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Old 14.01.2013, 13:07
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German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

Last month as part of my Christmas shopping I was searching high and low for a DVD for my German speaking in-laws. In the end I settled upon the utterly fantastic “Red Riding Trilogy”. I was then dismayed to find in the shops that instead of being called by its original title, the German name was the awfully unimaginative “Yorkshire Killer”.

Now I don’t expect German speakers, or anyone for that matter to know the finer points of Yorkshire geography and see the play on words in the title. But really? “Yorkshire Killer” is that the best they can do?! And how do they come up with German titles for foreign films anyhow? Is there some sort of marketing committee that sits down and decides each title on its own merit? “Ve knw vot ist best für ze peple. Zis Film haz a Killer und ist in Yorkshire. Ve callz it ze Yorkshire Killer.”

There’s a small part on me that dies each time I see the latest daft film title and the mind boggles as to how they come up with them:

Jaws - Der weiße Hai – The White Shark. D’uh. The title means nothing in English, it’s a name so why on earth does it have to mean something in German?
Home Alone – Kevin, Allein zu Haus – Kevin, alone at home. Yes we got that much in the English title, why do we need to know his bloody name?
Once upon a time in the West - Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod – Play me the song of death. Eh?! Ya fuggin’ what? Such an alluring title downright ruined.
Where Eagles Dare - Agenten sterben einsam – Spies die lonely. This title not only has nothing to do with the original, it also has nothing to do with what happens in the film.
Airplane! - Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug – The incredible journey in a crazy airplane. This is another favourite, rather than actually having a name with some sort of enticement, the Germans like to describe half the plot within the film title. Perhaps says something for Germans themselves?
Bridgit Jones Diary - Schokolade zum Frühstrück – Chocolate for Breakfast. WTF?! They didn’t change the name of Anne Franks, so what’s with Bridget Jones? And why to Chocolate for Breakfast? By the same logic, why not change name of The Last Tango in Paris to Ass Sex?

I could go on all day like this but I think you get the idea. What can also be dire is the German version of films post dubbing. I had the misfortune to sit through the German version of The Big Lebowski, a film I love. The more I watched it, the more it became apparent to me that whoever had dubbed it had completely missed the point. Anyone that’s seen the original will know that the protagonist of the story, The Dude, is a spaced out moron who finds himself completely out of his depth. And that’s the joke. Yet in the German version they manage to make The Dude sound somehow cool. Why?

Returning to “Red Riding”, I can’t help but think they took an incredibly easy cop out. It’s only a TV drama so was never going to make lots of money, and if it does get some sort of following it would only be on a cult level. If they’d have kept the original title, perhaps some of these people would have asked some questions and informed themselves as to why the title was actually Red Riding. I know I would have…
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Old 14.01.2013, 13:16
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

Absolutely great post!
Honestly...I've been wondering the same for years!!
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Old 14.01.2013, 13:18
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

It works the other way too.

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis was translated in English as Welcome to the Sticks? How tame can you get?

Die Feuerzangenbowle was translated into English as The Fire Tongs Bowl. How painfully accurate. The dialogs are also reduced to boring banalities with all the clever between-the-lines stuff lost.

El Secreto de sus Ojos became The Secret in their Eyes, making one wonder whether the translator actually watched the film or just put the title through Google Translate.

Maybe it's just generally that translations suck.
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Old 14.01.2013, 13:33
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

and for the francophiles - "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was renamed "Indian Palace".

doesn't quite have the same ring to it...
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Old 14.01.2013, 14:03
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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Last month as part of my Christmas shopping I was searching high and low for a DVD for my German speaking in-laws. In the end I settled upon the utterly fantastic “Red Riding Trilogy”. I was then dismayed to find in the shops that instead of being called by its original title, the German name was the awfully unimaginative “Yorkshire Killer”.

Now I don’t expect German speakers, or anyone for that matter to know the finer points of Yorkshire geography and see the play on words in the title. But really? “Yorkshire Killer” is that the best they can do?! And how do they come up with German titles for foreign films anyhow? Is there some sort of marketing committee that sits down and decides each title on its own merit? “Ve knw vot ist best für ze peple. Zis Film haz a Killer und ist in Yorkshire. Ve callz it ze Yorkshire Killer.”

