Translating movies is surely one of the most interesting types of translation. However, it can under no circumstances be considered a simple process which can be carried out with ease. The translator is very much responsible for the success and popularity of the movie amongst the target audience, and this audience must primarily be drawn to see the movie and convinced to give it a chance. Some people choose to see a movie because their favorite actors star in it, some will choose it because it is the most recent work of a director they like, and some will simply like the poster. Nevertheless, a large number of people will watch a movie if they are intrigued by its title.
The translation of the title can sometimes turn out to be the most difficult part of the entire movie translation project. The original movie title is usually a short and compelling phrase (although there are movie titles which are quite lengthy for comedic purposes, e.g. Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking your Juice in the Hood) that only hints at the plot of the movie in such a way that it’s intriguing for the potential audience. Therefore, the translator usually must not provide the literal translation of the title and consider the job well done. What is much more important than the translation being faithful to the original title is its effect. In this case, the translators must engage all of their creative skills, as well as their knowledge of the mindset and passions of the target audience. In addition, the translators must cover the plot of the movie (which can be more than two hours long!) in just a few words, and at the same time they must not reveal too much so as not to affect the entire movie experience or spoil the twists and the overall feeling of suspense that the movie may contain.
One of the more favorable translations is the translation of the title The Silence of the Lambs. Namely, the title of this exciting thriller which follows a police investigation in which an FBI Academy student interviews the vicious killer and cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is Kad jaganjci utihnu in Serbia. This translation is quite faithful to the original, but the careful choice of words successfully embodies the chilling and slightly uncomfortable feeling that the movie itself creates in its audience. Furthermore, the title of the movie Pulp Fiction posed a particular conundrum for translators. The expression pulp fiction refers to sensationalist low-quality literature which was popular in the early 20th century. The title of this movie in Serbian is Petparačke priče (lit. Cheap Stories) which is a great match for this expression in the sense of denoting something that is not worth much (which does not refer to the quality of the movie itself). Another successful translation worth mentioning, which is considered by many to perhaps be even better than the original, is Prohujalo s vihorom (Eng. Gone with the Wind).
On the other hand, translators sometimes try so hard to make the movie title appealing to the target audience that they end up with translations which sound strange, to say the least. For example, the title of the first movie from the popular movie series American Pie was translated as Mangupi overavaju maturu (lit. Rascals Do Prom) in Serbia. Although this title successfully sums up the plot of the movie, it takes the focus away from the now infamous scene involving the traditional American apple pie. In addition, this translation proved to be quite problematic when, after the success of the first movie, the sequels were released in which the main characters, although still rascals, were not high school seniors anymore, and therefore did not go to prom. Nevertheless, probably one of the most questionable title translations is Bekstvo iz Šošenka (lit. The Escape from the Shawshank, original title: Shawshank Redemption). At first glance, this seems like a perfectly fine translation that is quite faithful to the original and sums up the plot quite nicely – and that exactly is the problem: it reveals too much. Namely, the literal translation would be Spasenje iz Šošenka (lit. Salvation from the Shawshank) or Iskupljenje u Šošenku (lit. Redemption in the Shawshank), which wouldn’t exactly reveal whether the salvation is actualized (i.e. leaving the prison after serving the entire sentence or by escaping) or it refers to the salvation and redemption of the prisoner’s soul. However, the official title of this movie in Serbian leaves no room for interpretation and it actually reveals the main plot twist, which ruins the experience for the audience.
As much as translating movies seems like an interesting and simple task, the challenges of this kind of translation must not be overlooked. The responsibilities of the translators are immense: they are responsible not only for providing a positive experience to the entire target audience, but also have their part in advertising the movie, because the translation (and especially the translation of the title) is an important factor which can affect the popularity and the success of a movie, as well as, of course, the profit it brings.