The ‘Let The Right One In’ Subtitles Scandal

Published 5 years ago by , Updated April 6th, 2009 at 9:23 am,

let the right one in eli The Let The Right One In Subtitles Scandal

Okay, so this story totally went over my head, but apparently there’s been uproar around the blogosphere about the U.S. DVD/Blu-ray release of the Swedish film Let The Right One In, which happened to be my favorite of Screen Rant‘s international picks of 2008.

In the recent weeks since the DVD/Blu-ray of Let The Right One In hit stores, fans of this chilling tale of prepubescent vampire/human love have been watching and re-watching the movie, trying to take in all the subtleties and gorgeous imagery that director Tomas Alfredson packed into every shot and sequence. However, those repeated viewings also revealed a sinister secret:

Somebody had totally f@#$!d with the English/Spanish subtitles on DVD/Blu-ray versions of Let The Right One In. And that is so not cool (or is it?).

Before we get too deep into this, let me give you a visual example of what has fans of this film crying foul:

The scene depicted below occurs in the film when the “blood hunter” has a young boy tied up in a high school gym locker room ready to be drained, only to be interrupted by the boy’s friends, who come banging on the locker room window, telling their captive friend to hurry up. Depending on the subtitle type (theatrical or DVD) that message gets conveyed in two very different ways:

let the right one in theatrical scene The Let The Right One In Subtitles Scandal
This is how the dialogue appeared in the theatrical release.

let the right one in dvd scene The Let The Right One In Subtitles Scandal
This is how the dialogue appeared in the DVD/Blu-ray versions.

You see the difference: the DVD/Blu-ray subtitles have been totally stripped of character (yes dialogue has character) down to a bare and banal English translation. A couple of high school teens teasing their friend about “servicing himself” when he’s about to have his throat cut is much more rich (and funny, IMO) than a line like “time to go home.” We’d be so lucky if teens started talking to one another that formally and inoffensively.

Since this “scandal” broke, Magnolia Pictures (who’s genre branch, Magnet Releasing, distributed Let The Right One In stateside) has acknowledged fans’ anger over the new translation and have promised to re-release the DVD/Blu-ray with the same English/Spanish subtitles that made the theatrical release so darkly humorous:

“We’ve been made aware that there are several fans that don’t like the version of the subtitles on the DVD/BR. We had an alternate translation that we went with. Obviously a lot of fans thought we should have stuck with the original theatrical version. We are listening to the fans feedback, and going forward we will be manufacturing the discs with the subtitles from the theatrical version.”

Consumers will be able to tell the good versions of the DVD/Blu-ray from the crap ones by looking on the back of the case where the disc specs are listed. Translation purists want to keep an eye out for is something like, “SUBTITLES: ENGLISH (theatrical), SPANISH (theatrical)”; if you see that, then you’re good to go.

Of course, Magnet will NOT be exchanging the “bad subtitles” version of the film for copies of the “good” ones, leaving a lot of eager fans who went out and snatched up Let The Right One In as soon as it hit stores out in the cold.

If selling a crap product wasn’t violation enough, this week Magnolia decided it was necessary to take a public swipe at the circle of bloggers who have been spreading the good word about this film since day one (more than the “real press” did, might I add):

Yes the bloggers are having a field day on this one. Normally they like to pick on the English Dub tracks, but in this case it’s the subtitles. Obviously online tend to get rowdy and bandwagon mentality without knowing all the details.

The current subtitle track is not altering the context of the film at all, in fact it’s a more literal translation than any prior version of subtitles. It’s not a defective or faulty subtitle file. Just more literal and larger in size for the small screen. Both English and Spanish subtitle files were produced for this dvd release. Frankly it’s not all that uncommon to have the subs vary from prior releases, typically go unnoticed as subs are purely a translation of film dialogue.

This wouldn’t have been a blip had it not been for one particular horror blog doing a side by side and claiming that they are wrong. They are not. We are not doing a recall or anything of that nature, again, these are not defective. Title came out two weeks ago and general public don’t notice and don’t care – bloggers are well known for jumping on something, making an issue of it and moving on.

