of the sound of the original while also maintaining this semi-hidden characterisation. Similarly, Madame Pomfrey (sounding like ‘frais’ meaning ‘fresh’) is neatly translated as Pomfresh in the French. Further still, the Sorting Hat of the original is cleverly renamed as La Choixpeau Magique (cleverly linking ‘chapeau’ (hat) and ‘choix (de) peau’ (choice of skin) to produce a magic skin choosing hat!)

One final, excellent example of the creativity in the translation lies in the key anagram of Tom Marvolo Riddle and ‘I Am Lord Voldemort’: the French translation of his name as Tom Elvis Jedusor initially seems rather strange, until you realise that this is an anagram of ‘Je suis Voldemort’. Then, when you add in the fact that Jedusor sounds like ‘jeux du sort’, meaning ‘games of chance’ and paralleling the English surname Riddle, you have an extremely clever translation.

Of course, certain languages have been left with versions that are less successful (the Italian ‘Cappello Parlante’ (‘talking hat’ for Sorting Hat) is much less effective, and Madame Poppy Chips (for Pomfrey) is simply bizarre) and I can’t come close to even scratching the surface of the vast range of interventions that have been made throughout the entire series, but hopefully with these few examples I have managed to hint at the amount of linguistic gymnastics involved in transferring even small aspects of meaning that we take for granted from one language to another.

Film titles in translation: The Good, the Bad and the Inexplicable.

The title says it all really: a blog about the translation of film titles.

Given the magnitude of the film industry, this relatively small sector of translation is clearly of utmost importance. With so many films released which are all vying for the public’s hard-earned cash, the power of a title cannot be overstated; it needs to be snappy, intriguing or iconic in order to fulfil its role of capturing the attention of the film’s desired target audience, and the same applies to films all around the world.

Yet so often the resulting translated titles seem completely baffling, coming out as something seemingly unrelated. There must be an explanation as to why the changes are made?!

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There are some cases when it is much more clear than others, one such example is the Italian version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which was released as Se mi lasci ti cancello (If you leave me, I’ll erase you); this title builds upon the already established reputation of Jim Carrey as a funnyman and leaves the audience expecting yet another wacky comedy. This is hardly an ethical decision as the film is a far cry from earlier roles such as Ace Ventura, but the end results presumably justified the means. Similarly, Bend it Like Beckham‘s Italian translation as Sognando Beckham (Dreaming About Beckham) ensures that the key mention, from a marketing perspective, of Beckham’s name is retained while the rest of the title is deemed quite irrelevant.

Other times it is a little less clear why the decision has been taken to alter a title, although  the author of this aptly named blog, Crap French Film Titles, seems to have the secret of title translation nailed in his subheading ‘dumb it down, sex it up’, as this select set of examples clearly demonstrate:

In Italian we have The French Connection as Il braccio violento della legge (The Violent Arm of the Law) making it very clear what the film is about and in French a few classics include The Italian Job simplified to L’or se barre (The Gold Clears Off), Meet the Parents becoming Mon beau-père et moi (My Father-in-law and I) and A Nightmare on Elm Street as Les Griffes de la nuit (The Claws of the Night).

When a film’s title is already amply self-explanatory it will generally stay the same or be translated very closely, although one bizarre example that I came across was the translation of Jaws. A pretty simple translation process here you would expect, but the translator’s faced with the task clearly disagreed: the French version adopted the passable Les Dents de la mer (The Teeth of the Sea) while the Italian version almost offensively underestimated the intellects of the general public with the title Lo Squalo (The Shark(!)).

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There are even times when the translation does not actually seem applicable to the film it describes. The most famous case of this that I have encountered is the Home Alone series of films, the first of which which is translated in both French and Italian as Mum, I missed the plane. This title is just about understandable, but the sequel – Mum I missed the plane again and I am lost in New York – while obviously named to provide continuity from the first film and dumbing the title down like many of the films above, is factually incorrect as Kevin actually just gets on the wrong plane this time…

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Of course it can be an extremely difficult task to transfer the title of a film successfully, especially when it is of a figurative nature or contains plays on words, and there are many examples of excellent, creative title translations such as Doctor Strangelove as Il dottor Stranamore and Docteur Folamour, but sometimes the best thing seems to be to just leave the title alone as much as possible (after all, what’s wrong with Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo?). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Faking it in foreign languages: How far can you get with Google?

On the back of reading this great article by Nataly Kelly on clearing up the top ten myths of translation, and after recently reading up on Translation and Technology, I thought I’d have a little look of my own at myth number nine, that ‘Machine translation is crushing the demand for human translation’, with a bit of research into the most popular, free, and supposedly most advanced online translation service: Google Translate.

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Google Translate works by using the capabilities of its own search engine to sift through a vast corpus of hundreds of millions of documents to look for matching phrases in texts that have previously been translated in order to make a kind of educated guess at a suitable translation, and with over 200 million monthly users and 65 languages supported, it certainly gets its fair share of usage. But how much can someone with little or no knowledge of the foreign language realistically gain from this service? In order to find out, I thought I’d test it with some French texts from a wide range of genres that I have previously translated to see how effective its results are in comparison.

