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Old 09-05-2019, 03:58 AM
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When Meaning is Lost in Alternate Titles


So, for the second time (that I can recall readily) I’ve watched a British film based on a British novel of the same name, released in the US under an alternate title that completely removes all subtext, leaving it devoid of any symbolism and all but the most literal possible interpretation. No clever play on words, no deeper meaning, just a bare surface: the new title is what it says it is and means what it appears to mean at first glance, and nothing more. What makes it especially frustrating is that none of this (at least in my examples) is even due to the necessary complexities of translation. The films and their titles are already in bloody English!

The most recent example, and what prompted this thread, seems innocuous enough: Roman Polanski's The Ghost, based on Richard Harris' novel of the same name, and yet released in America as The Ghost Writer. What seems like a slight tweak to just clarify the title so people don’t go assuming it’s about a supernatural entity (and there isn’t any hint at the supernatural in the movie either, so no harm there) actually completely obliterates the deeper meaning. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can explain more without spoiling it.

But before that, there’s a film I saw a while back called Regeneration, at least in the UK, which is (in my view faithfully) adapted from a novel by Pat Barker, also of the same name. It’s a fictionalized imagining of a real in moment in history in which the poet Siegfried Sassoon, at the urging of his then-friend and would-be famous author Robert Graves, allows himself to be holed up in a looney bin (hey, I’m using one of the fictional characters' own words to describe the situation) to receive treatment from a noted British psychiatrist of the time, Captain W. H. R. Rivers, rather than persist with his loud anti-war message and face a court-martial. Oh, and the poet Wilfred Owens is there too (as he was in real life).

On one level, it’s about regeneration in the sense of trying to recuperate from war-related psychological trauma—shell shock, if you will. But more broadly it’s about broken spirits coping with war, whether due to front line trauma or the experience of treating and interacting with those people, and on yet another level it refers to a dream Rivers has about an old colleague of his (also based on a real-life person) who did experiments on nerve damage and... regeneration of said nerves. Due to the ethical ramifications of trying to experiment on a human with a conveniently (surgically) severed nerve in a laboratory setting, this doctor experimented on himself by having the radial nerve severed in one arm, leading to a lasting impairment which he then attempted to describe over the course of several years. Rivers participated in this study, but in the dream his friend instead drives the scalpel to Rivers' own arm. I think the point of this relatively brief mention of a historical incident and it’s supposed effect on Rivers, with wording that explicitly harkens back to the title, is that in trying to heal, or study ways of healing, the healer himself may be wounded. And of course he, Rivers is, psychologically scarred (at least in the fictional account) by his experience of trying to treat those with war-induced psychological trauma. Particularly as his treatment, if successful, may result in a patient being sent back to the trenches, perhaps to die. And if his treatment isn’t successful... well, that kind of sucks too, doesn’t it? Having failed to heal them, they will endure lasting impairment from their (psychological) injuries, just as his friend did not fully heal from the experiment to his arm (which, again, in the dream is to Rivers' arm, as he is tormented in his waking moments by the moral dilemma of healing men so that they may go and experience further trauma. Hmmm...)

See how all that ties into the title, Regeneration? One word, yet so deep. Of course the US release kindly changed the title to Behind the Lines. Because that’s where the main action of the film takes place. In a hospital, geographically behind the lines. Get it?

Anyway, add on, discuss, or don’t. Whatever.
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Old 09-05-2019, 07:02 AM
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I thought one of your examples was going to be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - perhaps not as egregious as the two you mention, but it seems to fit.
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Old 09-05-2019, 10:11 AM
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Hmm, neither of your examples is on Wikipedia's List of works with different titles in the United Kingdom and United States.
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Old 09-05-2019, 02:51 PM
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Does Puck Man count?
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Old 09-05-2019, 03:06 PM
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Moving thread from MPSIMS to Cafe Society, our home for the discussion of artistic works such as films.
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Old 09-05-2019, 03:30 PM
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Italian sword-and-sandal movies might be set in Greco-Roman mythology, ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, or even medieval Europe, but when they were dubbed into English, they often wound up as Hercules or Samson movies.

The worst example I know of is the Icelandic-Swedish film Hrafninn flýgur. ILn Britain, it was translated as When the Raven Flies, which is not too bad. However, the American distributors, hoping to cash in on the popularity of Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian, released it under the title Revenge of the Barbarians.

One of the weirder examples is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.
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Old 09-05-2019, 03:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
I think it's missing a few. Adventures in Babysitting was released as A Night on the Town in the UK. I'm not sure why they changed it - there might be a good reason - but it's definitely a blander title.

Several Agatha Christie stories had different names in the US, in addition to And Then There Were None and the 4.50 from Paddington, whose names changes make sense. Death in the Clouds was called Death in the Air, Lord Edgeware Dies was The Sittaford Mystery... Actually, there are so many I'll just put up this link. http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.co...alternate.html Most of the changes don't have any obvious cause - it's weird.
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Old 09-05-2019, 04:30 PM
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The Longest Yard (1974) was released in the UK and Ireland as The Mean Machine, thus losing the double meaning of the word 'yard.'
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Old 09-05-2019, 04:39 PM
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The 1989 James Bond film Licence to Kill had the working title of Licence Revoked -- which fit the plot, as it centered on Bond being suspened from MI6.

