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March 24, 2009 2:40 PM   Subscribe

You may want to skip the US DVD version of "Let the Right One In." The Magnolia/Magnet release of the indie horror movie darling dumbs down the Swedish-to-English translation for the subtitles for the US DVD and Blu-ray versions. (via)
posted by robocop is bleeding (95 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The link is broken.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2009

Does anyone know if this is the sort of thing that the famed 'Blu-Ray Online Experience' can rectify after the fact? Can a studio 'patch' their subtitles over the wire?
posted by kfury at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2009

I've been reading about this. Not to get hyperbole-ish, but it's a freakin travesty. The movie is really a piece of art (even if it's vampire art?) and deserves the wonderful subtitles I got in the theater. Really, one of the best films I saw this year and I hate the idea of the home experience somehow being "less than."
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:54 PM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've been recommending this film to folks who missed it in theaters. Should I now unrecommend it to those same people?
posted by ornate insect at 2:55 PM on March 24, 2009

That's criminal. The film really relies on the subtlety of the interaction between the two children and the way their relationship slowly develops.

Fantastic film though. Really, really, really fantastic.
posted by fire&wings at 2:56 PM on March 24, 2009

Man, I am so sad to read this. I just watched that movie and thought it was fantastic, and now I realize that I was missing a lot of subtlety because of the subs.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:57 PM on March 24, 2009

Ah, fortunately I'll get to see it on a film print for a class. Whew!

I was reading just today that the 25th anniversary edition of The Last Unicorn has undergone this treatment. Fucking with a classic! "Damn" is muted out in a number of places. Damn!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:00 PM on March 24, 2009

Oh, my god! The changes highlighted in the linked article are really terrible. Granted that I was listening to the original Swedish when I saw the movie, but as I found myself reading them anyway, it really seemed that the subtitles were done very well for the theatrical version.

Is this why so many Americans have issues with subtitled movies, because they are uniformly cheap, or is this a one-off?
posted by gemmy at 3:00 PM on March 24, 2009

Dammit. I was planning on seeing this on DVD because I missed it in the theaters. Jeez, I thought foreign movie fans were assumed to be eggheads, and could therefore read more than three words on a screen at any given moment.
posted by scody at 3:00 PM on March 24, 2009

Also, while we're on the topic... In that scene where he catches a glimpse of Eli as she puts on that dress, there's a very quick flash of her naked. I was absolutely too freaked out to go back and single step through that scene again to try to figure out what sort of scary prepubescent vampire morphology they were suggesting. Can anyone explain that scene for me? Were they implying that she was an asexual being?
posted by Rhomboid at 3:03 PM on March 24, 2009

I was going to go and buy this so I can finally watch it after all my friends praises of it.

I guess I'm just going to find a good international rip / telesync / download instead.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:04 PM on March 24, 2009

If you want to have some real fun with foreign language DVDs, should they support it, turn on both the English dubbing and the English subtitles, then compare the two. Often, it is clear that the people doing the subtitling have not had any contact with the dubbed script, or vice versa.
posted by adipocere at 3:05 PM on March 24, 2009

Option 1) boycott the film, send letters requesting that this hack job be fixed
Option 2) buy the film, download subtitles, and find something that loads subtitle files and plays Blu-ray. This is an awkward computer-based work-around, and I cannot vouch for the quality of the linked subtitles. Some subtitle format conversion may be necessary.
Option 3) buy a bootleg copy with better subtitles
Option 4) learn Norwegian
Option 5) suck it up and suffer with shoddy subtitles

At least they're not asking what food u got. But then it might be amusing enough to buy as a laugh.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:09 PM on March 24, 2009

I'm right with you, Rhomboid. I really liked this movie and have been telling friends about it for a few weeks.

And now to realize that it was even better than I had thought... It is a bit irksome to feel cheated now.

