THE BLOG
22/09/2011 10:12 BST | Updated 12/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Hollywood and Localization

With the thorough localization of feature films, Hollywood movies have been able to build audiences abroad. Yet, the translation of creative text can be a challenge for professional linguists, especially when it comes to localizing dialogue that contains humour and slang.

For instance, with the global release Cars 2 during June and July, Pixar were required to translate the film into 44 different languages. But the key challenge for localization experts was the voicing of Mater, a small-town, country bumpkin truck with a hillbilly accent.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of Disney Character Voices, stated "Mater's kind of a redneck, but that means nothing to anyone overseas because they don't have that particular vocal culture."

"So we had to figure out what region of Germany, for example, has more of an uneducated population without being offensive."

In spite of the efforts made by several feature companies to engage with foreign audiences, some localization projects still fail to capture the essence of the film. In China, for instance, several movie titles were given confusing translations, with "The Full Monty" receiving the name "Six Naked Pigs". Similarly, "The Blair Witch Project" became "Night in the Cramped Forest", while Fargo was translated into the ridiculous "Mysterious Murder in Snowy Cream".

Europe is also not exempt from such localization blunders. In Italy, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" became "If you Leave me, I Delete you", with the French re-naming "The Matrix" as "The Young People who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses".

Something was clearly lost, added or miscommunicated in the translation of these movie titles.

Methods of Localization

The current trend is for big-budget, Hollywood blockbusters to be released almost simultaneously to global audiences. Therefore, there are usually strict time-constraints, and minimum margin for error, placed on professional localization teams.

In the film industry, there are two types of multimedia translation:

1. Subtitling- When spoken or written content is translated and placed in lines across the bottom of the screen. This is a meticulous process that requires precision and a detailed understanding of each scene, as words must be perfectly synchronized with the dialogue and the actions of the character.

2. Dubbing- This is when an oral translation directly replaces the original spoken text. Timing is essential when dubbing a film, with the script needing to be adapted in order to suit the movements and speech of each character. Dubbing is generally the preferred choice for children's movies.

Although dubbing is rarely used in Britain, there are several countries that have the resources, audience size, and history of localizing films in this way. Perhaps the most experienced country with dubbing films is Italy, where major Hollywood releases have been dubbed since 1932.

Notably, by the 1960s, the Italian dubbing industry was so big, that even Italian films were being dubbed by professional voice actors in post-production.

Dubbing is so common in Italy that there are several voice actors who have achieved celebrity status. For example, Ferruccio Amendola (1930-2001) became the unmistakable voice of Hollywood actors such as Bud Spencer, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and Sylvester Stallone. Similarly, Alberto Sordi, is one of Italy's most loved comic actors having dubbed Frank Capra's characters, and voicing Oliver Hardy, where he spoke Italian with a believable English accent.

Although dubbing is usually reserved for nations with large resources and audience sizes, such as Italy, France, Germany, and Spain, there are several advantages for subtitling a film.

Many film critics believe that subtitling shows respect to the original actor, by preserving their voice and the raw emotions that are evoked in their voice. Using subtitles will also ensure that the original soundtrack and background sounds are maintained, while conserving each characters phonetic inflections and accents.

Go Local

Film localizers are given the difficult task of making Hollywood productions suitable for foreign audiences. Often, as is seen with the case of Cars 2, some of the humour and slang will be region specific. This means that translators need to be creative when working with scripts, as they need to appeal to their local audience, while satisfying timing constraints.

Therefore, good film translators need to be good writers who love cinema. Their professional work is invaluable, as it helps us to understand and enjoy foreign movies.