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Translation On The Silver Screen

These days, movies and even TV shows are expected to play for a global audience. However, translating them is often as difficult as translating literature. So much of what makes a successful film or TV show “work” is rooted in local culture. For example, consider Disney’s recent worldwide release of “Cars 2.”   Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of Disney Character Voices, told Forbes that “Mater”, one of the most popular characters, was also the most challenging to translate:

“Mater’s kind of a redneck, but that means nothing to anyone overseas because they don’t have that particular vocal culture. So we had to figure out what region of Germany, for example, has more of an uneducated population without being offensive.”

Another challenge is that even in countries that speak the same language, words can vary in meaning and connotation. So, trying to translate from one widely spoken language to another, like from English to Spanish,  requires in-depth knowledge of how the language is used in all of the countries that speak it. It’s much more difficult that it appears to outsiders. For example, Elena Barciae, who translates English films into Spanish versions aimed at Central and South America, told Forbes:

“The more slang, the harder it gets because slang tends to be very localized. Simple words are affected, too. `Bicho’ means bug everywhere except Puerto Rico, where it’s a slang word for a part of the male anatomy. That wouldn’t go over too well for the title of `A Bug’s Life,’ would it?” Read more

Mel Gibson’s Next Movie to Be Shot In Old Norse

Mel Gibson is making a Viking movie. The movie doesn’t have a title yet, but William Monahan is writing the script, and it will star Leonardo DiCaprio. Oh, and the movie will be shot entirely in period languages. That means Leonardo DiCaprio will most likely deliver his lines in Old Norse or perhaps Old English (depending on whether he’s playing a Viking or an inhabitant of a town that is being pillaged by them).

Apparently, for Gibson, the idea of making a Viking movie in Old Norse isn’t a new idea. He told Collider.com that “The very first idea I ever had about making a film…my first thought about ever being a filmmaker was when I was sixteen years old and I wanted to make a Viking movie.  And I wanted to make it in Old Norse.”

Meanwhile, on CHUD.com, he explains the rationale behind using the languages of the period for the movie:

“I want a Viking to scare you,’ he said gleefully.’I don’t want a Viking to say, [Tony Curtis style] “I’m going to die with a sword in my hand.”  I don’t want to hear that.  It pulls the rug out from under you.  I want to see somebody who I have never seen before speaking low guttural German who scares the living shit out of me coming up to my house.  What is that like?  What would that have been like?’

Some of the movie will no doubt be in Old English, but don’t expect to be able to understand any of it without subtitles. To give you an idea of how different Old English is from the language we speak today, here’s a sample from Beowulf (via Wikipedia):

Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum,
þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

In the modern English we know and love, that translates to:

Listen! We have heard of the glory of the Spear-Danes, of the kings of the people, in the days of yore, [and] how those princes did deeds of glory.

It will be interesting to see these ancient languages on the big screen.