We were watching “Flickering Lights”, a <a title=”DanishEnglish Translations” href=”http://localizationllc.com/” target=”_blank”>Danishcrime caper. She’s Danish and I speak the language passably. They did an acceptable job with most of the dialogue, though they couldn’t really capture the clash of dialect when the Copenhagen toughs find themselves in rural Jutland. What annoyed me this time was that they didn’t translate buttransposed proper names and places, apparently in the belief that English-speaking audiences want a movie set in Denmark to seem as though it were set in Cleveland.
The characters make reference to Tivoli, the beloved gardens and amusement park in central Copenhagen; the subtitles call it “Disneyland”. The mob boss that the gangsters rip off and then flee in terror is called by his islands of origin; he is “the Faroese” (Færingen) to his underlings. I don’t expect the subtitles to carry across his terrifyingly plodding <a title=”DanishEnglish Translation” href=”http://localizationllc.com/” target=”_blank”>Danish diction, but do they really have to rename him “the Eskimo”? The Inuit (as they like to be known) are not typically towering bearded blonds like the Faroese is. It goes on; Tove Ditlevsen, a poet who wrote of the dirt-poor workers of the Danish 1930s is called “Emily Dickinson”. “ Matador“, a legendary Danish television series, is given as “Rich Man, Poor Man.” Everyone in Denmark knows “Matador”. I’ve never seen an episode of “Rich Man, Poor Man” and it certainly doesn’t form a major part of the national consciousness.
I don’t expect most English or American viewers to know Matador or Tove Ditlevsen. (I hope they might have at least heard of the Faroese Islands.) But I imagine that people who rent foreign movies do so for a reason; they like foreign experiences, to be taken away from Brooklyn or Croydon for two hours. If they miss a reference, well, there’s Google, or simply the delightful puzzlement of not getting absolutely everything.
Distrubutors of foreign movies: give your audiences some credit. And readers, name and shame: have you seen any terribly bad subtitles in your day? Sound off in the comments