… The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
(See why here.)
Never was there a better opportunity to emphasize the ≈ in the concept of translation and international marketing / communication. Also, any time we can reference Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, we will.
First off, this isn’t a commentary about ‘bad’ translation or ‘wrong’ translation. Yes, there are plenty instances of mistranslation out there (or, Lost in Translation, if you will) – but, this is a note about translation as localization, or trans-creation, rather than apples to apples, word-for-word translation.
Of all that there is to consider when embarking on a translation project, a short list would include:
- Who is seeking localization? (e.g What company?)
- Why is it sought? (e.g. Marketing, Sales, Instruction, Information?)
- Who will do the localizing? (e.g. What professionals?)
- Who will review the localizations? (e.g. An in-house team of the client’s employees?)
- Who will view the finished product? (e.g. Employees, stakeholders, clients, everyone on YouTube?)
In the case of marketing a product – those who understand more than one language will tell you that between languages, there is a lot of word-for-word, but there is just as much (often more) room for interpretation and new creation of text. Simply put: it’s not always as simple as taking source words like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and translating them word-for-word.
More specifically, if the purpose is to market a product – and if the absolute, stripped-down purpose is to turn a profit – perhaps a different title or tagline altogether is necessary. Perhaps the translator will give you something that only slightly resembles your source text. It’s not always this drastic, but, any translation is always a version of this concept.
Hence, the use of Grandpa Ghostbuster Goes to Sea as the title to market The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in another country and language. Want to read more fun titles like this? Check out this website, also linked above, for translations of Wes Anderson titles in multiple languages.
Why such a different title than the original? To understand why, we must consider why the source title makes sense in the first place. Considering that this film was made in and first marketed in the U.S., it makes sense that the title can be artistic. Quirky. Whimsical. Catchy. Fun. And, given the genius and success of Mr. Anderson, the title does what is intended: it disperses a brilliant piece of artwork to an audience who will understand and appreciate (and also, consume) it.
Task number two: selling the film in other countries, to speakers of other languages. The translator, in this case – as in any case – must ask the client: what is the purpose of this translation project? If it’s to be whimsical and artistic, and not to care about the bottom line – then great, we’ll translate the title into something whimsical.
If the goal is simply to turn a profit – then, we’ll give you a title that will sell. We’ll consider that our audience remembers Ghostbusters, and will recognize the lead character from his role in that enormously popular film. We’ll note that he’s now grandpa-aged, and that, well, the movie has something to do with the sea (which is less sellable than the chance to see a beloved Ghostbuster again).
In the end, we may not know the details behind this particular translation project, but, those who understand translation will understand that this title may not just have been a Fail Blog entry waiting to happen; rather, it could have been the best way to market a U.S. movie abroad.
What to do? Watch Wes Anderson films. And, try not to get lost in translation, or worse – get lost thinking all translation must be word-for-word in order to be perfect. Ask yourself: do you want to be artistic, or profitable? Both can be important. Only you know which will be more important for your translation projects. Of course, that’s what we’re here to do – to help you determine which witch is which. Or which Ghostbuster is where. (And so on…)