But you know what? The movie was still fantastic, and I would recommend it anyway, dumbed down subtitles or not. The lead child actors were amazing in this movie.
posted by John Smallberries at 3:10 PM on March 24, 2009

Also, while we're on the topic... In that scene where he catches a glimpse of Eli as she puts on that dress, there's a very quick flash of her naked. I was absolutely too freaked out to go back and single step through that scene again to try to figure out what sort of scary prepubescent vampire morphology they were suggesting. Can anyone explain that scene for me? Were they implying that she was an asexual being?

She used to be a boy, there are a few pointers to this.

They cast both boys and girls for the role and I believe the actress who plays Eli had her voice dubbed by a woman to make her seem less girly.
posted by fire&wings at 3:10 PM on March 24, 2009

kfury, it is possible to add/replace subtitle streams in the Blu-ray spec, but the authoring house and the studio have to plan for that to be the case first... and then they have to support the infrastructure for the life of the disc. In this particular case, more than that I cannot say.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:14 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just saw this last week, actually, and noticed some of the clumsy dialogue. I had no idea it was because of a shitty job on the subtitles! That's too bad, I feel like I was robbed of a better experience. Even so, I enjoyed the movie. It's too bad Eli didn't tear out Oskar's throat though; that kid was a little dork. Still, she needed him to survive (it seemed to me).
posted by synaesthetichaze at 3:14 PM on March 24, 2009

just to be clear, the dialog I thought I was reading in that first example was awesome. Instead of realizing that I was reading the original and then the US, I thought the original and the US together were all from the original. so here're the subtitles for that scene that I THOUGHT I was reading:

boy 1: Do you live here?
boy 2: Yeah. I live right here, in the jungle gym.
1: seriously, where do you live?
2: Next door to you.
1: how do you know where I live?

which was hysterical, until I realized my error.
posted by shmegegge at 3:17 PM on March 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

kfury - in theory, discs enhanced with BD-Live could feature "patches," if you had a system connected to the internet, but it seems most of that content is just links to internet sites and online games.

adipocere - my understanding of dubbing (which is limited) is that the dub script tries to follow the plot with wording that fits the pacing. Some phrases might be hard to convey literally in a short period in English, so the dialogue is summarized to fit with the action. Subtitles should be better, but that depends on the translator's skill and understanding of the movie, culture and whatnot. The best subtitles I've seen were on fan-subbed anime, where there where the translators had cultural notes sprinkled throughout episodes, and often had intros describing some cultural nuances that could be missed by the uninformed viewer. It felt like something akin to reading Shakespeare plays with footnotes.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:18 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the book, Eli was a

please mefimail that next time. I know you put a SPOILER there, but it's not all that easy to stop reading something like that in a vertically scrolling discussion. everyone here has to somehow scroll past your comment without accidentally reading the spoiler, now, which is easier said than done.
posted by shmegegge at 3:19 PM on March 24, 2009 [9 favorites]

Swedish, filthy light thief, not Norwegian.
Mutually intelligible, but not the same.
posted by gemmy at 3:20 PM on March 24, 2009

Yeah, definitely not bothering with that one. Pity, i wanted to see it.
posted by Artw at 3:22 PM on March 24, 2009

Any word on the R2?
posted by Artw at 3:24 PM on March 24, 2009

This pisses me off to no end. I just finally got to watch this! Enjoyed it anyway, though... between watching it with crappy subtitles, and putting it off until they make a better version and eventually forgetting about it, I'd recommend watching it with crappy subtitles.
posted by gurple at 3:24 PM on March 24, 2009

That reminds me of this unauthorized set of Excel Saga DVDs I got a few years ago. It's 3 DVDs, and the subs are fine in DVDs 1 and 2, but in the third DVD the subs were literally done from a Chinese translation instead of the original Japanese. They're so bad it's hilarious. The subs on the third DVD even use the Chinese names for the characters so if you're not aware of the issue you wouldn't be sure what's going on.
posted by clevershark at 3:32 PM on March 24, 2009

I know this is anathema to a lot of people, but on the DVD I have sitting here from Netflix, there's an English-language overdub track, in addition to the Swedish audio track (which I'd combine with the subs, since I don't speak Swedish).

