- - - Czech Translations: My Fight - - -
I am subtitling movies from English for local theatrical releases primarily because I like them. There are other less taxing jobs that would get me more money. As weird as it may sound, I do it primarily so that I can later go to see the movie in the cinema with my s.o. and/or friends and I don't have to explain to them "this sentence should actually be funny", "he should actually be saying the opposite", etc...
My philosophy is that each sentence in the movie should be translated in such a way that average Czech moviegoer experiences approximately the same emotions as an average moviegoer in the movie's country of origin when he/she watches the same scene. Of course, there are no "exact rules" for this and the process is wildly subjective because my knowledge of "average moviegoers" is not necessarily the "correct" one. And sometimes it's really impossible. Let's have an example: When Brad Pitt wants to fight William Shatner in FIGHT CLUB, I changed the name to "David Hasselhoff" in the Czech version. Although this cannot probably even be called "translation", it connects better with the local audiences because at the time of FIGHT CLUB release no one heard about Shatner over here.
You might also think that I am pretty confident translation critic for someone who doesn't know English very well (as seen in the text on these pages). In fact, I'd say I understand English really well. The problem is that I learned it by myself (by reading comics and watching movies), I never lived abroad and I have very limited ways to actively use English (I really only have a "feeling" which tense or article should be used in specific English sentence). This is why I occassionally have trouble finding the correct English phrases, not to mention the problems with English pronunciation. By the way, Mr. Kanturek, highly revered Czech translator of Terry Pratchett's works, cannot speak English at all and had to use a translator when he met Mr. Pratchett personally, which made him (i.e. Pratchett) understandably nervous. :)
Important note: Since 2009, this page is not update very frequently. See my translation tales of terror and fun on my blog instead.
- - - ARMAGEDDON
When the team is told that they are going to fly into space, one of them (Buscemi, probably) says "Beam me up, Scotty". As improbable this may sound, Star Trek was not shown on Czech TV until fairly recent years and in 1998, it was virtually uknown over here. I changed this sentence to "May The Force be with us".
The hero comes up with the idea to jump over the wide chasm in his vehicle. He says to his Russian friend "Have you ever heard of Evel Knievel?" to which the ignorant Russian replies "No, I never saw Star Wars." This posed several problems. After the first sentence is said, it should be clear to the audience that the hero wants to jump over the chasm. Plus, it should be funny. However, nobody in CR knows who Evel Knievel is. After much thinking I came up with "Do you know how Thelma and Louise died?" Seems great, but the original reply "No, I never saw Star Wars" now doesn't make much sense because the names "Thelma and Louise" are not something ignorant Russian would automatically associate with cult sci-fi. In the end, I changed the second sentence to "No, I don't know much about american singers".
- - - BORAT
- Of course, I practically had to make up many new words and grammar for Borat to use (with lots of help from Tomas Baldynsky).
- The joke at the dinner with the confusion about "retired" / "retard" cannot be translated and had to be replaced with something similar. After trying out several things, we settled on "emmental" / "mental". I.e. "I worked in construction, I am now retired" had to be changed to "I import cheeses, eidam, emmental..."
- We changed the name of of Borat's son from "Huey Lewis" (who is almost unknown over here) to "Kessel Buntes" (the popular Communist Germany entertainment show was called "Ein Kessel Buntes").
- "I am like the movie star, Dirty Harold. Go ahead, make my day, Jew." - This famous Dirty Harry line is totally unknown over here, mainly because it was translated differently in different releases of the movie (and not always correctly). In Czech, Borat says "I am like the movie star, Schwarz Nigger. Hasta la pizda, Jew" (where "pizda" is slang for "vagina"). Coincidentally, I originally thought "pizda" is much less vulgar (I only knew it as meaning "ugly woman") and was surprised when Disney dubbing supervisor didn't let me use it in "Cars". :)
- Finally, one of the most baffling episodes in my translation career: I wanted to accurately translate the faux "Kazakhstan Anthem" at the end of the movie. However, the dialogue list didn't contain its text and only said "for translation, use the text in the rodeo scene" - which I couldn't do because the anthem in the rodeo scene is much shorter than the one at the end of the movie. I sent several e-mails to Fox and even asked at IMDB.com boards. No answer. Then I tried to translate the whole anthem just by ear. After I've done that, Fox issued a memo to all foreign distributors saying that "The anthem at the end MUST NOT BE TRANSLATED" and my translation had to be removed. Bizarre...
- - - HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE
- This movie is full of drug slang so I actualy had to search for "slightly less legal" discussion forums on the Czech internet to find out the current slang.
- Neil Patrick Harris plays psychotic version of himself, with several references to "Doogie Howser, MD" TV show in which he starred. Unfortunately, this show is totally unknown in CR. After looking at his filmography, I found out that Czech moviegoer knows him best from "Starship Troopers" movie. I changed all the references accordingly so that instead of "Doogie Howser", he talks about Starship Troopers. Instead of the original "Did Doogie Howser just steal our car?", one of the characters now says "Did Colonel Jenkins just steal our car?" etc...
- The same with "Sixteen Candles". This romantic movie was never shown over here so I changed the references to "Grease". Of course, I also had to "creatively adjust" the sentence about "what the movies is about".
- - - STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH
I translated the original trilogy (re-release) without any outside intervention. When Lucas made Episode I, the established Czech title was "un-translated" from "Hvezdne valky" to "Star Wars" and the droids had to be renamed. Originally, I called them "Artoo" and "Threepio" (the same as in the original English version) but according to translator memo from the U.S., in Episode I they had to be renamed to "ErDva" and "TriPeO" (Czech spelling of "R2" and "3PO"). Which I did for Episodes I and II. And this year, the translator memo for Episode III said that the droid names are NOT TO BE TRANSLATED! Which I politely ignored.
When translating, I only had access to special "dubbing print" which was intentionally blurred whenever there was no dialogue in the movie. Thus, it was rather difficult to understand what is happening at each specific moment. For example, during the opening space battle, Anakin says "We got him, Artoo", which I translated as "We shot him down, R2". I had to wait for the premiere to find out that they didn't shoot anyone down but only managed to shake off enemy missiles.
I was not told that the "Excuse me" line (after the Coruscant crash landing) is actually Jar Jar Binks speaking (it was listed as "some senator"). As a result, the voice saying this line in the Czech version is completely different from the Czech voice of Jar Jar Binks.
- - - TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE
The computer in the movie is called "I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E.". The Czech word "inteligence" (with one "L") only means "intellect" and has nothing to do with spying or covert operations (also see "THE ROCK" here). I tried for a moment to come up with some different name for Czech version but then decided to call it "Inteligence" because the original name is often seen on-screen (written on the computer panel). This means that some jokes had to be changed and some disappeared, unfortunately. The computer also speaks with "surf-dude" accent, albeit in gramatically perfectly English. To reflect the accent in the subtitles, I made it speak in lower-class slang.
The Favorite Actors Guild's acronym is F.A.G. There is no similar short word in Czech language so the punchline is lost. I solved this by changing the name to "Herci Oblibeni Mezi Ostatnimi" ("Actors Favorite Among Others"), or "H.O.M.O.".
Team leader says "There is no I in Team America" to which the computer replies "Actually, there is". There is no similar idiom in Czech language. I had to make up completely different joke: Leader: "Let's all join hands" (common Czech idiom) - Computer: "I've got no hands".
The long tirade about "Assholes, pussies and dicks" posed a big problem because, believe it or not, there is no personal Czech insult derived from the word "anus". The word "Prdel" (literally "Asshole") is actually Czech slang for "Great fun". I solved this by using the venerable Czech insult "Hovnar" ("Shitman") which works fairly well with some small tweaks.
The "AIDS" performance "Lease: The Musical" is a reference to "Rent" which is uknown in CR. I changed the name to "Friends 2: The Musical".
One of the team members tells the story about how he has been raped by the cast of "Cats" musical. I translated the movie just before the Czech premiere of "Cats" and went to great lengths to find out the Czech names of the Cats characters so that the names will be correct two months later when Team America is released in CR and "Cats" names are hopefully familiar to everyone.