I recently popped Live Free or Die Hard from Netflix into my DVD player only to realize that I had already watched it. Undeterred by my memory mishap, I made the movie more interesting by adding Spanish dubbing and subtitles. I was in for a surprise. As amusing as it was to watch Bruce Willis destroy a helicopter with a kamikaze car and defeat seasoned martial artists with sloppy brawling, the oddities of the Spanish translations took me in.
In general, the dubbing and subtitles are drastically different in word choice and phrasing even though the meaning tends to feel similar enough. The subtitles look more like a transliteration, giving the impression that they were made directly from the English script with less eye to context. One telling example is the subtitled translation of “fire sale” coming out to “liquidación de incendio,” in contrast to “invasión general” in the dubbing. In context, “fire sale” is security jargon for the systematic takeover and shutdown of a country’s infrastructure, so the dubbing gets closer to the take-over-the-world gist.
Yet the extra layer of interpretation in the voice-over also felt less true to the film at times. A couple speechless or inaudible moments are “filled in” with dubbed Spanish, such as when an FBI character speaks inaudibly to generic staffers, and when Bruce Willis closes a car door on his hacker companion. I was also surprised by one scene toward the end in which Willis ties up a henchman he has seriously injured:
English: Time to take a nap, pal. [spoken with gruff, ominous tone]
Spanish voice: Don’t move, I’ll send you a doctor. [spoken apologetically]
Subtitles: Time to take a nap, pal.
Apparently the voiceover team, which might not have felt as supportive of the beat-down as Americans, saw the need to soften the tone.
There’s a mystery here I’ve only partially cracked: who created the two translations, and where? I have a faint guess that the dubbing happened in Mexico, because (1) dubbing is big there, (2) I heard the Mexicanism “güey” used (along with an inserted reference to diabetes, which is a huge problem in Mexico), and (3) the language was mostly familiar to me (I lived in Mexico for two years). Still, I would love more certainty and behind-the-scenes (hah) details. Both translations seem to strive for Neutral Spanish, which obscures their origins. Can someone help me? Below are transcriptions I made from arbitrary parts of the movie; let me know if you notice anything!
|es lógico||claro que sí|
|entrando en pánico||cundir el pánico|
|se calló el sistema||falla el sistema|
|rastro digital||huella digital|
|no lo creo, amigo||hoy no, estatua de cera|
|subir (el video)||cargar (el video)|
|soy de presión baja||mi azucar en la sangre está baja|
|no dudaremos||no flaquearemos|
|invasión general||liquidación de incendio|
|me importa un carajo||no me importa|
|el muro||la pared|