There’s a small part on me that dies each time I see the latest daft film title and the mind boggles as to how they come up with them:

Jaws - Der weiße Hai – The White Shark. D’uh. The title means nothing in English, it’s a name so why on earth does it have to mean something in German?
Home Alone – Kevin, Allein zu Haus – Kevin, alone at home. Yes we got that much in the English title, why do we need to know his bloody name?
Once upon a time in the West - Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod – Play me the song of death. Eh?! Ya fuggin’ what? Such an alluring title downright ruined.
Where Eagles Dare - Agenten sterben einsam – Spies die lonely. This title not only has nothing to do with the original, it also has nothing to do with what happens in the film.
Airplane! - Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug – The incredible journey in a crazy airplane. This is another favourite, rather than actually having a name with some sort of enticement, the Germans like to describe half the plot within the film title. Perhaps says something for Germans themselves?
Bridgit Jones Diary - Schokolade zum Frühstrück – Chocolate for Breakfast. WTF?! They didn’t change the name of Anne Franks, so what’s with Bridget Jones? And why to Chocolate for Breakfast? By the same logic, why not change name of The Last Tango in Paris to Ass Sex?

I could go on all day like this but I think you get the idea. What can also be dire is the German version of films post dubbing. I had the misfortune to sit through the German version of The Big Lebowski, a film I love. The more I watched it, the more it became apparent to me that whoever had dubbed it had completely missed the point. Anyone that’s seen the original will know that the protagonist of the story, The Dude, is a spaced out moron who finds himself completely out of his depth. And that’s the joke. Yet in the German version they manage to make The Dude sound somehow cool. Why?

Returning to “Red Riding”, I can’t help but think they took an incredibly easy cop out. It’s only a TV drama so was never going to make lots of money, and if it does get some sort of following it would only be on a cult level. If they’d have kept the original title, perhaps some of these people would have asked some questions and informed themselves as to why the title was actually Red Riding. I know I would have…
I am actually in favour of keeping the original title and seeing the movies in original language if I am capable of understanding it, but of course this is not an option for everybody and so they have to be translated. Translating the titles word for word would just be horrible most of the time. On one hand things that sound 'cool' to an 'English ear' can sound absolutely lame to the 'German ear' when translated and vice versa. On the other hand this is I think also a cultural thing. I find "Jaws" and "Airplane!" just horrible titles for films. They say absolutely nothing about the content at all. They could be called "Teeth" and "Pilot" as well.

What comes to my mind when reading the directly translated titles of your examples:
  • Jaws - "Kiefer" - Medical documentation? I surely almost never use "Kiefer" in a non-medical context.
  • Home Alone – "Alleine zu Hause": porn/horror
  • Once upon a time in the West - "Es war einmal im Westen": A Grimm fairy-tale adaption
  • Where Eagles Dare - "Wo sich Adler hinwagen": Animal documentation
  • Airplane! - "Flugzeug!": Does not say anything about the film at all. Probably something for children.
  • Bridget Jones Diary - "Bridget Jones Tagebuch": who the f*** is Bridget Jones and why should I care about her diary? I don't think that the books were thaaat popular over here. So you need to add at least something to address the target audience. (Obviously "Chocolate for breakfast" sounds like the manliest and stern thing I have ever heard.)
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Old 14.01.2013, 14:40
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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Once upon a time in the West - Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod
I actually prefer the German title... it is a bit more sinister and also reflects the distinctive film music.

The English title makes it sound like the beginning of a Shrek movie...
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Old 14.01.2013, 14:48
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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I am actually in favour of keeping the original title and seeing the movies in original language if I am capable of understanding it, but of course this is not an option for everybody and so they have to be translated. Translating the titles word for word would just be horrible most of the time. On one hand things that sound 'cool' to an 'English ear' can sound absolutely lame to the 'German ear' when translated and vice versa. On the other hand this is I think also a cultural thing. I find "Jaws" and "Airplane!" just horrible titles for films. They say absolutely nothing about the content at all. They could be called "Teeth" and "Pilot" as well.

What comes to my mind when reading the directly translated titles of your examples:
  • Jaws - "Kiefer" - Medical documentation? I surely almost never use "Kiefer" in a non-medical context.
  • Home Alone – "Alleine zu Hause": porn/horror
  • Once upon a time in the West - "Es war einmal im Westen": A Grimm fairy-tale adaption
  • Where Eagles Dare - "Wo sich Adler hinwagen": Animal documentation
  • Airplane! - "Flugzeug!": Does not say anything about the film at all. Probably something for children.
  • Bridget Jones Diary - "Bridget Jones Tagebuch": who the f*** is Bridget Jones and why should I care about her diary? I don't think that the books were thaaat popular over here. So you need to add at least something to address the target audience. (Obviously "Chocolate for breakfast" sounds like the manliest and stern thing I have ever heard.)

But why does a title have to say something about the film? Or is that really a German language thing? I'm not suggesting they changed the title of "Jaws" to "Kiefer", couldn't they have just left it as simply "Jaws". After all, it's only a name, and I think the movie poster was iconic enough for anyone to be able to get what the gist of the film is.

