Thursday, May 12, 2011

Lost in translation

When my writing partner, David Isaacs and I did a rewrite on JEWEL OF THE NILE for Michael Douglas we had to have the script approved by the Moroccan government before they'd be allowed to film there. Make sure no international crisis would be caused by one of our jokes. So the screenplay was translated into French. I was given a copy of the French version. I don't speak French (or any language including English sometimes) but my wife does. She knows at least enough to yell at desk clerks in Paris.

She read the new version and said it made absolutely no sense. Jokes were translated word by word. So characters were just speaking gibberish.

The script was approved. (Oh, if only networks had the same high standards.)

And recently I came across an episode of ALMOST PERFECT that was dubbed into German (German being the universal language of comedy). I have no idea how faithful the translation was. All I know is that everybody seemed to be angry with everyone else, even in the love scenes.

I have a lot of readers abroad so let me ask you -- do US comedies make sense in different languages? Other than pratfalls, are they remotely funny? (Watch – YES DEAR is considered the funniest US sitcom on three continents.)

There's a reason action movies do better in foreign markets than comedies. You don't have to appreciate irony to enjoy a good explosion.

I've seen a few French comedy movies and have enjoyed them, even with subtitles. And you know a joke is bulletproof if the subtitle can get a laugh. But if the comic premise is clever and the actors are good the movie should work. Interestingly, I've seen several US remakes of French comedies and despite the English-friendly dialogue, I always prefer the originals. Maybe it's just the relief of never having to see Jim Carrey.

I always wonder how faithful the subtitles are to the actual dialog. Haven't you seen this before? A character chatters for thirty seconds. And the subtitle is "Sure". Huh? Or when the subtitle occasionally gives directions. I've seen "nodding" and "takes a puff". Uh, we stupid Americans can see that.

I'm going to try to find someone German who can translate ALMOST PERFECT now. I'm dying to see if our frothy little romantic comedy became Nancy Travis in DAS BOOT.

Heading off today for Cleveland to broadcast the Mariners' three-game series with the Indians.  Join me tomorrow night at 7 PM EDT/4 PM PDT on 710 ESPN Seattle or MLB.COM for all the action and pitching changes.

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