What is it with subtitles to russian films?
Thread poster: KKastenhuber

KKastenhuber  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 22:43
Russian to German
+ ...
Dec 8, 2009

Hello everyone,

I've been wondering this for a long time and decided I'd finally post my thoughts on Proz.

I like Russian films a lot, and have tried to talk my friends into watching them with me. As they don't speak Russian, they have to rely on (German) subtitles. Now, I always used to defend the horrible (German) subtitling of older/soviet productions, thinking that was how they did it "back in the day" and modern Russian productions would be properly subtitled.
Recently I watched two Russian films produced in 2008/2009, and to my surprise not only were English parts "dubbed" the classic Russian/Eastern (?) way, without a change of voice in dialogues or turning down the volume of the original, so there's all three of them: English sound, Russian sound and German subtitling, but also the subtitling was as horrendous as ever. (I have never dealt with subtitling or dubbing, so I hope I can make myself understood without knowing the actual terms...)

The range of mistakes in the German subtitles is wide: orthographic mistakes, out-dated "dictionary translations", bad grammar, etc. Often times the subtitles aren't understandable at all and it is quite obvious that they've never been proofread.

I know those films are mainly meant for the Russian market, but I'm guessing there are at least a few thousand interested spectators who don't understand Russian (if not, why would they translate subtitles at all or have the movies shown in Austrian/German/... cinemas?) and are frustrated by this. I just don't get why big film studios like Mosfilm would want the subtitles to their films translated like that - one of the two recent films I watched was an oscar nominee, so I guess you can't really say it wasn't meant to be watched by an international audience.

You're welcome to share your thoughts, I'll be glad to find out more about this.

K.


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 17:43
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Some thoughts Dec 8, 2009

Dear K,

I got a bit lost in understanding your issue, possibly because of the terminology used.

Please have a look at my Guide - http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/guide.html - so we might speak the same language.

Nevertheless, I failed to mention Lectoring/Gavrilov translation as an even cheaper version of VO, since it simply doesn't happen in my working languages, EN-PT. You may find some info about it at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice-over_translation
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subtitle_(captioning)#Subtitles_vs._dubbing_and_lectoring

The cause for bad quality in subtitles is usually the same as in translation: COST!

The worldwide benchmark for dubbing and subtitling is Disney. Check any of their programs, anywhere, in any language, and you'll see the best in the trade. Why? Simply because flim/video is ONE of their product lines. They have a lot of books, comics, TV channels, licensed toys, stationery, and countless other products that are marketed everywhere. So they always have a strong distributor/licensor in every market they enter. Walt Disney was a perfectionist, and he left that ingrained in his company's culture.

On the other hand, a Russian film distributor may be a business survivor from the Soviet Union days, keeping the old low-cost practices alive. Maybe this is the cause.


 

KKastenhuber  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 22:43
Russian to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you - and some more thoughts Dec 8, 2009

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:
Dear K,

I got a bit lost in understanding your issue, possibly because of the terminology used.

Please have a look at my Guide - http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/guide.html - so we might speak the same language.


Muito obrigada, José Henrique,

I am eager to learn more about video localization and its techniques, so your guide is very useful to me. I now know that the technique applied in the films I saw is the "Gavrilov translation" you mentioned and I understand that it is cheaper than dubbing.

What I don't quite understand is
a) how it is not being questioned more. (Or is it, and I have missed something?) Am I really naive? There are lots of Russian cinephiles who download films on the Internet and are very much aware of what other ways of translating films there are.
b) what's good about it from a spectator's point of view. I read that the Polish audience prefer VO over dubbing (strange enough, but I would explain that by their wanting to make sure the film is not being censored?), but they also prefer it over subtitling. Assuming we're not talking about children's films, I fail to understand why one would prefer VO over subtitles. I for myself can't imagine that people have actual reasons other than just being used to it for preferring VO (or "worse": Gavrilov translation) ever since I've heard Alice in Wonderland talk and sing in a low, sonorous men's voice.


e cause for bad quality in subtitles is usually the same as in translation: COST!
[...]
On the other hand, a Russian film distributor may be a business survivor from the Soviet Union days, keeping the old low-cost practices alive. Maybe this is the cause.
[/quote]

I guess I'll have to ask another basic question in order to be able to see the big picture here. Who exactly is responsible for the foreign language subtitles (and their quality) when a film is e.g. brought to an international film festival? I guess if it's German subtitles that are needed for a Russian production, it's not the Russian film studio itself who writes/translates their subtitles. But it is them who request it, right? Wouldn't it be logical (at least for big film studios such as Mosfilm who I think can afford it) to make this request to a professional and pay more for it? Because IMHO that's the least it takes for an international audience to be able to acknowledge the greatness of Russian cinema. I have seen so many people leave the cinema puzzled after seeing what I thought was a great Russian movie, just because the bad quality of the subtitles
a) didn't allow them to understand the plot
b) drew constant attention to it and simply annoyed them to no end.

As you might notice, this bad subtitling issue pretty much frustrates me, especially since it seems a rather easy to fix problem to me, or am I wrong? Please enlighten me.

K.


 

verachenPDX
Local time: 13:43
English to Chinese
+ ...
It frustrates me as well Jan 31, 2010

Hi K,

I think the situation is getting better, but VERY slowly. More than ten years ago, all you got in and out of Russia were either the monotone man's VO or horrendous subtitling. I think the same guy probably did ALL the movies back then. I recall that when I first started learning Russian, and reading a piece of literature or watching a Russian film based on what was translated/interpreted, that I wouldn't like them. As my Russian got better, and re-read or re-watch the exact same things, I'd end up loving them because I started to rely on appreciating the pieces in Russian.

Now, on Russian cable in today's time, I at least see they started using different VOs for different characters, and some with a little emotional voice at least matching to the original production. I think part of it is that people in Russia are USED to bad VO, and the audience don't demand it for the better. Majority of Russian people still don't travel outside of Russia, especially out of Siberia. It's a huge country, and it's really expensive to go to places from Siberia.icon_smile.gif When a person knows of only one kind of apple due to cost or knowledge or availability, how does one even know to demand a different kind of apple? Life is not easy in Russia, it IS getting better, but I think people's mentality is to just make, whatever perimeter was given, work; and accept it. Of course there're always exceptions to the rule.icon_smile.gif

Just my two cents.

Vera


 


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