Hollywood movie titles lost in translation

By Aron Heller

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 28 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 photo, Israelis are seen at the entrance to a cinema in Jerusalem. David O. Russell's crime drama "American Hustle" could be a big winner at Sunday's Academy Awards. But for the movie's many international fans, it may take a little longer to realize it. In their country, there is simply no word that captures the true essence of “Hustle.”

Sebastian Scheiner, Associated Press

JERUSALEM — David O. Russell's crime drama "American Hustle" could be a big winner at Sunday's Academy Awards. But for the movie's many international fans, it may take a little longer to realize it. In their country, there is simply no word that captures the true essence of "Hustle."

So in Israel the film is known in Hebrew as "American Dream." In France, it's translated as "American Bluff." In Argentina, it's "American Scandal." In Portugal, it's "American Sting." In Quebec, it's "American Scam." In Spain, it's the "Great American Scam." And in Turkey, it's merely known as "Trickster."

Big Hollywood films have immediate name recognition in the Unites States. But in the rest of the world, moviegoers are long accustomed to their respective countries translating the titles with their own, often quirkier names.

Observers say there is often a need to reframe a linguistic expression or a cultural phenomenon that may be foreign to non-American ears. Sometimes the distributors orchestrate the name shift to create familiarity, stir a local buzz and attract more viewers. Other times, nonsensical translations simply defy logic.

Arie Barak, whose public relations company represents the studios of Fox, Disney and Sony in Israel, said that in this era of globalization the trend was to try to stick as much as possible to the original title, particularly with blockbusters and well-branded superheroes like Batman and Superman. Other times, a literal translation does the trick just fine.

But the bottom line is money, and if the name doesn't work locally, he said Hollywood studios are more than happy to adapt. That's how his firm came up with one of the strangest Hebrew translations in recent years, turning the animated comedy flick "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" into an Israeli version called "It's Raining Falafel."

"Meatballs are not something Israelis relate to," Barak said, noting that falafel was a better equivalent of a local food staple. (In Turkey, the title apparently translated just fine and the film was renamed "Raining Kofte," a local version of the meatball.)

While the Hebrew film lacked any reference to fried balls of chick peas, Barak said the strategy paid off and the movie did well at the box office. Ditto for "Silver Linings Playbook," which he helped translate into "Optimism is the Name of the Game." In France, for example, the film was renamed "Happiness Therapy."

"We always try to stay true to the source," he said. "When we can't do that we insist on maintaining the spirit of the movie."

The results are often amusing. No one can quite explain how "Terminator" became "Deadly Mission," ''Alien" turned into "The 8th Passenger" or "Top Gun" morphed into "Love in the Skies." Even the movie "Lost in Translation" was literally lost in translation. It was called "Lost in Tokyo."

"'Top Gun you don't have in Hebrew ... when you want to say to a pilot he is good you say he is an 'Ace'," said Avi Edery, deputy chief executive of the New Lineo cinema chain in Israel. "Hebrew is a difficult language. It's not as rich as English sometimes and you cannot translate word by word all the time."

It's hardly a unique phenomenon.

In France, "The Dukes of Hazzard" became "Sheriff, Make Me Afraid," and "The Hangover" is known as "Very Bad Trip." The French have a tendency to add titillating titles to subpar movies to spark interest. So "Step Up" is known as "Sexy Dance," and "No Strings Attached" became "Sexy Friends."

In Germany, Woody Allen's classic "Annie Hall" was called "The Urban Neurotic." The war comedy "Stripes" was called "I think I'm Being Kissed by an Elk!" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was titled "Forget me not!" (In Italy, they called it "If You Leave Me, I Delete You.")

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