Is the English overdub better than the subtitles? I normally hate watching anything that's been dubbed, but I'd be willing to do it if the dialogue is less butchered.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:33 PM on March 24, 2009

I saw this on the big screen. By the look of the subtitles on the DVD I would have thought a lot less of it if I had seen it on DVD for the first time. My Swedish is mediocre, so I wasn't really able to follow the dialogue.

This sort of thing annoys me -- not so much when subtitles are ludicrously wrong but when there has been a half-assed job on them. Years ago I saw Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring in subtitled versions, but I was a highschoo, student with a few years of French so I was able to more-or-less follow the dialogue. The subtitling was just kind of lacklustre... the French dialogue at several points has characters excusing their appalling behaviour by disclaimiing control over their actions and claiming it to be "la force du destin" (the force of destiny). This was translated as the pallid word "fate," which is an okay subsititute, I guess; or at least would be if there were not this Verdi melody called "La Forza del Destina" being used as the theme music of the movie (played several times on the soundtrack). When even foreigner teenagers with a smattering of these languages are thinking your translations are lousy, they probably are.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:34 PM on March 24, 2009

They could get the people who did Akira to do the dub, so everyone sounds like characters from Dogtanian and the Muskerhounds.
posted by Artw at 3:36 PM on March 24, 2009

Hmm. I bittorrented the movie a few months ago, and it looks like the bittorrented version has the original subtitles. So that's a solution, if it doesn't bother you too much.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:40 PM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

gemmy, thanks for the correction.

Artw - DVD Compare should have more information on various regional pressings as it comes available (here's a link to the DVD). If another region format is better, don't forget to check your player for region and format compatibility, and check the region code hacks for your player if you haven't already.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:41 PM on March 24, 2009

There was a nice post last August on the challenges of subtitling. Bad subs are bad subs, but there is some method (and significant market forces) behind the madness, as well.
posted by cortex at 3:41 PM on March 24, 2009

If you Google search the URL, you can get to the page. Here's a search you can steal. As far as I can tell the URL is the same. Very weird.

"Swedish, filthy light thief, not Norwegian.
" - gemmy

There's something of a joke there, somewhere.

Also: "Hi, I'm new!"
posted by Decimask at 3:44 PM on March 24, 2009

The link is broken.

Looks like they're over their traffic limit at Yahoo. You can check out the page via Coral Cache: Let The Wrong Subtitles In To LET THE RIGHT ONE IN?!
posted by pb at 3:44 PM on March 24, 2009

I'm way too drunk to read this thread, so I'm just going to link to this DVD cover (NSFW) instead. It has nothing to do with things discussed (I think) and it is a cover that surrounds a movie called ”Vampire ecstasy” (originally released in 1973) and its tagline reads "Let the right one in. And out. And in. And out". Moa ha ha oh god I need to lie down.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 3:46 PM on March 24, 2009

Eli looks like a girl but isn't, something that Eli says herself in the movie.

At the time I thought she was referring to being a vampire, not to being a boy. Thanks for the clarification.

She has taken on the guise of a frail little girl that men want to protect, partially as a strategy for survival.

That makes a lot of sense. And it leads me to my next question: immediately after finishing watching the movie I came to the conclusion that she genuinely cared for Oskar and that's why she returned to help him. But then I started thinking a bit more cynically and realized that after Håkan's death Eli would be on the lookout for a replacement, and I started wondering if she might have been motivated more by that desire than any feelings she had for Oskar (or more likely a mixture of both), and whether Håkan had originally been recruited in a similar way. Can anyone who has read the book elaborate and fill in the missing pieces?
posted by Rhomboid at 3:46 PM on March 24, 2009

This is such a fantastic film -- it kills me that the US version is dumbing down the subtleties. I just saw it in the theater in NYC a few weeks ago, and it was nearly perfect.

The book is *awesome*, too. It's way more full-on horror than the film. No spoilers here, but I can't put it down. Am planning to smuggle it into the can at work just to get in a few more pages.

