Why I Saw So Many Bad Movies in the Eighties

Engbrew Translation 101: Film NamesAs a teenager during the 1980’s we went to the movies a lot. Before a movie came out there was no hype, no buzz, no trailers on YouTube, and no behind-the-scenes shown on TV, so picking what movie to see often boiled down to the single-colored text-only poster that each cinema in my hometown published on the public billboards.
I guess the Israeli film distributors were aware of these facts, and decided that if all they have to work with is the name of the film, then by golly they would make it work.

You see, I believe a movie is a work of art from beginning to end, including its title, and when distributing it in another country one should try to translate it with great respect and fervor. I guess the local distributors here do not share my ideas, as they pretty much translate the titles whichever way they see fit, or whichever way they think would make more money.

Sometimes these translations are far-fetched like ‘White Palace‘ (1990, Susan Sarandon, James Spader) that was translated to Hebrew as ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’, preceding the movie ‘When a Man Loves a Woman‘ (1994, Andy Garcia, Meg Ryan) that then had to be translated to Hebrew as ‘The Love of a Man for a Woman’.

Other times it seems the distributor was on vacation, as the movies were just phonetically translated and so Big (1988, Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins), Heat (1995, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro) and Elephant (2003, by Gus Van Sant) remained the same words spelled phonetically in Hebrew: ביג, היט, אלפנט

But during the eighties the biggest film distributors’ shtick was riding the coattails of a successful film and naming an unrelated film in a way that would mislead a teenager to think this movie is a sequel to a movie he already saw.
The number one example for that is ‘Police Academy‘ (1984, Steve Guttenberg, Kim Cattrall), originally translated to Hebrew as ‘A Drill for Novice Policemen‘. After the movie became successful there were six sequels made, but in Israel all of a sudden many unrelated films became ‘A Drill for Novice Something-or-the-other’.

Here is a partial list:
Gotcha! (1985) – A Drill for A Novice Spy
Doin’ Time (1985) – A School for Novice Convicts
Bad Medicine (1985) – A School for Novice Doctors
Buy & Cell (1987) – A Drill for Gambling Convicts
UHF (1989) – A Station for Novice Anchormen
Beach Movie (1998) – A Drill for Novice Surfers
Miss Cast Away (2004) – A Drill for Novice Models
Gladiatress (2004) – A Drill for Novice Gladiatresses

The really sad part is that I actually fell for it and went to see most of these movies.

If you ever need to decypher the original name of a movie, you can check out Targumon, a website dedicated just for that purpose.