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The Teeth From The Sea

16th January 2020

When communicating across oceans and borders, we all need to step outside our bubble and make our audience feel as if they are truly being spoken to.

This week’s Oscar nominations had the usual quota of surprises and disappointments, notably reflecting a gender and ethnicity bias that Hollywood can’t seem to shake off. In the blue riband category of Best Director, no women were nominated. This is hardly new; in the Academy’s 92 year history, only five women have ever been nominated for this award and only one has ever won it. In the acting categories, meanwhile, nineteen of the twenty slots were filled by white actors. No one is suggesting that the nominees are undeserving, but the overall list doesn’t reflect the world we live in, or the diversity of the film making talent that illuminates it.

If Hollywood insists on staying in its bubble, perhaps its movie studios shouldn’t complain when their work is misrepresented overseas. Some of the most successful films of recent years have been given odd and comical titles in translation.

Six years ago, Chinese movie fans were treated to Interplanetary Unusual Attacking Team, an epic that generated three quarters of a billion dollars in ticket sales. You might know it better as Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Terminator movie franchise has made four billion dollars around the world, but Polish audiences weren’t engaged by the title Electronic Murderer.

Rather more charming was a fresh take on 101 Dalmatians. Fans of the Disney Classic may raise a smile at the Spanish title Night of the Cold Noses.

Back to China, the twist ending of M.Night Shyalaman’s The Sixth Sense was spoiled somewhat by the new title He’s a Ghost!

And what should we make of The Teeth From The Sea? It’s a very hit-and-miss French representation of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.

Localising a movie’s message begins with its title, of course, but it doesn’t end there. A message designed to engage the senses and whet the appetite for a movie or for any other service needs the most careful attention. It may include phrases, acronyms and shortcuts that only a skilled linguist will use correctly. It may challenge us to recognise cultural variations in terminology, phrasing and colloquialism. We need to check symbols, graphics, pictures, colours and general layout for their cultural applicability. And we need to be sure that translated text won’t expand or contract in a way that impacts on the final presentation.

In short, we need to step outside our bubble and make our audience feel as if they are truly being spoken to, whatever their gender, ethnicity or native language. It’s not only Hollywood that needs to take that lesson to heart. We all do.


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