We have decided that based on the feedback that we will be making a running change, so that going forward (once inventories deplete), we will be making that subtitle version available. Options in set up will be; English Subtitles / English (theatrical) Subtitles / Spanish Subtitles”

Wow, that’s quite a reward for those who have used their power of the press to make your film look good. Thanks for that.

I’ll leave it to each of you to compare what Magnolia has to say in their statement against the side-by-side dialogue comparison that appears above. Do both versions of the dialogue seem like “the same thing” to you?

let the right one in The Let The Right One In Subtitles Scandal

However, I can’t come down too hard on Magnolia/Magnet. I myself rented Let The Right One In on DVD as soon as it was released, eager for a second viewing, and not once was I put off or confused by the change in the subtitles. In fact, I didn’t even know there had been a change until the blogosphere exploded in anger about it! In my viewing experience the film was still poignant and powerful–worth every one of the five stars I gave it in my review last year.

One must also play devil’s advocate and wonder which set of these subtitles truly IS closest to the Swedish dialect of the film. There is always the possibility that the theatrical release had “Americanized” subtitles to make it more accessible to a U.S. audience, while the DVD/Blu-ray adhered more rigidly to the Swedish roots–as Magnolia/Magnet claims is the case (doubt it though). In the end it really comes down to personal prefrence, since the truth will always be lost in translation. So how do you feel about the whole Let The Right One In subtitle scandal? Did it make a difference in your viewing of the film?

Sources: Special thanks to Icons of Fright, Slash Film and Film School Rejects for first breaking this story and for doing the tedious work of gathering side-by-side screen shots to prove the point. Who says bloggers aren’t real reporters?

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TAGS: let the right one in

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  1. So… which one is actually more accurate? Sometimes the theatrical version might seem funnier but that could actually be something the translator or person in charge of the subtitles added in. The DVD version could actually be what the actors really said in the movie. But I don’t know, was just wondering if anyone who knew the actual language could shed some light on this.

    • The original seem more accurate. There is a scene (the one mentioned in this post) where the “blood hunter” realizes he is screwed and there is no escape for him and he says the girl-vampires name “Eli”. It’s a name and they translated it as “i’m trapped” in the original DVD release. I don’t think you could say that is a more literal translation. There were a few other areas, but that one stood out since I knew for sure it was translated wrong. not knowing the language, the name of the kid is the only thing I could confirm.

  2. The theatrical translation is the right one in this scene. “taja – kan – du -göra – hemma” is word by word: “jerk off – can – you – do – at home”. You don’t say like that in English, of course, so “you can jerk off at home” is the most appropriate translation. I think, though, that this might be the worst example so the flaws are not that many.

  3. Differences of translation aside the parts of the subs that get me are the left out dialogue and the words that are nowhere near the same. You mentioned the gym locker scene but how about the part where Hakan was about to put acid on his head and says “Eli” but the subs say “I’m trapped”. Thats a head scratcher.

  4. “The current subtitle track is not altering the context of the film at all, in fact it’s a more literal translation than any prior version of subtitles. It’s not a defective or faulty subtitle file.”

    I know a lot of translators who would disagree with this in a second. Many, many times a literal translation can definitely be a defective or faulty translation.

    That’s ridiculous that they would say that.

  5. @Buffalo

    WOW, thanks, that’s what I was wondering. Pretty stupid for them to change the meaning of words in the movie. I mean, seriously, what’s the point of making the dialogue of a politically incorrect film more politically correct?? It’s like they think by changing it from jerking off to going home a movie about a kid killing people to feed a vampire will all of a sudden become more kid friendly? lol

  6. Wow, this was an amazing movie. As for subtitles, americans are making US version of this film, so you can watch that when it comes to cinemas – minus great directing and actors (probably) :)

  7. Well, thats another topic – regarding american versions of european movies and how, in general, they suck compared to the original movies. (Vanilla sky, for instance)

  8. Is it just me, or is it poetic justice that so much of this brou-ha-ha seems to come down to jerking off…
    An accurate take of the blogosphere in general?

