Ex Die in Diem


Norwegian with English Subtitles

I’ve been spending the evening with my family: brother, aunts, uncles, cousins. It’s been really fun, with a tasty dinner, an only mildly contentious game of Articulate!, and now a film. The picture that we’ve settled on is Headhunters, based on a novel by Jo Nesbo. It’s the sort of Scandinavian thriller that I usually really enjoy, so why am I here, blogging?

Somehow, the consensus of my family group was that subtitles were too much work, and so we should watch it with an English language track. I tried, but I just couldn’t watch it. I’d like to share why.

Primarily, it isn’t how any of the people involved in making the film intended for it to be watched. The English language actors are directed by a different person, they read from a different script, and the performances are cut by a different editor. The end result is imperfect and unpolished, and disturbs me in a way that I can’t compensate for.

The scripts are an interesting hybrid translation: the Norwegian script will have been translated to produce the subtitles for the UK and US theatrical releases, probably by a highly skilled translator, and this is one of the saving graces of watching a foreign film with subtitles. The dub, on the other hand, is more constrained: the timing of the English phrases must fit approximately into the same periods as the Norwegian so that voices are only heard while people are talking on screen. These timing edits are often made by a different translator, taking the final result even further from the original scriptwriter’s intent.

The direction is also generally subpar. This is based on some motivation. If you were a talented and successful movie director, would you be inclined to direct dubbing tracks for someone else’s films? Even in the case where the dub director is as talented and artistic as the original director, having the audio and visual elements of the film managed by different people will always leave a disjointed picture.

The major exception for me in this regard is in animated features: since the audio and visual aspects are already more separated, I find the conversion less jarring, and particularly enjoyed the specifically UK localisation of Arrietty. On the other hand, the original US DVD version of Let the Right One In has some of the most horrific subtitles ever seen on a film. The subtitles used were no better than the dub script, which meant you were as well to just watch the thing in English. More or less anything else, though, and you should be watching en langue originale.

This is from the