I will say that this is one case where you should definitely see the film before reading the book. The film is much more subtle and sweet and cuts out a lot of gory, graphic monstrosity that is really fascinating, but would kind of overrule the ideas the movie floats.
posted by chinese_fashion at 3:47 PM on March 24, 2009

By the way, learn swedish you lazy bums. Det är inte så svårt.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 3:47 PM on March 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Which, this nit-picking a bit, but there's an argument to be made here that "dumbed-down" may not be the right description of what happened here at all. Dumbing something down strikes me (and maybe this is just a personal usage thing) as a willful act, an active attempt to remove intellectual content from a thing. You dumb it down because you don't think your audience can handle it as is, or because you dislike the distracting intellectual stuff. A thing becomes dumber because you want it to be dumber.

This may just be bad subtitling. Insufficient resources, rush job, amateurs doing the work, etc. The budget and schedule for getting the subtitling work could well have been neglected, malformed parts of the project, with shit in producing shit out.

Calling it "dumbing-down" feels a bit like a conspiracy theory to me.
posted by cortex at 3:49 PM on March 24, 2009

Wow, I found the English dub for this particularly bad. I couldn't take more than 10 minutes of it, I wonder if they just followed the dub script for the subtitles? I also think there's some sort of perfectly explainable contract / distributor clause that someone was avoiding for business reasons. Even more reason to cut out the middle man. Just show me a couple of prozac commercials stream this to me hulu style please.

You guys realize this is going to be remade by the director of Cloverfield, right? Not that it would be possible to find two child actors as good as the originals, I'm sure they'll get Julia Stiles as the mom, find a couple of kids, cut out the love story and have it about a weird vampire and pedophile (they'll play that one up!) and a kid who tells stories through his handicam and finds a weird playmate.

Ugh. I hope there's someone out there make bad translations for American films. "Please, take the cookies from the car." "Fredo, you are my brother, now we must depart Cuba for America."
posted by geoff. at 3:49 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

39 comments and no jokes about sibling/moose conflicts... I'm impressed.
posted by knave at 3:51 PM on March 24, 2009

Calling it "dumbing-down" feels a bit like a conspiracy theory to me.

From the accounts of changes the second set of subtitles certainly seem inferior though.

and dumb

...oh, and now I've seen a shitload of spoilers for the film. Grmph.
posted by Artw at 3:52 PM on March 24, 2009

By the way, learn swedish you lazy bums. Det är inte så svårt.

Den som synder, sover ikke.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:54 PM on March 24, 2009

I bet Hitler's gonna be pissed when he hears about this.
posted by dhammond at 3:56 PM on March 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Because dvds are still played on sdtvs, the text is a lot larger and there is much less space for subtiltes. It sucks but it's the way things are. This is article is pretty weak.
posted by aspo at 4:03 PM on March 24, 2009

Yeah, I liked both the book and the movie. Not to the point where I'm gushing to people about either, but if anybody was all "Hey, do you know of any good Swedish modernistic vampire tales that are basically revenge fantasies and after the first few scenes you already know how the plot is going to unfold that come in both novel and filmacular form?" Let The Right One In would probably be my fourth or fifth suggestion.

What I want to know is: has anybody here read Lindqvist's new zombie book Handling The Undead, and if so, what's the deal with that? Any good?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:07 PM on March 24, 2009

Of course, everyone will have their pet peeves. One of mine, which I noticed in the original subtitles, was that the note Eli leaves for Oskar, signed "Din Eli", is translated "Yours, Eli", when I would prefer "Your Eli" as I think it is both closer to the original and dramatically different.

The same note is a lot more poetic in the original. "I must be gone and live, or stay and die" vs.



I'm amused by the opening shot at the climax, where the building's sign BAD is not translated ("Baths"). Unintentional cross-language pun. There's probably a word for that.

