In almost all countries, one can enjoy foreign-language films, either subtitled or dubbed. But even some international blockbusters can fall in the worst movie translations list.
In this post, we’ll take a look at 7 world-class films that shocked and worried audiences with their poor translation:
Roma is a 2018 film from Alfonso Cuarón, the movie’s writer, director and co-editor.
It is a semi-autobiographical piece about the author’s life while growing up in Mexico City. The film’s dialogue is in Spanish and Mixtec. It may not be one of the worst movie translations ever, but it was at the center of a subtitling scandal. It owed this negative attention to its status as a non-English Academy Award-winning film.
Netflix was criticized for adding Castilian Spanish subtitles to the movie, which the author-director found offensive to Mexican Spanish speakers. Netflix immediately removed the subtitles.
Next, the Association des Traducteurs/Adaptateurs de l’Audiovisuel (ATAA) said that the French subtitles were full of mistranslations, spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. The association likewise said that the English subtitles were erroneous. The translators did not consider what are considered the correct translations. For instance, using ”Let’s go!” for “¡Vamos!” instead of using “Come on!”
Avengers: Age of Ultron
People are very familiar with the many mistranslations of Chinese into English and the other way around. It does not stop with menus, signs and warnings. There are so many Chinese mistranslations, including English-language movies. A ridiculous or funny mistranslation can really hinder the audience’s understanding and enjoyment of the film, catching their eye and pulling them out of the story. For example, in the 2015 Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, critical viewers pointed out the following errors in the Chinese subtitles:
- “I’m home” (said by Captain America) was turned into “I’m good”.
- “You get hurt, hurt ’em back. You get killed… walk it off” (advice from Captain America) was turned into “Run fast if someone tries to kill you.”
- “S.O.B.” (a typical American expression) was translated as “My old familiar partner.”
- “We may not make it out of this” was translated as “Let’s back off now”.
The Hungarian dubbing of the film Beetlejuice was done in Hong Kong. You can consider it an example of bad translation because the lip sync was way off. The selection of the voice actors did not fit the characters. Some of the voice actors either talked fast or their voices were low, so it was difficult to understand them.
Subtitled versions were also poorly translated. In many scenes, the characters were talking but no subtitles were shown. Some of the actors’ lines were omitted. And, when a character was giving a toast, the translator interpreted it as “giving a bread toast,” making the Hungarian Beetlejuice a clear and disastrous case of mistranslation.
The Hungarian version of Transformers suffered the same fate. Although the translators retained the original names of the characters, the version indicated that the dubbing team was lazy and cheap.
Some of the worst and most obvious mistakes had to do with the miscasting of voice actors, with Lennox and Sam given young voice talents whose voices were too high for the characters’ ages. Missing lines, off sync and the real-life boredom of the voice talents, such as the one voicing Ironhide, were noticed.
The voiceover providers in France weren’t careful enough, and used literal translations of the English names of the characters in Star Wars. So the Tusken raiders became sandpeople, the battle droids were translated into droids of combat and Darth Vader was renamed Dark Vador. These names were easy for French speakers to understand, but they lost their nuances in relation to the original narrative of the movie.
The Polish version of Shrek may appear to be one of the worst translated movies ever, if viewed by an English speaker. Although some of the tales referenced in Shrek were unfamiliar to Polish audiences, the translation team did something good as well. In one of the scenes, Shrek said he’d drag Donkey to the meat house, which seems brutal. But the translation resonates with the Polish audience, being a reference to a local folktale.
The most notable line in Sudden Impact, which is part of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry series, was “Go ahead, make my day.” But this very famous catchphrase lost its impact when it was translated as “Go ahead, make me happy” in the movie’s Italian version.
From these examples you can see the value of good movie translation. It allow the audience to fully understand and appreciate the film, and the film’s original intent and message will not be lost, but adapted to local culture. Moreover, good translation spells success in the box office.
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