Lost in Translation

Someone asked me the other day what I think of the differences between originals and remakes when the originals are from one country and the remakes are from another. So I've been trying to sort of think that over, but really, even with my degree, my exposure to these things is limited. Like, I watched neither the original nor the Americanized version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I always sort of meant to see the Daniel Craig one, but . . . ::shrug::

I suppose I'm more familiar with the television remakes. Like Broadchurch versus Gracepoint. Which were almost exactly the same story but re-imagined for a different sensibility. The problem for me being that I grew up watching British television so I preferred Broadchurch, and anyway, I don't think it translated all that well. I have to wonder whether Chris Chibnall's idea of what is "American" and the actuality were maybe a little too far apart. Or, for all I know FOX insisted on stuff that didn't work. Either way, Gracepoint fell flat and was cancelled while Broadchurch continues on.

Some might say Elementary is an American answer to Sherlock, but they're not at all the same show aside from being set in modern day and sharing source material. I don't think you can compare them 1:1.

America imports a lot of game shows and reality shows, but I don't watch those things. I did enjoy American Idol once upon a time and long ago, but I lost interest somewhere. We had that Weakest Link thing, too, for a bit. But the difference in contestants is pretty telling, don't you think? Americans are so quick to blame anything or anyone but themselves for their mistakes and failures. The worst thing in the world to them is to be sorry or admit a fault. It's just a completely different mindset.

Ah, well, but I'm in no mood for psychology at the moment, much as I love it.

I think about things like the manga I used to read, too . . . I used to have to special order it from a Japanese bookstore, and then when I moved to Boston I was able to go to the bookstore myself. And I would painstakingly translate the manga, or else sometimes I was able to find translations online. But now a lot of it is available in English. Just the other day I found Tokyo Babylon in an English omnibus format. It's weird, though, because I feel like it loses something in translation. There's something (for me anyway) about seeing the kanji there . . . The way they do the lettering for English doesn't look right somehow. I'm not sure I can explain it; the Anglicized manga use standard comic-book style lettering, I guess, but I feel like it should be different, though I'm not sure how.

Translating is more than taking words from one thing and recasting them into another language. There's a whole other level of vocabulary involved, a cultural one. So it takes more than just a translator—that is, someone who speaks two languages; it requires someone who understands the differences between two cultures. A filmmaker who wants to take content from one place and present it to another needs to be able to negotiate the cultural distance between the two.

If you were to, say, translate this blog post through Google or whatever . . . How much of it would make sense in another language? I don't write very formally, and my guess is English is especially difficult to translate because it's so wonky. You could use something like Smartling or whatever, I guess. I dunno. Maybe I'm alienating a big part of my readership because not everyone speaks English. Then again, we English speakers are told most everyone does speak English these days. Is that true? And is "speaking English" the same as really comprehending it?

Geez, I've gone off again.

Sometimes I wonder what will happen if/when my books are translated into other languages. I'll have no way of telling whether my story remains intact! (Well, with the French I will, but everything else is up for grabs.) I guess I should just be excited that the books get translated at all because: wider audience!

Is that how the film and TV people feel when they hear their stuff is getting shipped abroad? Or do they worry over it like anxious parents, afraid others will think their babies are ugly?

I'm not sure I've answered the question the person asked me. What do I think of transplanted shows and movies (and books)? Like anything, when it's done well, it's great. When it's done poorly, it sucks. When you move a plant, you have to be sure of the right soil. You have to prepare the ground, so to speak. I think it's the same for films and TV shows and books. You need the right gardeners to make sure the work blooms.

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