On the other hand, re. the subtitle "What else am I good for" (original subs) vs. "Where else would you be" (DVD): I think the DVD version might be more accurate. Though I have trouble catching the end of what he says, he definitely says "where/what else will you", not "what else will I". I think the Icons of Fright interpretation of that scene is mistaken. Eli does not say maybe he shouldn't go out tonight, she says that maybe he shouldn't live with her. In other words, she's far colder to him.
posted by alexei at 4:11 PM on March 24, 2009

So it’s common practice? See, now I’m going to be wondering which films I’ve seen on DVD with dumbo subs when better subs were available.
posted by Artw at 4:12 PM on March 24, 2009

…also left wondering how it is that I’m able to read the apparently unreadable-on-TV subs at whatever resolution they are in the scaled down screengrabs.
posted by Artw at 4:14 PM on March 24, 2009

Well, by "new" I guess I mean 2005, as opposed to Let The Right One In's 2004. And the answer is probably "not many" since it appears Handling The Undead is barely available outside the Commonwealth.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:15 PM on March 24, 2009

I've not seen the film, but can one safely assume that the US theatrical release had accurate subtitling? If so, why would the titles change from the theatrical release to the DVD? Or, for that matter, from the preview DVD and the release DVD? Seems like an awful lot of duplicate work and expense.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:15 PM on March 24, 2009

Link is broken. So, what is the big problem for the DVD producers to just keep the subtitles from the theatrical release? The work is already done. Thanks for ruining it, guys. I saw this in theaters and will tell people to wait until you fix it.
posted by asfuller at 4:15 PM on March 24, 2009

This sucks. I didn't see it in the theater and was planning on getting the DVD after all the praise, but I'm not going to pay for this. Thanks for the heads up, robocop.
posted by homunculus at 4:17 PM on March 24, 2009

The AV Club Book vs. Film: Let the Right One In. Explains the deal with the Renfield, the glimpse, Oskar's dad, and various other matters that I totally misinterpreted.

(Although I kind of like the movie's implied cyclical explanation for that initial henchman better than the book's more mundane squick.)
posted by ormondsacker at 4:21 PM on March 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

I just watched the film this morning, and am happy to learn that the subs I read were not the dumbed-down ones.

Beautiful, creepy film.
posted by emelenjr at 4:21 PM on March 24, 2009

For more of a context to go along with the movie, I highly, highly recommend reading the book. It's a lot more in depth, has a bunch of extra scenes and a few extra characters, but it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the movie at all.
posted by hopeless romantique at 4:24 PM on March 24, 2009

We apologise for the fault in the
subtitles. Those responsible have been

posted by Rhaomi at 4:29 PM on March 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

artw: The resolution of those screens is higher than that of 480i SDTV. (Which is really 240. And, because it was wide screen you don't have 16:9 aspect ratio instead 4:3 which means you get more width and therefore can place more text. (Plus just because you can read it doesn't mean everyone can easily read it while watching a move, you do have to make your subtitles with subpar eyesight in mind.) Look at the scene where the guys are in the bar. The dvd text is much shorter but takes up a lot more space.

Oh and the original images were even smaller and were then shunk down and aliased. That's going to look better. I've never seen dvd subtitles aliased with the movie background, I'm not sure why.
posted by aspo at 4:36 PM on March 24, 2009

Oh and I forgot. Because people still have old tvs with giant picture covering bezels on the side you can only use ~80% of the sdtv signal for subtitles, because you really don't want to cut those off.
posted by aspo at 4:39 PM on March 24, 2009

The AV Club Book vs. Film...

Hey, that's a pretty cool section, thanks for pointing it out.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:39 PM on March 24, 2009

I kind of liked the ambiguity of the relationships in the film. I worry the book might squash that.
posted by cazoo at 4:45 PM on March 24, 2009

Little late, but... ha ha taters... uh, taitors. (4th from the bottom)
posted by Baron Kriminel at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2009

All you really need to know about Magnolia's attitude toward this (awesome) movie on home video is that, at least on the Blu-ray version, the English-language dub is the default. They have no idea what they've got. I wouldn't look forward to a fixed version of this unless somebody like Criterion picks it up — which seems unlikely. Glad I saw it for the first time theatrically — but beware, since I've heard there are some prints circulating in unconscionably poor condition. (Like the-theater-had-to-hand-out-refunds-after-the-screening poor.)

