Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Monday, 29 October 2012

Dubbed Films

Having lived in Spain for over 20 years, I have become used to seeing films that have been dubbed into Spanish. In many other countries they are merely subtitled which is cheaper and arguably better in artistic and language-learning terms.

However, nothing can detract from the fact that the dubbing is excellent; the lip-synch is perfect, not like when it is done from another language into English. Given the fact that English is a far more concentrated language which can communicate more in far less syllables, this is no mean feat. Very often in Spanish-dubbed films  the voices are also almost identical.[1]

Yet I do have some gripes. The first is that a lot of background noise is lost so that voices do not change according to location. An exaggeration, but a fairly good illustration, would be that actors sound the same in an echoing tunnel as in a small bedroom with lots of soft furnishings.

Gripe number two is that if a character sings a song or a nursery rhyme, it is translated literally and the poor dubbing actor has to sing non-rhyming blank verse with more syllables than in the original and shoehorn it into the original music. Why not simply use a Spanish song or nursery rhyme with the same subject matter? Now, it seems, many dubbing studios are beginning to realise that they have to do something and so they leave the original actor's voice singing on the sound track or the dubbing actor sings the original song.  

Gripe three is a lack of quality control in the translation. Usually the translation is quite good, but occasionally an idiom escapes the translator. In Spanish to have cold feet simply means that your feet have a lower temperature than the rest of your body. A rather silly question for one bank robber in LA to ask another just before entering the First National, I feel.

I am a great fan of TDT and DVDs. All I have to do is press the corresponding button or make the correct choice and I can enjoy the film in English. At last.

[1] In most cases. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and, other tough guys all have the same deep voice in Spanish – the same voice that advertises latex mattresses on TV. It can be rather unsettling listening to hear the Terminator falling irretrievably in love with Merryl Streep in the Bridges of Madison County and then during the break hear him trying to sell you a mattress!

1 comment:

  1. When we watch a DVD we switch on the subtitles called "English for Hard of Hearing" (EfHoH) because of my hearing difficulties. In addition to dialogue, these also contain a certain amount of "stage directions". For example, you might see "Rhythmic background music playing" or "Dog barking nearby" or "Unintelligible conversation" (so you don't wonder why the subtitles have suddenly stopped).

    I do in fact hear most of the dialogue and background noise but these subtitles provide a safety net for the bits I miss. It is quite fun comparing what is happening viva voce and what the subtitles tell you is happening.

    When we watch a film with French dialogue, we have the EfHoH turned on and there it is fun comparing what the actors say with what the subtitles say they say. Spelling mistakes (e.g. "their" for "there") are not uncommon and at times falsify the sense of what they purport to translate. Idioms and puns always pose problems, as do social references peculiar to the culture shown in the film. For example, how do you convey in brief English subtitles the meaning behind an argument as to whether character A should address character B as "tu" or "vous"? It often comes down to nothing more nuanced than "Be polite to me!"

    For the reasons you give, I think I prefer subtitles to dubbing, now that I am used to them. With respect to songs and poems, you would think that if the film company can afford to employ musicians, designers, historical advisers, translators, etc. etc. it could also afford to employ a wordsmith capable of finding or producing a song or poem in the target language equal in form to the original and near enough the same in content.

    Now, how would you translate "Spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar" into Spanish...?