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I was talking with a friend of mine (who lives in Italy) about two of David Fincher’s flicks. It actually took us a moment to figure out that we were talking about the same flick. You see, what you may know as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, in Italy (and most of Europe) is known as “Millennium: Uomini che Odiano le Donne” [Millennium: Men Who Hate Women], because the Swedish novel on which the movie is based is called Män som hatar kvinnor which means, you guessed it, “Men who hate women.”
But this small misunderstanding got me thinking – which is always dangerous: why is it that many times (too many, actually), movie titles are horribly translated in other languages? Of course I don’t have an answer – this is one of those rhetorical questions that should be read with the voice of James Earl Jones, but… I mean, it’s not like a song by Bruce Springsteen gets translated, right? They sell it as is, you listen to it as it is – no question about it. But with movies, not only do they frequently dub them in a questionable way [this might be the subject for another article], but when it comes to the titles, all the bets are off. They disintegrate them – sometimes harming the movie itself.
And since I was technically made in Italy, allow me to give you a few examples of this butchering that happens in Spaghettiland.
Do you remember the wonderful movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”? Well, in Italy it came out as “Se Mi Lasci, Ti Cancello” [If You Dump Me, I’ll Erase You] – giving the audience the illusion that it was another one of those zany Jim Carrey comedies. You should have seen the face of the audience, for that one. Same thing happened with “I Love You, Philip Morris”, known as “Colpo di Fulmine – Il Mago della Truffa” [Bolt of Lightning – The Magic Con Artist]. Ewan McGregor was almost removed from the posters and the ads. Imagine when the audience realized that there was a love story between the two of them! Apparently, poor Jim Carrey is becoming like his Pygmalion, Rodney Dangerfield, and doesn’t get any respect (at least when it comes to movie titles).
This trend is as old as movies themselves.
“The Sound of Music”, for instance, was distributed as “Tutti Insieme Appassionatamente” [All Together, Passionately]. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” was publicized as “La Donna che Visse Due Volte” [The Woman Who Lived Twice]. And the Billy Wilder’s comedy “Avanti!” (already in Italian, mind that – it means “Come in,” or “Go Ahead”), came in the theatres as “Che Cosa È Successo Tra Mio Padre e Tua Madre?” [Whatever Happened Between My Father and Your Mother?].
Peachy, isn’t it?
What follows is a list of some of the most creative Italian translations, in random order:
The way-too-much-mocked “Howard the Duck” came out with the slightly misleading title “Howard e il Destino del Mondo” [Howard and the Destiny of the World]. Now, removing the concept of “duck” from the title and (almost) from the poster art could have been a bold move, but I can guarantee you that it was quite an experience, being inside a dark theatre with some 400 other people all waiting for another amazing George Lucas’ experience, and when Howard first appeared on the screen, hearing all those people saying, in unison: “What the f**k is that?!” Priceless.
And that’s not the only one.
A semi-obscure and yet fun movie in the 80s was titled “Street Trash”. It came out as “Horror in Bowery Street”. It’s interesting to know that nobody in Italy knows what Bowery Street is (and neither do a lot of people in America, for that matter).
The “Karate Kid movie where he doesn’t fight but plays guitar instead” with Ralph Macchio was titled “Crossroads”, a wink at the popular spot where allegedly blues was born. It became “Mississippi Adventure”.
And then there is even the fake original title.
The Matthew-Broderick-plus-a-monkey flick came out as “Fuga dal Futuro – Danger Zone” [Escape from the Future – Danger Zone], implying that the original title was “Danger Zone”. But it wasn’t. The movie here was titled “Project X”, so… Who can benefit from such a silly thing like that?
But let’s just move along.
“The Break-Up” with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn was publicized as “Ti Odio Ti Lascio Ti…” [I Hate You I Leave You I…]. Yes, with no punctuation except for the final three “…” It looks like they forgot the rest of it.
I can understand how a title like “City Slickers” might be hard to translate in another language. What I can’t understand is that a movie like “City Slickers” came out as “Scappo dalla Città – La Vita, l’Amore e le Vacche” [I’m Fleeing the City – Life, Love and Cows]. To underline the concept, the three horses of the poster were replaced with cows. And hilarity ensued. Wait a second – no, it didn’t.
The Michael J. Fox’s lycanthropy-themed movie was “Teen Wolf”. Brief, direct, clear. Italy thought a little bit and then gave birth to “Voglia di Vincere” [Winning Wish]. Uuh… Beg pardon? I mean, yes, the theme of the movie is a desire to succeed, but not telling the people this movie was about a teenager werewolf once again threw the audience for a loop.
Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Outsiders” came out as “I Ragazzi della 56a Strada” [The Kids from 56th Street]. In case you’re wondering: the movie never mentions any street, square, alley or gutter. I also like the shiny typeface used to write the title, almost as if it were a musical a la Grease. Dazzling! Forget about the deaths and the drama and the tears – as long as you’re dazzled, that’s what counts!
“Die Hard” came out as “A un Passo dall’Inferno – Trappola di Cristallo” [One Step from Hell – Crystal Trap], subsequently changed into “Trappola di Cristallo” [they just dropped the first part] to finally lock it as “Die Hard – Trappola di Cristallo”.
Which brings us to one of my all-time favorite: “Friday the 13th” came out as “Venerdì 13″ [Friday the 13th], so everything is fine with that; when “Friday the 13th Part 2″ followed, the next year, it came out as… “L’Assassino Ti Siede Accanto” [The Killer Is Sitting Close To You]. WHAT?! Why?! Does Jason even sit in this movie?! He hides, prowls, chases, slides, lies down, walks, throws stuff… The one thing he does not do is sit. And besides, why change a perfectly suitable “Part 2” with a completely misleading title?
∗ Alas, the Friday saga is not the only one with butchered sequences…
But this might be the subject of another article.