  9. @DanB

    Don’t be childish. That’s not the specific reason for all this press, it’s just an example.

    Vic

  10. Being Swedish Myself I know that it can be hard to directly translate from Swedish to English and vice versa. We don’t build sentances the same way in our respective languages. But yes, this example you gave is good proof of that nudity, sex jokes and sex in general is much more accepted in Swedish movies and it probably got cencured away that way in the English translation to- Go Home! Instead of a cut. It’s always puzzled me how americans are so strong on sex in movies when violence is so widely accepted.

  11. Each version has its advantages and its disadvantages. One advantage of the DVD version is having Eli say to Oskar “Be me a little” instead of “Be me for a little while” like the theatrical version. She has just said that he would like to kill for revenge whereas she kills because she has to. If he becomes even a little bit like her, he will be able to kill innocent people to harvest their blood for her, as Hakan used to do, instead of restricting himself to killing the three bullies. Clearly she will want him to do this for a long time instead of just for a little while.

    • I dont think Eli wanted Oskar to murder for her .. actually She didn want another Hakan in her life .. thats why she asks Oskar if to be boyfriends she need to do “special things” the Only thing she wanted is to be a normal child again. ]the “be me a little” is more focused on “be in my shoes” to feel the need for blood and not considering her a monster.. and not flee un panic when she feeds, thats why after that he only closes the door when Lacke is killed

  12. It’s an interesting thread. Of course it’s actually often impossible to translate from one language to another so that the meaning is identical – a concept that is hard to understand at first. But the line “be me a little” or be me for a little while” – does anyone know which is closer to the original Swedish? They don’t quite mean the same thing and it did leap out at me during the film… Actually when we heard about the US remake we had quite a laugh thinking how they would tone down the movie for an American audience happy to see people sawn up, but not so happy with some of the events and shots in the film (won’t spoil it!)

  13. While I don’t condone Magnolia’s cleaning up of the subtitles for their DVD version I just wanted to play a little devil’s advocate here. I’m hard of hearing and watch EVERYTHING with the captions on and you would be surprised how often the captions differ from what is being said on screen. And that is just English to English. Things get a lot trickier when actually translating languages from one to another, especially with as many differences as Swedish and English have.

  14. “in fact it’s a more literal translation than any prior version of subtitles.”

    This is utter BS from Magnolia. I’m Swedish and I can tell you that almost all the screen cap comparison I have seen in the blogs complaining about this, the original theatrical sub titles are a more literal translation from Swedish. In a few cases it is the other way, but in those cases I feel the theatrical translation is more accurate anyway.

    I have only seen the caps published on the blogs, not the complete new transaltion, so it could of course (all though I doubt it) be more literal through the rest of the movie. Even if that was the case I would still call this BS though as they specifically address the blog complaints here.

    Just for fun I made a google translation of the jungle gym translation for you (and we all know how funny they can turn out):

    - Do you live here, or …?
    - Yes, I live here on climbing.
    - Sure. But where do you live?
    - Next to you.
    - How do you know where I live?

    I would say the new translator did a worse job than a google automatic translation :)
    (although google had an obvious problem with the more complex word (klätterställningen) ‘in the jungle gym’, which is translated as ‘on climbing’).

    The theatrical translation:
    - Do you live here?
    - Yeah…
    - I live right here, in the jungle gym.
    - Seriously. where do you live?
    - Next door to you.
    - How do you know where I live?

    New DVD translation:
    - I live here
    - Next to you

    Another example is the one discussed above with the ‘jerk off’ scene.

    The only two sceens I can think of that I’ve seen translated more literaly in the new subs are the ‘can’t be friends’ sceen right after the ‘jungle gym’ sceen, and ‘the note from Eli.’

    Theatrical:
    Are you so sure that I want to be your friend?

    A literal translation:
    Do you think I want to be friends with you then?
    (though the scentence is built up a bit to make sence in English, a true literal word-for-word translation would be “Think you I want become friend with you then?”)

    DVD:
    Do you think I want to be friends with you?

