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:

This is how the dialogue appeared in the theatrical release.

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?

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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