But please, don't let the subtitles issue dissuade you from watching the DVD. Dialogue is just a small part of what makes a great movie great, and Let the Right One In is a pretty terrific movie.
posted by Joey Bagels at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2009

Yeah, but come on, the cinematic version squished down into a 349px x 211px compressed JPG remains perfectly readable. Also, and maybe this is just because I'm not seeing it in the right context, the DVD version looks huge. And it seems like they leave the few bits of text they allow onscreen for way longer.

Also: For Blueray????
posted by Artw at 4:49 PM on March 24, 2009

Of course, everyone will have their pet peeves. One of mine, which I noticed in the original subtitles, the note Eli leaves for Oskar, signed "Din Eli", is translated "Yours, Eli", when I would prefer "Your Eli" as I think it is both closer to the original and dramatically different.

Well, there's one way the DVD subtitles are actually an improvement over the theatrical version, then: your (and my, too) preferred translation is the one that's on the DVD.
posted by keever at 4:54 PM on March 24, 2009


I've been looking forward to seeing Let the Right One In for months, and they won't even give me the same subtitles people got in the theater? Fuck that. I've already started the torrent.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:04 PM on March 24, 2009


posted by cortex at 5:07 PM on March 24, 2009

Thank you for this. There is something here that reminds me of the Elements of Strunk thread. This is an obvious example of how an honest desire to simplify language can result in utter stupitidy.

Also: See the løveli lakes.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:18 PM on March 24, 2009

stupitidy? Yeah, that's what I wrote and that's what i meant.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:21 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thank you ormondsacker for the link to the AV Club article, which was quite informative.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:42 PM on March 24, 2009

I've been a big fan of this movie for some time, and am relieved to have seen the version with the earlier, better subtitles. Whether the heavily truncated text is the result of saying, "OK, we need a bigger font size, so let's trim down the sentences to a more simple form" or if they believed Americans have a shorter attention span/tolerance for subtitles, it's still unfortunate.

Also, I bet you all wish we had spoiler tags now, eh?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:48 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

My guess is that in order to re-use them for the American version of the DVD, Magnolia/MAGNET probably had to pay Ingrid again for her services. Rather then do that, perhaps they hired someone else to do the translations for real cheap.

And who would that be? We might as well give proper credit where credit is due. Are the American subtitles uncredited?
posted by crapmatic at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2009

Did anyone actually read the screencaps he shows? I'd love to pile on, having looked forward to this movie for some time now, but I think the author is feigning outrage here without any real substance. I was all ready to be outraged myself, but ended up having a bit of a laugh at the pretentiousness of it.

they dumbed down the complex subtlety of "forgive me" and change it to "sorry" for the unenlightened Americans - really?
posted by Cletis at 8:31 PM on March 24, 2009

Haven't read the thread, but we just sent back our Netflix copy after trying to watch it at least three times. The dubbing is indeed strange and makes it such that it was all we could focus on. Guess I'll have to watch the swedish version.
posted by Big_B at 8:36 PM on March 24, 2009

they dumbed down the complex subtlety of "forgive me" and change it to "sorry" for the unenlightened Americans - really?

That's not the best example. I think the new version of the exchange at the pub is confusing, for instance, not to mention how the through-the-wall semiphore was changed from spelling out "sweet" to "ooh" (?), and so forth. Other portions, while retaining the general meaning of the dialogue, were like watching the Cliff Notes version of a movie which, yes, is very much like "dumbing it down".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:44 PM on March 24, 2009

For those watching on a computer using vlc (or any media player allowing you to load subtitles), here are the english subs from the swedish bluray (srt format).
posted by Auden at 8:49 PM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

The DVD I got from netflix played in dubbed English by default. About half way through, I turned on the English subtitles, curious about the difference, and found them to be rudimentary compared to the dubbing. The dubbed English was actually better dialogue, and from my memory seems to be taken from the better subtitled dialogue! Go figure.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:01 PM on March 24, 2009

yeah it looks like the original translations are better in many cases.

