Sunday, February 7, 2010

The lurking menace in American cinema

I love movies. Who doesn't?

It doesn't matter the genre—comedy, drama, suspense, mystery, even the infamous "chick flick." Come on, guys, tell me you didn't well up a little when Richard Gere whisked Deborah Winger out of her dead-end factory job and into her dream life in An Officer and a Gentleman?

Okay, that's a bad example. Richard Gere makes me break out in weird places. How about, then, in Jerry Maguire, when Tom Cruise laid himself bare and confessed to Renee Zellweger, "You complete me"? Sorry, another bad example. Doctor Evil did it better, and Tom Cruise is Satan's spawn.

Anyway, I'm sure that we men have enjoyed an estrogen-laced movie or two over the years; I just can't think of one now. One other genre I really enjoy is the foreign film. The challenge when viewing a non-English-language movie is following the action while reading the subtitles. And forget about eating something off a plate during this activity. You could conceivably miss the line of the movie as you stab a forkfull of Swanson's Hungry Man Salisbury Steak into your face.

I've always admired whomever it is that translates foreign dialogue into English, and is able to capture the nuances of each language to portray the spirit of the film's dialogue. This is a skill that can't be overrated. Imagine if a less adept translator attempted to interpret some of the more famous American movie lines for subtitles in another language.

For instance, in the movie, Dirty Dancing, the line, "No one puts Baby in a corner" runs the risk of morphing into "There isn't an individual person who places an infant at the perpendicular union of two walls." See what I mean? This is a valuable service.

How about when Clint Eastwood's character, Dirty Harry, blurts out the famous "Go ahead. Make my day," as he burrows his 44 Magnum into the face of a bad guy? There's always the risk that the subtitle in, say Swedish, would be, "Please proceed to construct my hours of sunlight." You see what I'm saying? All of these profound lines compromised into oblivion. "I can't quit you," from Brokeback Mountain could somehow land on, "I find myself unable to resign my membership in you."

One phrase I can think of that probably wouldn't be butchered is Leonardo Dicaprio's proclamation in Titanic, "I'm king of the world!" Pretty straight forward, but stupid in any language.

I'm sure we can think of a plethora of other screenplay moments which could suffer in translation, but let's just hope someone watching a feature film in, maybe, Indonesia, doesn't see the buff, shirtless, secret agent proclaim:

"Adhesive, James Adhesive."

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