Cicero and other ancients identified the eyes as the window to the soul. But they probably never spent much time looking at Israeli movie ads.
Driving around this coastal country for a few days this week, I spotted ads for numerous films and, more specifically, their translated titles -- the good, the bad and the wacky. I learned a little about how Hollywood is refracted through a foreign lens, and also got some more insight into this Middle Eastern nation where I once lived.
The idea of a hangover may not be as common here as it is elsewhere, or at least isn't as commonly acknowledged. How else to explain the translation of the title of a Todd Philips-Zach Galiafanakis comedy as "Before the Wedding We Stop in Vegas," a name that explains pretty much everything but the tiger scene?
Apparently the title worked so well that, for the sequel this year, marketers didn't mess with the formula. They named the follow-up "Before the Wedding We Stop in Bangkok." It's a wonder anyone in Israel ever gets married.
International titles for American films are frequently a source of amusement -- China retailed "Boogie Nights" under the name "His Great Device Makes Him Famous" -- but Israel is a unique case because it a) imports so much from Hollywood and b) couldn't be more different from it.
Military service, for instance, is mandatory here, which may be why the name for this year's Aaron Eckhart disaster movie, "Battle: Los Angeles," just didn't cut it; the stakes were too low for a country where so many citizens see action. So it was changed to "World Invasion: Los Angeles Battle." (That, or people in Israel don't especially worry about Los Angeles, or their relatives living in it.)
Beauty pageants, on the other hand, are a less familiar concept. So the distributor releasing "Miss Congeniality" deviated from the theme -- it gave the Sandra Bullock film the curiously generic name of "Some Kind of Policewoman." U.S. studio marketers spend months researching the perfect double entendre. But foreign marketers like to mash it up into something they understand.
Not that fancier wording is necessarily out of bounds. The blandly named and perhaps U.S.-specific "The Town" got a jazzy redo when it traveled to Tel Aviv: the movie, which was promoted with the requisite poster featuring Ben Affleck in a nun mask, was called "Ironic Thief."
It was indeed a catchier title, though it made you wonder about the implications. “Sure, he'll shoot you and steal your money, but don't worry, he's just being ironic.”
A title adjustment can also be prompted by social mores. Some Israelis like to tell you not to get all worked up -- it can be their second favorite pastime, right behind getting all worked up -- which is why "Due Date" here quickly became "Don't Stress, I'm On My Way." It may be the first movie title in history that you can repeat verbatim to the babysitter.
Yet Mediterranean movie marketers can and do improve on the original. They were clearly onto something when they renamed "Horrible Bosses," the Jason Bateman workplace comedy, "How to Be Rid of Your Bosses." Why just complain about a problem when you can solve it?
In the end, a foreign movie title is all about getting fans in seats, and it's this rule that prevails. "Puss in Boots" was fine when he was a character in a larger franchise. But would he stand on his own as the star of a spinoff? Marketers weren't taking any chances -- they renamed the animated film "The Cat From Shrek."
-- Steven Zeitchik in Tel Aviv
Photo: scene from "Before the Wedding We Stop in Vegas," also known as "The Hangover." Credit: Warner Bros.