The first thing to note is that the translator is infinitely better now than a few years ago. Instances of struggling with the most basic phrases, as was often the case in its first few years of existence (readily acknowledged by the guys at Google), are few and far between and their heavy investment over the years has clearly been put to good use. When translating a highly specialised medical text packed with technical jargon, for example, the end-product was quite remarkable. This is no doubt due to the vast amount of material in the field available online and the ready equivalents for terms in the two languages, but it was nevertheless a very pleasant surprise.

Several of the other translations were less convincing, however, with simple slips creeping in (one such example saw ‘Echecs et succès’ [failures and success] coming out as ‘Chess and successfully’ – echecs can mean chess too but how often would you talk about chess and success over success and failure?!) and all of the translations would certainly require some level of post-editing to make them professionally usable. As such, the idea of a fully automatic and free machine translation service still seems like a very distant concept and when the extent of revision is so great that the text has to be practically retranslated, machine translation today still seems to offer little beyond the most basic of gist translations.

But this is not to detract from the service as a whole: the key idea behind machine translation is that it is fit for purpose. How often does somebody go onto the site hoping or expecting to produce a publishable text in another language? In terms of being used for more realistic and more manageable purposes such as a handy multilingual dictionary, as a way to scan texts for key information or to just get a general idea of what a text says, the system works perfectly and, as long as its very definite limitations are recognised, it remains a valuable tool.

All in all, the myth above remains exactly that; machine translation is not going to usurp human translation any time soon and is an area that should be embraced by the translation community rather than feared as an enemy looking to bury the profession.

A machine translation system such as Google Translate is undoubtedly an aid to millions of people every month, translators included, but if you’re looking to skip those language lessons and make some easy money as a Transgoogler, it might be worth waiting a few more years.

Bienvenue Beckham: Spiceboy politics in the papers

Today’s blog isn’t as much about translation as an appropriation of translation but it does serve to further illustrate the power that translation can wield, as I have been trying to show, as well as demonstrating the uses it is often put to in the media.

The focus of my attention in this post is a story that has been all over the front and back pages of newspapers around the world for a few days now: that of David Beckham’s move to Paris Saint-Germain and his decision to donate his wages to a local children’s charity. Of course, this was fairly big news in the football world and everything that the Beckhams do is closely followed by the media, but more has come from this story than mere celebrity gossip and sporting headlines.

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When the story broke, The Sun immediately placed heavy emphasis on the player’s decision to donate his salary in the article’s subtitle and the Daily Mail went one step further in making the actual deal secondary to the fact that his wages would be given to charity. On the following day this then led to widespread praise for Beckham’s decision among UK papers and the tabloids trying to out-do each other with headlines such as Golden Baules and Saint Becks.

Meanwhile, Le Figaro in France – a similarly right-wing paper – took a different stance in their reporting of the event, questioning the club’s decision to sign the player on a footballing level. From a linguistic point of view, this contrast between the two differents takes on the proceedings can be seen the way Beckham is named in different articles: a ‘spiceboy’ in Le Figaro, while always an ‘England legend’ or some similar variant in the British tabloids.

But then, jumping back to the UK, it was one particular comment from this article that the UK tabloids decided to pick up on and use to cause a minor uproar in right-wing presses. The phrase in question was Le Figaro’s description of Beckham as a ‘third-hand Rolls Royce’ which was subsequently angrily quoted in several articles while always neglecting to mention that the French article was actually quite well-balanced, taking footballing concerns into account, and refusing to acknowledge the (rather justified) claims that, by signing a 37 year old well past his best, PSG had made a fairly questionable decision. And it is this kind of selective quoting that perfectly demonstrates the desire to take any possible opportunity to undermine French opinion in these articles: for an English reader, the French article is ‘taking a pop’ at David Beckham without justification and in spite of his generosity.

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However, this is not to say that Le Figaro are innocent by any means as they immediately followed this by ensuring to seize the chance to ridicule English media coverage of the event by mocking the labels such as Saint David, the ‘awkwardly entitled’ articles such as Gaul-denballs and the apparent lack of comment on the footballing side of the affair!

Interestingly, articles coming from more neutral sources such as the BBC and L’Equipe, while lauding the unquestionably admirable gesture of donating the wages to charity, have been more realistic in questioning the decision in footballing terms and this further underlines the political motivations behind the articles printed in the tabloids and Le Figaro.

Ultimately, as these articles show, one fascinating thing to come out of this story is the way it has been used by right-wing papers in both countries to further fuel that ancient rivalry between the British and the French nations and how, with their patriotic and slightly xenophobic tendencies, they have used selective translation to sensationalise each other’s reporting in an effort to undermine the other nation.

Long live petty squabbling!