However, American test audiences associated "Licence Revoked" with having one's driver's license revoked, and thus, the name was changed, and the meaning lost.
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Old 09-05-2019, 05:56 PM
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The Quatermass Xperiment became The Creeping Unknown for its US release. A generic kind of title, but at the time of the film’s release, Quatermass was unknown in the States and that "X" spelling in the original title, referring to the British Censor’s Certificate X rating (viewers over 18 only), would have been meaningless to American 1950s audiences.
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Old 09-05-2019, 07:02 PM
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The Longest Yard (1974) was released in the UK and Ireland as The Mean Machine, thus losing the double meaning of the word 'yard.'
Having never seen the movie (but heard of it), I can only guess that the other "yard" being referred to, in addition to the football kind that you have to fight for, would be the prison yard?
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Old 09-05-2019, 07:09 PM
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Having never seen the movie (but heard of it), I can only guess that the other "yard" being referred to, in addition to the football kind that you have to fight for, would be the prison yard?
Yes.


For the most part I can understand why the names were changed. Having a clever title with multiple levels means nothing if it screws up your marketing and no one sees your movie.
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Old 09-05-2019, 08:11 PM
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Having never seen the movie (but heard of it), I can only guess that the other "yard" being referred to, in addition to the football kind that you have to fight for, would be the prison yard?
They should have translated the pun into British - something like Gaol Goals?
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Old 09-05-2019, 08:38 PM
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They should have translated the pun into British - something like Gaol Goals?
Nice!
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Old 09-06-2019, 07:53 AM
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More amusing than annoying: when the movie First Blood was released in France it was retitled, presumably because "Premier Sang" doesn't signify in French what it does in English (I don't speak French well enough for certainty.)

Where it went slightly wrong was with the French title chosen: Rambo. I mean, it's a good title - good enough to be used for the sequel in the US: Rambo: First Blood Part II.

All of a sudden, the smart thinking of French distributors re First Blood has caused an unexpected problem. But these are smart guys: Rambo: First Blood Part II is distributed in France as Rambo 2 : La Mission.

At this point, I find it impossible not to wish that, to the end of recorded time, US and French Rambo movies are out by one, playing merry hell with the movie watching plans of Americans in France and vice versa. Sadly, by #3, the problem is rectified.

Ref.

j

Last edited by Treppenwitz; 09-06-2019 at 07:53 AM.
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Old 09-06-2019, 11:03 AM
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The worst example I know of is the Icelandic-Swedish film Hrafninn flýgur. ILn Britain, it was translated as When the Raven Flies, which is not too bad. However, the American distributors, hoping to cash in on the popularity of Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian, released it under the title Revenge of the Barbarians.
This made me think of the Russian epic fantasy film Sadko, directed by Aleksandr Ptushko. Sadko was a hero from East Slavic folklore.

It was released in the U.S. by Roger Corman under the title The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, turning a Russian folk hero into a Middle Eastern folk hero. Corman also gave it incredibly cheesy dubbing, making seem much sillier than it really was. That's why it ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, despite being a lot better than their usual fare.
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Old 09-06-2019, 11:18 AM
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Sadly, by #3, the problem is rectified.
Well, I mean, apart from still being Rambo movies.
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Old 09-06-2019, 11:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SciFiSam View Post
I think it's missing a few. Adventures in Babysitting was released as A Night on the Town in the UK. I'm not sure why they changed it - there might be a good reason - but it's definitely a blander title.

Several Agatha Christie stories had different names in the US, in addition to And Then There Were None and the 4.50 from Paddington, whose names changes make sense. Death in the Clouds was called Death in the Air, Lord Edgeware Dies was The Sittaford Mystery... Actually, there are so many I'll just put up this link. http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.co...alternate.html Most of the changes don't have any obvious cause - it's weird.
Lord Edgeware Dies had the US title Thirteen at Dinner.
The Sittaford Mystery's US title was The Murder at Hazelmoor

Agreed that I don't see a reason to change Adventures in Babysitting to A Night on the Town, I wonder why?

And in response to mbh, I don't think that the change to And Then There Were None was weird, considering the original title, Ten Little N---s

The Sound of Music has oddly translated titles: "La Novicia Rebelde" (the rebel nun) in Spanish, La mélodie du bonheur (the melody of happiness) in French

Last edited by gkster; 09-06-2019 at 11:26 AM.
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Old 09-06-2019, 11:35 AM
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More translations of The Sound of Music:

German: Meine Lieder, meine Träume (my songs, my dreams)
Italian: Tutti insieme appassionatamente (All together passionately)
Portuguese: Música no Coração (Music of the Heart)
Spanish (Spain): Sonrisas y lágrimas (Smiles and tears)

The Spanish title in the post above, La Novicia Rebelde, was used in Latin America.

Last edited by gkster; 09-06-2019 at 11:36 AM.
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Old 09-06-2019, 09:31 PM
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In Japan they sometimes change the name even though they don't translate it to Japanese. Here a few examples:

Thor: Ragnarok was changed to Thor: Battle Royale which loses a crucial theme of the film

Big Hero 6 was changed to Baymax, which fits but kind of leaves out the importance of the rest of the team.

The Fast and The Furious films are called Wild Speed

Wreck it Ralph was changed to Candy Crush.

The Wolverine was changed to Wolverine: Samurai, which actually might be an improvement.

//i\\
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Old 09-06-2019, 09:39 PM
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I once told an African-American friend about this British show I was watching called "Spooks" - she gave me a little side-eye (it was rebranded "MI-5" in the US.)
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Old 09-07-2019, 05:32 AM
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in Europe over bizarre censorship concerns by the UK.

Ninjas are pretty much 50% of their identity (the other 50% being turtles) so all references to them being ninjas or even Japanese were very awkwardly edited out leaving noticable gaps everywhere. It may seem minor but taking Ninja out really does radically alter the show.
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