On dubbing, nostalgia, and fascism
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an iconic film. Released in 1991, it quickly became the biggest film of the year due to, among other factors, the ground-breaking special effects, Linda Hamilton’s spectacular acting in the role of rogue Sarah Connor, and its 20-minute-long action scenes. Its cultural impact cannot be denied even today, the iconic catchphrase 'Sayonara, baby’ still resonating in media all around the world. Wait, or was it 'Hasta la vista, baby’?
Text: Marc Burillo Micho
Image: Miranda Tate
Indeed, as the film crossed borders and went into international territory, different translations and dubbings were produced. Agencies started taking more and more liberties regarding the adaptation of the already iconic catchphrase. The Latin American dub played it safe, keeping the original ‘Hasta la vista, baby’, as they thought audiences would be able to grasp the context behind it easily. However, some other countries like Japan or Thailand decided to change the first part of the sentence to something that their respective audiences could understand more easily: for example, in Japan the sentence became「さっさと失せろ、baby」, which translates to something along the lines of ‘Hurry up and get lost, baby’. Nevertheless, the version of the catchphrase that stands out the most has to be the one in the European Spanish dub, which took a completely different route and decided to go with ‘Sayonara, baby’. The people in charge of the translation must have resolved that ‘Hasta la vista’ would not work as well for the Spaniard audiences, the impact of the sentence becoming lost in translation. Disregarding whether it would have worked or not had they kept it as such, ‘Sayonara baby’ became an immediate success, still today being alluded to in Spanish TV and cinema, as well as in common speech.
Luke, I Am Your Father
It is an undeniable truth that dubbing can completely change someone’s viewing experience of a show, a film, or any piece of media. Following the example of the Spaniard dub for Terminator, Schwarzenegger’s character was dubbed by the renowned Spanish voice actor, Constantino Romero, who played other equally iconic characters such as Star Wars’ Darth Vader and The Lion King’s Mufasa. With his low baritone and imposing voice, Romero was a master of his craft. Although you could tell it was him behind the voices, you soon became sucked into his ability to become the character. I personally remember some years ago, when I rewatched Star Wars - A New Hope with the original English audio, as opposed to how I had always seen the film, I was shocked to discover how non-intimidating Darth Vader sounded to me. I found Romero’s voice, along with the augmented sound effects added in the Spaniard dub of the film, transformed Darth Vader into a much more imposing and scarier figure. In fact, Darth Vader’s voice was also dubbed in the original version by the actor James Earl Jones, as George Lucas found that David Prowse’s voice, the actor inside Darth Vader’s suit, was not intimidating enough. Although Jones always defended Prowse’s position as the real Darth Vader, many still say that it was him who really brought Darth Vader to life.
Nevertheless, it would be unfair of me to inflict such judgement on who did it best, as nostalgia more often than not plays an enormous role on our preference over different dubbings. In the case of Spanish dubbed Disney films, the debate of which version has the better songs (European Spanish or Latin American Spanish) can become heated very quickly, as people jump in defence of their childhood memories. Perhaps the acting capabilities of Maggie Smith in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban can be best appreciated in its original version, or further enhanced by Luz Olier’s acting in the Spanish dub (who, as a fun fact, is also the responsible for Sarah Connor’s voice in Terminator). However, I will always remember that one Christmas, rolling all over the floor with my cousins and doubled over in laughter when the film glitched and suddenly changed the audio file to the French one: that will always be my favourite version of Professor McGonagall.
To Dub or Not To Dub?
Nevertheless, taking nostalgia out of the question and looking forward into the future productions we will watch, the question of whether watching a dubbed version of the film is better remains unanswered. Is consuming the film with the original dub always the best option, adding subtitles to it and potentially minimising the impact on the original product? Or is watching the dubbed version not only more comfortable, but an improvement by allowing us to fully appreciate the skills of both the actors on and behind the screen? Besides the obvious answer of how it all boils down to preference, the truth is that, in the case of dubbing, time and place might have a lot to do with why some people prefer it.
Originally appearing in the 1930s, dubbing developed alongside sound in cinema, starting out merely as a post-production technique to account for issues with audio. When sound-on-film technology first started to develop, the translation issue quickly became relevant as silent films were hastily replaced, and international audiences were left unable to understand what was happening on screen. While many countries promptly embraced subtitles as the main vehicle to consume foreign films, some opted for dubbing due to political and ideological reasons. As an example, in the case of Europe it was the rising fascist governments of the 1930s that pushed dubbing in some of the countries where the industry is still today very strong, such as France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. In the case of France dubbing was supported by the government to promote the preservation of French against the ‘threat’ of American English and culture. In contrast, in the three other countries dubbing was used as a tool to strengthen national identity, unify the language under one sole dialect or language, and as a censorship strategy. Starting with Mussolini, all three countries invested large quantities of money into developing the industry, allowing it to take root and become the standard as opposed to using other strategies as subtitles. Thus, for some, subtitles might have simply always been the most comfortable and accessible option, and not necessarily a choice made out of preference.
Whether you prefer original or translated dubbings, reality remains to be that dubbing is an essential tool of the post-production toolkit in films. Not only used in the context of language translations, but sometimes a vital aid to improve the quality and accessibility of the final product, it is often viewed as the invisible talent behind filmmaking. Voice actors are behind some of the most spectacular and impactful performances in the history of film, some of the most recognizable and most hidden ones. Regardless of how much one can disagree with the choice they made by removing Schwarzenegger’s ‘Hasta la Vista, baby’, it is undeniable that ‘Sayonara, baby’ is a hell of a catchphrase, and it is here to stay.