Let me put it this way. I have no idea what “Life of Pi” means, if anything, my first thought is that it’s related to the number. I still find it an interesting title and want to go and see the film without having any idea what it’s about.

When I look at the famous German films in recent years that have had some level of international cross over the English name seems to keep quite true to the German original:
Der Untergang - Downfall
Good Bye, Lenin! – Same
Das Leben der Anderen – The lives of others
Das Boot – Das Boot
Lola rennt – Run Lola Run
Fitzcarraldo – Same

Is it really a German language thing that the film name has to be really relevant to the plot? Or is it purely for marketing purposes? I’m genuinely intrigued as to the process for deciding the German film titles for foreign films.
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Old 14.01.2013, 15:00
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

Some remarks:
Der weise Hai = Great White Shark. Not a bad title for a movie about a great white shark.

Das Lied vom Tod: Isn't it a catchy title for the tune Harmonica plays / has to play? Also, because "Es war einmal ..." is so much more associate with the brothers Grimm.

Airplane!: The Germans have at least a sense for marketing and sequels whats more catchier? "Airplane II: The Sequel" or "Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Raumschiff"
but not always:
"Fluch der Karibik"
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Fluch der Karibik 2" oops, they just realised that the english name is more common.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Am Ende der Welt"

It is a source of endless discussion. I think they do it so that people have always at least one topic at boring parties. Once this topic is exhausted you can tackle all the translational errors in the dialogs. Movie or series is up to you.

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I could go on all day like this but I think you get the idea. What can also be dire is the German version of films post dubbing. I had the misfortune to sit through the German version of The Big Lebowski, a film I love. The more I watched it, the more it became apparent to me that whoever had dubbed it had completely missed the point. Anyone that’s seen the original will know that the protagonist of the story, The Dude, is a spaced out moron who finds himself completely out of his depth. And that’s the joke. Yet in the German version they manage to make The Dude sound somehow cool. Why?


Try to sit through the German version of en Episode of Psych! Shawn sounds like the total douche.

On the other hand try to sit through the original version of any Bud Spencer and Terence Hill flick. The dub made it an success in Germany.
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Old 14.01.2013, 15:14
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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Some remarks:
Der weise Hai = Great White Shark. Not a bad title for a movie about a great white shark.

Das Lied vom Tod: Isn't it a catchy title for the tune Harmonica plays / has to play? Also, because "Es war einmal ..." is so much more associate with the brothers Grimm.

Airplane!: The Germans have at least a sense for marketing and sequels whats more catchier? "Airplane II: The Sequel" or "Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Raumschiff"
but not always:
"Fluch der Karibik"
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Fluch der Karibik 2" oops, they just realised that the english name is more common.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Am Ende der Welt"

It is a source of endless discussion. I think they do it so that people have always at least one topic at boring parties. Once this topic is exhausted you can tackle all the translational errors in the dialogs. Movie or series is up to you.





Try to sit through the German version of en Episode of Psych! Shawn sounds like the total douche.

On the other hand try to sit through the original version of any Bud Spencer and Terence Hill flick. The dub made it an success in Germany.

Yes, you're right. The TV shows tend to be even worse than the films. I tried watching an episode of Family Guy in German recently and wanted to kick my TV through in sheer rage at the lack imagination in the translation process. Well, perhaps not that bad, but to me it seemed all they'd done is given everyone stupid voices which is definitely not the case in the original.

I like your Bud Spencer point I'll have to look into that!

"Es war Einmal" means "Once upon a time" in English with exactly the same fairy tale connotations in both languages. It's things like this that I don't understand how in one language it can work as a film title because of the fairy tale link whereas in the other other language it's a big no-no.
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Old 14.01.2013, 15:15
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

Stirb Langsam - Die Slowly ...... some kind of long, drawn out tortuous death?

The actual correct title, is how I want to go - upright and solid as a rock.
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Old 14.01.2013, 15:29
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

BG I liked this dicusiion :-)

The titles are set by the distribution company that has the film distribution rights in this country. And this has something to do with marketing and not with translation.

I realised that some film titles here in German speaking Switzerland are different from Germany, which is a bit funny, because the dubbing is done by German companies.
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Old 14.01.2013, 15:58
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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  • Once upon a time in the West - "Es war einmal im Westen": A Grimm fairy-tale adaption
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Also, because "Es war einmal ..." is so much more associate with the brothers Grimm.
Not that I totally agree with the OP, but in this case that was the whole point of the title - Once Upon a Time is used in exactly the same way in English, so it was deliberately ironic as a film title, and could have been left as such in German. Or do German speakers understand irony even less than Americans are reputed to?
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Old 14.01.2013, 16:02
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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But why does a title have to say something about the film? Or is that really a German language thing?
I don't know, maybe it is just me. But, I want an intriguing title (E.g. I quite like the German title "Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod" or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") or at least something that tells me what kind of film it is.