    Here the new subs are almost a true literal translation, save for the ‘then’ at the end. The complaint here against the new sub was that it made him sound arogant rather then playful. But I think the original swedish dialouge sounds playful, and in Swedish the ‘then’ at the end adds to that. So all in all the theatrical might sound better in English then the new translation.

    In the ‘note from Eli’ sceen the note states:

    Theatrical:
    “I must be gone and live, or stay and die. Yours, Eli”

    DVD:
    “To flee is life, To linger, death. Your Eli”

    Here “To flee is life, to linger death.” is a literal translation of the Swedish in the message. And some say they prefer the DVD version here.

    But what it is, is actually a re-translation back to english from a Swedish translation of a quote from Romeo & Juliet.

    The original translator understood that and did the right thing taking the original quote instead of retranslating it.

    Romeo and Juliet. (Act 3, Scene 5. http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/romeo_juliet.3.5.html last line in Romeos first part.)

    I do not think the DVD translation is bad in this last example, it is just to show that in some cases where the DVD actually are more literal the ‘theatrical’ can still be more accurate. And in most cases I’ve seen the theatrical are both more litteral, AND accurate.

  15. Is it on sale on DVD in England yet?
    :)

  16. The original subtitles might have its flaws too of course, but like jo shows in his nice posting above (btw, thanks for the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ information, really didn’t know that!), the theatrical subs just seem to be far more accurate and really be the better choice for the movie. And although it might be ‘just’ a problem with the subtitles, things like that can really make one angry. Because Alfredson invested – like probably everyone else in his crew – so much time (took him one year alone to find the right main actors) and passion in this movie to deliver a really astonishing, fantastic piece of art, only to be partially screwed now by maimed subs.The movie doesn’t deserve that. Well at least Magnolia will deliver now the original version ‘in addition’. Hope many people will be able to see it in the future! (With the good subs…)

  17. I checked out both, and I prefer the theatrical subtitles.

  18. I saw the film back in October last year as a part of the Toronto After Dark Film Fest and this film was the opener, $20 was a bit pricey for one film, but it was worth every penny.. If you look at the “Alternative option” from the Theatrical version of the subs to even the english dub (which isn’t half bad for a change) it doesn’t match up when you play them at the same time… I just see the excuses why they didn’t do the right thing in the first place and put the theatricals as that, plain excuses instead of saying that someone screwed up somewhere along the line

  19. I was actually quite disappointed in the subs when I got the DVD. I think the scene where it bothered me the most was when Oskar asks Eli to be his girlfriend, which was translated into “Do I have a chance with you?” This is perhaps the most mangled scene in the whole film, and it’s one of the most central ones as well.

  20. Yes I am unhappy with the poor subtitling. They have made the kids less threatening by taking out the swearing and sexual innuendo. It reminds me of You Are Not Alone, which had to wait nearly 20 years for a quality subtitle track, for the same reasons as ltroi. But it is infuriating because you know the distributer of ltroi already had quality subs. It is because of cowardice, which the film NEVER accedes to, that this decision was made. Can’t wait to see how terrible the American version is, even though I am a fan of Cody Smit-McPhee. It will be like remaking Psycho. About the BluRay, the extras are all DVD quality, not BluRay quality, except for the photos, which are not full screen. Good luck to future purchasers!

  21. Taja means jerk of in Swedish 80s slang.
    If magnolia claims anything else they are lying.

  22. I loved that movie , but now they have made an American version called :Let me In”, WTF!!

  23. um if u read the book a lot of thing’s said in the book is more to theatrical release but honestly I would not know the difference but read the book an saw lot of thing said in theatrical release as i said earlier, but would not mind have both versions on DVD but i downloaded from amazon got the move there i did not rent it purchase you can an that is when i heard of this sub war but my download is theatrical and my DVD has not to me it dos not mack a difference okay sorry about my spell if any

  24. It is important to get a translation done right instead of having “that guy from accounting” do it over the weekend. I would also like to point out that a professional translation agency usually offers proofreading services (or just includes them in the translation fee). Believe me, it does help!