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Strange, Stranger, German Movie Titles

Steven Spielberg’s 1975 movie is a sensational masterpiece. The director found new ways to create true suspense. Actually, he was forced to take a low profile approach, by hardly showing that big white shark which terrorizes an American beach resort, because the shark robot they built for the movie did not work properly. That is what Spielberg explained in an interview ages ago.

For his motion picture with Roy Scheider as Chief Brody, he found an excellent title, namely “Jaws”. One single word already created fear and suspense. Had Spielberg called it “The White Shark”, it would have sounded like a pretty bad B-movie and it would have given away too much of the story.

But how did the Germans call the movie? They screwed it up. Yes, “Der weiße Hai” stands for “The White Shark”. Nobody was jailed for that choice. Unfortunately.

In Germany, Hollywood movies are generally dubbed, while the audiences in the German-speaking part of Switzerland watch the English original versions. The average German movie enthusiast would understand movies in English only in part, while the Swiss, the Dutch and other neighbors do not have any issue with movies in English, unless it was shot in Glasgow.

That is why Dustin Hoffman had to scream in German, when Laurence Olivier tortured him in “Marathon Man”. Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange had to moan in German while having sex on the table in “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. And Roger Moore’s German was perfect in “Moonraker”, because even he needed to be dubbed.

For every single Hollywood superstar who appears in many motion pictures, Germany has a voice double, meaning it is always the same person who dubs the voice of any particular famous American actor. Some doubles do more than one actor.

The late Niels Clausnitzer was a prominent example. For the German versions of countless movies, he dubbed many actors, including Ronald Reagan, Cary Grant, James Garner, Roger Moore, and also Max Wright in the 1980-s sitcom “Alf”.

“Taken”: A great title. Liam Neeson needs to rescue his daughter who was abducted by the bad guys in Paris. He has a nice little phone conversation with one of them, before he converts the entire gang into dog food: “I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you.”

While the dubbing itself is being done quite well, the Germans screwed up that movie title as well. In this case, they even invented an English title: “96 Hours” instead of “Taken”? How misguided is that? Anyone who watched that movie knows where those “96 Hours” come from, but there is no question that “Taken” is a far better title.

“Thor: The Dark World” is “Thor 2: The Dark Kingdom” in Germany. Why would Kingdom sound more catchy? Or why would more Germans understand the word ‘kingdom’ than the word ‘world’? Something is very wrong here.

The German movie title syndrome also hits rather stupid comedies. “Accepted” became “S.H.I.T. – The Highschool Corp.” (“S.H.I.T. – Die Highschool GmbH”). The flick formerly known as “Finding Neverland” hit German movie theaters as “When Dreams Learn to Fly” (“Wenn Träume fliegen lernen”). Jesus Christ!

Jim Carrey’s 1997 movie “Liar Liar”, in which he plays a lawyer who suddenly can not lie anymore, made its audience laugh a lot. The scene in which he has to say what he thinks of his boss is priceless. Again, the Germans destroyed the idea of the entire flick by calling it “Der Dummschwätzer“, which could be translated “The Trash-Talker”. Those who took this decision must have been stoned, drunk or stupid. Or all of it at once.

But there are cases in which the German movie title creators did the right thing. “Groundhog Day” is something nobody in Germany really understands since it is an American custom. They just had to find an alternative. But then, being Germans, they chose the worst one they could think of. The outcome was “Und täglich grüßt das Murmeltier”, meaning “And the Groundhog Salutes on a Daily Basis”. To hell with that.

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