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DVD Commentary

Generally, DVDs have an option for what are mostly audio commentaries, i.e. someone talks while the movie plays on-screen. Some of the commentaries are well-scripted, others contain more or less useless extemporizing. In my opinion, they are rarely worth watching.

I just delivered the translation of an audio commentary for a big animated movie. The translation process was extremely painful. The commentary amounted to roughly 14,000 discernible words. A lot of times, the commentators (there were five) talked all over each other and it was impossible to understand what they were saying. The pain was exacerbated by the fact that these weren’t really subtitles in the classical sense – it was actually a transcript of the commentary divided into subtitle-shaped chunks.

You probably can imagine the run-on sentences that were spanning easily six, seven or more subtitles. German syntax being what it is, the order of words needed to be reversed in many cases. While in regular subtitling the German version is never that far off the English template, here we had some serious discrepancies. All it takes is a nitpicking client, and I will have to supply long explanations why the subtitles in the English templates have their German equivalents further up or down the time line.

What I learned from this experience is, that

  1. if you gather the two producers, the two screenwriters and the director of an animated movie and give them 90 non-scripted minutes to ramble on while they see the movie on a screen, they come up with an enormous amount of BS. They are also incapable of finishing a sentence. Instead, they switch mid-stream to another thought, and then to another…
  2. repetitions don’t seem to matter that much in English (and least as far as commentaries are concerned), whereas for any German text this side of acceptable they are definitely not cool. Words like “great” and “fun” were used in almost every sentence, sometimes more than once. It was a major effort to defuse this in German.
  3. even though I started out with an already low opinion of the audio commentary option on DVDs, it is actually much worse than I thought.

I will not mention the title of the film to give it a fighting chance.

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3 Responses to “DVD Commentary”

  1. I can only imagine what you’ve gone through with this project.

    I really enjoy DVD commentaries, although only a small portion really excel. A few examples:

    – TRON (1982)
    – Terminator 2
    – Back to the Future
    – Blade Runner
    – Aliens

    These DVDs/Blu-rays have great commentary tracks. In some cases they were extracted from interviews and assembled to appear almost like an improvised commentary. Great, great work. I’ve listened to them more than once, that’s a testament to how good they are.

    Now, the absolute worst commentary, ever:

    – Star Trek: Nemesis.

    The director, Stuart Baird, delivers a boring commentary; he even stops talking for minutes during the (lame) movie. A horrible experience, listening to that commentary track.

    I can think of another example:

    – Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)

    It is a great movie, also a really strange one. The commentary track is an interview, or perhaps a conference/talk with the director, and it is barely understandable at times.

    Nice post, again I’m sorry you had to endure all that!

  2. Interesting post! Can I just ask about the subtitles: were you translating/transcribing from the audio directly, or were you translating existing subtitles on the DVD? And your translation was intended to be used for subtitles?

    • Michael says:

      As customary with this client, I worked from an English template, an RTF file of their WinCAPS software. The English template, however, was an almost verbatim version of the commentary, sentences sometimes stretching over many segments. My translation will be used for the subtitles – after review and quality control.

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