Sunday, May 11, 2008

Meine liebste Rabenmutter

Today being Mothers' Day, I was thinking about one of the most-known mother movies, Mommie Dearest. Interestingly, the first time I saw it was when I was spending a summer in Germany visiting my relatives in the "old country".

One of the big differences between watching movies in Germany, and watching them in most other western European countries, is that in Germany all the movies are dubbed, as opposed to sub-titled. In Scandinavia, for example, almost everything is subtitled. This in itself has some interesting effects; in Sweden, for example, E.T. The Extraterrestrial was given a rating as being suitable only for ages 12 and above. This wasn't because of any values the movie portrays, an urban legend that's made its way to the internet. Instead, it's because of the movie's subtitles. Apparently, the next classification below 12-year-olds was deemed to young to have children reading all those subtitles. (Indeed, in countries where most things are subtitled, cartoons are still dubbed. The Czech Republic, for example, is one such country.)

Dubbing probably presents more problems than subtitling, however. I'm sure a lot of us recall those dreadful dubs of Asian movies, especially Japanese sci-fi movies or Chinese action movies, where the words spoken barely approach the movement of the actors' lips; it's much like the scene in Singing in the Rain where Lina Lamont is saying, "No, no, no!" but the synchronization has gone off, and we hear Don Lockwood's "Yes, yes, yes!" instead. There's also mistranslations: a famous example in German cinema is from the movie Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart's line, "Here's looking at you, kid" has been translated as "Ich schau' Dir in die Augen, Kleines", which translates to "I'm looking you in the eyes, little one". It's a dreadful mistranslation, but it's become so iconic that this is the way Germans know the line. One other interesting problem with dubbing is one I noticed when I studied in Russia and tried to watch movies on TV: the dubbing was so bad you could hear the original dialog faintly playing under the Russian dubbing! It made it tough if you're trying to follow a foreign language, but impossible to follow the movie in its original language.

If you're more interested in the dubbing of movies into German, there's a good article here.

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