But no amount of skillful translation is going to fix a story that borders on completely random and arbitrary, and seems to assume every viewer has read the book, so why bother explaining anything?

No amount of skillful translation is going to fix unintentional laugh-out-loud bad scenes like the cat attack.

no amount of skillful translation is going to fix the uneven, low-budget look of the photography.

posted by drjimmy11 at 11:32 PM on March 24, 2009

This happened with La Femme Nikita, which has shitty, shitty subtitles on the DVD release. You even get to see the movie originals in the making-of doco, just to rub in what a crap, lazy, shithouse job the DVD subs are.
posted by rodgerd at 12:25 AM on March 25, 2009


It was a low budget film. 3.5 million US, which is relatively absurd for any movie with any real special effects that isn't a comedy (and the 'walk in uninvited' scene was astonishingly good, though the cats scene was a little off, you're right) . But I have to disagree with you about the quality of photography and artibraryness of the story. The camerawork won awards and with ratings like 97% on rotten tomatoes and 82 on metacritic, there's at least a chance it's a very minority opinion you hold. I had no problem following the logic of the narrative and I've neither read the book nor spoken a word of swedish.
posted by Sparx at 2:23 AM on March 25, 2009

I watched it with the US subtitles. I still thought it was awesome.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:32 AM on March 25, 2009

As a subtitles translator who takes his job seriously, I'm delighted to see subtitles receiving such close scrutiny.
Yes, it is an outrage, and yes, the original subs are obviously superior. You don't have to understand Swedish to know that.
posted by Silky Slim at 2:51 AM on March 25, 2009

Or perhaps "subtitle translator". I've never been sure which.
I'm a film & TV translator. I do subtitles. You get the idea.

posted by Silky Slim at 3:10 AM on March 25, 2009

Well, I don't know about you, but this is making me look forward even more to the Magnolia release of Twilight featuring subtitles written by Charlie Kaufman.
posted by Spatch at 5:45 AM on March 25, 2009

Wow, those changes are completely bizarre. I watched it from a less-than-legal source and ended up better off for it. I will not recommend people buy the commercial DVD if these changes aren't corrected.
posted by odinsdream at 6:53 AM on March 25, 2009

This may just be bad subtitling. Insufficient resources, rush job, amateurs doing the work, etc. The budget and schedule for getting the subtitling work could well have been neglected, malformed parts of the project, with shit in producing shit out.

How do you reconcile this with the fact that there are already proper English subtitles that they could have just placed into the DVD release? Is it suggested that this was a copyright issue?
posted by odinsdream at 7:01 AM on March 25, 2009

I'm suggesting it's possible that "hey just use the existing subs" wasn't a shrug-and-do-it move, yeah, for whatever reasons. I don't know if it'd be something best described as a copyright issue so much as a licensing issue, maybe, or something else gumming up the works, but it seems more likely that they'd not use the existing subs for any reason at all rather than no reason at all, yes?

I have only lay knowledge of that business, so I'm not asserting anything one way or the other about how it worked out or who did what or what the motivations for the decisions made were—if anybody comes up with actual info there, I'd love to hear it.

But it's not like subtitles come out of a magical black box that costs nothing and has a dial on it that says "Quality". So treating it like what happened here is someone gave that dial a twist crapward and hit the "go" button and that's how the DVD subs ended up shitty seems silly. The stretch of road between point A and point B is a lot more interesting to me than just saying "boy does point B suck".
posted by cortex at 7:23 AM on March 25, 2009

cortex: The idea that using the original subtitles was, in some way, more expensive than remaking them, however lamely, for the US market holds some traction - why else would there be another attempt when the theatrical version is about and available?. It's a translation, and distribution companies in the english speaking world may have contracts with translation companies.

The distributor has acknowledged a problem, however. And you'd think that whatever quality the translation company might have, they'd at least have access to prior translation attempts, and attempt to improve, rather than replace or skimp.