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I'm not suggesting they changed the title of "Jaws" to "Kiefer", couldn't they have just left it as simply "Jaws". After all, it's only a name, and I think the movie poster was iconic enough for anyone to be able to get what the gist of the film is.
I think the problem is that the people who understand the meaning of "Jaws" often don't need/want any translation at all and particularly "Jaws" would be a word that most of the people I know that NEED the translation would not understand.

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Let me put it this way. I have no idea what “Life of Pi” means, if anything, my first thought is that it’s related to the number. I still find it an interesting title and want to go and see the film without having any idea what it’s about.
My girlfriend thought the same and wanted to go watching it with me, then she realised there is a boat, a tiger and a guy called Pi involved and there went her fascination. So maybe it is actually a good example on "how to choose a bad title". I read that the guys who are making the trailers give so much away of the plot in them, because they only want to have people in audience who might actually enjoy the film to avoid bad ratings. Maybe it works similar with the titles (You'd probably want to keep the prototypical "The Diary of Anne Frank" watcher away from the "Bridget Jones Diary" movie, thus the Chocolate thing)

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When I look at the famous German films in recent years that have had some level of international cross over the English name seems to keep quite true to the German original:
Der Untergang - Downfall
But here I think you know from the title e.g. that it will not be about fluffy bunnies girls night out.


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Good Bye, Lenin! – Same
This is already English and such basic English that even most children will understand it's meaning (maybe except for the Lenin part until a certain age).

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Das Leben der Anderen – The lives of others
I agree

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Das Boot – Das Boot
Nothing better to promote a Nazi film than some German

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Lola rennt – Run Lola Run
Why not "Lola runs"?

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Fitzcarraldo – Same
It's not a title I would particularly like, but it has at least some logic to it by being the name of the protagonist.

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Is it really a German language thing that the film name has to be really relevant to the plot? Or is it purely for marketing purposes? I’m genuinely intrigued as to the process for deciding the German film titles for foreign films.
I really don't know. I just think that literlal translation has sometimes some negative side effects. I like it if the films have not every-day names like "Fridge?", but sometimes it is also important because well known things in one country might be completely unknown in others. E.g. "Made in Dagenham" was 'translated' to "We Want Sex". People would otherwise probably have thought its documentation about products from a village in the Netherlands
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Old 14.01.2013, 16:06
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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Stirb Langsam - Die Slowly ...... some kind of long, drawn out tortuous death?

The actual correct title, is how I want to go - upright and solid as a rock.
"Stirb hart" - Sounds like something that can be found in the macabre part of the porn aisle. I do not know how this could be translated with few words, actually.
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Old 14.01.2013, 16:19
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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I could go on all day like this but I think you get the idea.
English speakers are definitely not qualified to decide what sounds good or bad in German. The goal is to sell the thing to Germans, so they don't care at all about English speakers' opinion. And rightly so. Works with any languages, it just happens to be English to you.
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Old 14.01.2013, 16:22
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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“Red Riding Trilogy”... “Yorkshire Killer”.
The first one could be three films on Soviet Horses. The "German" title makes clear what it's about. So which one is better? Anyways, many titles are just changed such that most people understand it, even if they change an English title into a different English title (Bend it like Beckham - Kick it like Beckham).
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Old 14.01.2013, 16:24
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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Is it really a German language thing that the film name has to be really relevant to the plot?
Yes, but that's not movie specific. It's just the same for Sandwich and Wurstbrot.
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Old 14.01.2013, 16:26
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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Once upon a time in the West - Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod – Play me the song of death. Eh?! Ya fuggin’ what? Such an alluring title downright ruined.
Well, the English title is wrong as well:

C'era una Volta il West - Once there was the West

Of course, then you get stuff like Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) translated as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I mean WTF?

Tom

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Old 14.01.2013, 16:32
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

In french "two and a half men" was translated "my uncle Charlie". Guess who has a problem now??
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Old 14.01.2013, 16:56
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Re: German Film Names (Lost in Translation)

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English speakers are definitely not qualified to decide what sounds good or bad in German. The goal is to sell the thing to Germans, so they don't care at all about English speakers' opinion. And rightly so. Works with any languages, it just happens to be English to you.
That maybe so. You're definitely right about that Film's are there to make money. But what about the artistic side of the director or screenwriter? They've sat long and hard to come up with an imaginative film title only for it to be bastardised during translation.

I'd like to imagine that if I was a director and was all miked up with the translators whilst promoting my film on "Wetten Dass..?" that I'd throw an almighty luvvie fit live on stage. All because they renamed Cinderella Man, "Das Comeback".
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