20 Feb /12

Film titles translation pitfalls

We’ve all heard hilarious tales of films given titles in foreign languages that either completely miss the point, change it completely or give away the ending. Apparently, “Grease” became “Vaseline” inArgentina… The question is, can a great film title be replicated when transferred to other languages, and if it is, would it work?

One of the key ways to get people flocking to the cinema is to come up with a snappy, yet intriguing title for your film. As a bit of an action movie fan, I can’t think of a better example than “Die Hard”. Simple yet effective, it has spawned a whole host of ­– in my opinion inferior – tributes.

In Germany, “Die Hard” became “Die Slowly” (Stirb Langsam). Translating the English title literally (Stirb Hart) just wouldn’t work, but the German title used keeps the short, sharp punch of the original. And let’s face it, whatever adjective you use, when you couple it with the word “die”, it’s not going to be good, is it?

But if you can’t replicate it exactly, it must be possible to come up with a different title that still encapsulates the spirit of the film. Take “The Full Monty” for example, or “All or Nothing” (Ganz oder Gar Nicht) as it became in German. Different titles, same concept. And it works in both directions. The German film “Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei” (literally: The fat years are over) – about a group of young political activists – is known in English-speaking regions as “The Edukaters”, a title that conveys what the characters are trying to achieve, while the misspelling keeps it edgy.