IMHO, of course
posted by Sparx at 11:37 AM on March 25, 2009

I have only lay knowledge of that business, so I'm not asserting anything one way or the other about how it worked out or who did what or what the motivations for the decisions made were—if anybody comes up with actual info there, I'd love to hear it.

I don't do subs for a living, but I've worked on a movie with subtitles intended for english speaking audiences. during editing (or other post production work involving subtitles, such as screener preparation) there's usually a translator who gives the editor or assistant (or screener preparation dude) the subs to put in for their immediate usage. these are not intended to be, resemble or inform the final subtitles. they're there because you need something there for when someone who doesn't speak the language has to watch it post haste. the translator will sit next to the person putting the titles in (usually in final cut or avid or stuff like that) and going "okay, here he's saying 'yo mama.' " sometimes these dudes do a terrible job because it's quick and dirty. sometimes these dudes really care and try to nail it. another scenario could be the difference between a native speaker of swedish who translates to english very well and a native speaker of english who translates swedish passably.

but, once it's time for a real print burn in on the film reels for distribution or film screening, it's sent to a studio that specializes in that, and though they may have the screener the editor or other post-level worker created, they may not reference it since they have their own translators that they depend on. if I had to guess, I'd say that this is where the disconnect happens. this could explain why a pre-release screener would be different from the final dvd.

what's odd is that the theatrical film release in this country would have different subtitles. not being totally familiar with dvd authoring on a professional level for market release, I'd imagine that it has something to do (similarly to the above situation) with the fact that film projection subtitles are burned into the image where dvd subtitles are imposed in real time in your dvd player, so the dvd authors translated it themselves rather than rely on the film version. either that, or it's something totally beyond my comprehension.

now, please understand that I'm not an expert. take this with a huge dose of salt and consider that my experiences dealing with subtitles were (a) based on translating a foreign language spoken in a documentary intended for english speaking audiences, rather than a foreign language film intended for speakers of that language which is later translated after initial release and (b) a one time gig that by no means made me an expert in subtitle work and may be different from how pro subtitlers work.
posted by shmegegge at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've written on MeFi before about my experiences with subtitling, but I don't consider myself an expert. The dumb-subtitles thing really is a mystery to me. I don't know why the releasing company came up with a new set of subtitles for the DVD. There are only two explanations that come to mind, neither satisfactory:

1. Copyright. It's conceivable that whoever did the translation licensed their work for the film edition only, but that strikes me as unlikely. Almost all translation is done as "work for hire," and the translator retains no rights over the work. The company behind the theatrical release is the same one behind the DVD release, so no contention there. Additionally, this is hardly the first subtitled movie to be released in theaters and later on DVD. But it is the first where I've been aware of this kind of brouhaha. Even if the translator did retain copyright over the translation (which I doubt), I would imagine that the releasing company would have used boilerplate contract language covering subsequent releases in other media.

2. Readability. Perhaps someone, somewhere, has decided that home viewers can't be burdened with as much text as theater viewers. There actually might be something to this. I know that when I'm watching a movie at home, I'm much more prone to be distracted. When I'm at a theater, I'm there to watch a movie and nothing else. If one's attention is divided, the subtitles—which are severely constrained under the most lax circumstances—will need to be positively telegraphic in order to get through. Of course, if you hack them up enough, you may not be left with anything worth reading.
posted by adamrice at 8:51 AM on March 26, 2009

Also, Guillermo del Toro wrote the English subtitles for Pan's Labyrinth himself because he didn't want some subtitling house screwing up his movie for American audiences.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:35 PM on March 26, 2009

I just wanted to mention that I watched the film on netflix's streaming service, this weekend, and the subtitles on there are the good ones. All of the examples from this article are present in the film I watched with the good version in place.

you know, if you gots the netflix and intends ta watches it.
posted by shmegegge at 10:11 AM on April 13, 2009

also, the movie rocked my motherfucking ASS off.
posted by shmegegge at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2009

When watching this on Netlix's "Watch Instantly" on my macbook, the subtitles are chopped off at the top of the screen.
posted by mecran01 at 5:24 PM on April 19, 2009

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