Saturday, April 04, 2009

WHAT ARE WORDS (SUBTITLES) FOR WHEN NO ONE LISTENS (READS THEM) ANYMORE?


Over at Scanners, Jim Emerson devoted quite a bit of energy last week alerting the unsuspecting audience for Let the Right One In about a disconcerting development in the release of the film on Blu-ray and DVD. Jim reports:


“BEWARE: If you pre-ordered or bought a DVD/Blu-ray of the gorgeous Swedish vampire picture Let the Right One In -- don't open it! Return it immediately. For reasons that defy business sense (and artistic sense and common sense), on March 10, 2009, Magnolia Home Video/Magnet Releasing put out one of 2008's most acclaimed movies on discs with stripped-down, poorly translated subtitles -- NOT the version released in North American theaters. Last week disappointed and conscientious bloggers from Icons of Fright, Bloody-Disgusting.com and elsewhere were on top of the story, shocked that such a high-profile release would be given such shoddy treatment. The company says the disc is not technically "defective." It does what it's supposed to do, apparently. It just does it badly. Don't buy it. Return it.”


Jim has updated information here, including a condescending response from Magnolia Home Video and a comments section full of indignation and thoughtful questions about why a company could or would opt to use a translation different from that found in the widely accepted and familiar theatrical release. Magnolia has also stated that there will be no exchanges for new discs based on dissatisfaction with the subtitles used on the first pressing, but that when inventories of the current stock are depleted a new edition using the theatrical titles will become available. (Given that the people who really wanted this disc probably ran out and bought it before getting wind of these crappy titles, I’m not holding my breath waiting for that inventory to disappear.) As I commented on Jim’s site, in talking to someone I know conversant in the world of foreign film translations, I gather that in many cases it is not incumbent upon a company, upon releasing a foreign language film, to use the theatrical subtitles, and it may very well be that the rights to use those titles is more expensive than other more cheaply produced translations that may be available. (In its official response, which Jim reproduces in its entirety, the Magnolia spokesman claims that the translation used was more “literal” than the one used in theaters—which, if the screengrabs Jim links to are any indication, apparently means simplified and leached of poetry, allusion and humor—and that they chose a giant, Sesame Street-sized font for reasons of readability, disregarding the high degree of distraction and general ugliness generated by such clunky-looking characters.)

It is also very significant, I think, that on the Magnolia release the default audio is not to the original Swedish audio (with accompanying lame translation), but instead to the English-dubbed version. Just this one decision seems indicative of Magnolia’s indifference to the real market for purchasers of this movie, most of whom probably saw the Swedish version in theatres and who would not have the aversion to subtitles that Magnolia seems to think they would. There is a general hostility shown by Magnolia toward the natural home-theater audience for this film, those folks who would notice the difference between the original translation and the shoddy secondary utilized on the disc and who made their dissatisfaction known, that on one simple level just doesn’t make good business sense. But even worse, it reveals a tin ear for and a blind eye to the qualities that make specialty films like Let the Right One In, the very films Magnolia proudly markets to an audience it hopes and prays is smarter than the average multiplex dweller, stand out from the pack. My thanks to Jim and all those folks at Icons of Fright and Bloody-Disgusting.com for outing this consumer rip-off and letting all know to not let this edition into our film collections.

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5 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm wondering if English language default is a standard when Magnolia distributes foreign language films on DVD. Tears of the Black Tiger also is pre-set to the dubbed version.

Rick Olson said...

Magnolia seems run by morons, all right ... they did everything they could to alienate the natural audience for their product. Did they think that avid cinemaphiles wouldn't notice?

I rented mine from Netflix, the theatrical release never came near this place, and so I'm not sure which one I saw ... some on Jim's comment stream say that the Netflix discs had the theatrical subtitles, though I cannot see how that could be. I don't remember a lot of humor, wry or otherwise, in the version I saw.

The only thing to do is vote with your money. Another thing to do is keep the bad review on top at Amazon by voting for it as "useful" A lack of sales and a financial beating might at least keep them from mutilating another film.

Anonymous said...

It makes a good case for downloading this stuff - I DL'd LTROI with the theatrical subs.

It does raise a moral quandry - is it OK to steal from morons who already hold you in contempt?

You be the judge.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Peter: Just wondering if you noticed any difference in the translation from theatrical to home video for Tears of the Black Tiger. I'd hate to think that this kind of lowest-common-denominator approach is typical for them.

Rick: The "voting with your money" is one I'm definitely adopting for this release, but I'd hate to think it might be years before I ever see this movie again because of it.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I never saw Tears of the Black Tiger theatrically. I have a British DVD that I bought when the film was sitting on the shelves at Miramax six years ago. I could compare subtitles, although the British version is shorter than the Magnolia version which is the complete film. I guess this could create an interesting article on comparing the two versions.