American Films Dubbed For European Audiences U.S. box office numbers are what make the headlines in the U.S., but what makes a lot of the cash is overseas sales. And in much of Europe, that means American films dubbed into the native language. Susan Stone visits a German studio that's dubbing the new James Bond movie.
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American Films Dubbed For European Audiences

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American Films Dubbed For European Audiences

American Films Dubbed For European Audiences

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Of course, the biggest film of the weekend is "Quantum of Solace." It's already rocketed to number one at the box office. It got an earlier release in parts of Europe, and some movie-goers there have been hearing their James Bond a little differently.

(Soundbite of "Quantum of Solace")

Mr. DICHMA VUNDA (Voice of James Bond in German): Mein name ist Bond. James Bond.

SEABROOK: Yes, that's German. Usually, non-German language films and TV are shown dubbed. And that opens up a special line of work for some German actors. From Berlin, Susan Stone reports.

SUSAN STONE: Dithma Vunder (ph) is a busy guy. That's because he fills in the words for a lot of other busy guys, including the latest James Bond.

Mr. DITHMA VUNDER (German Vocal Actor): I'm the German voice, so to speak, of Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Cuba Gooding, Jr. Sometimes I have the honor to speak Robert Downey, Jr. In some TV shows, you hear my voice, "CSI: New York," "Numbers," and "Dr. House." Omar Epps actually is one my favorite actors that I speak and Daniel Craig now, yeah.

(Soundbite of movie "Quantum of Solace")

Mr. DANIEL CRAIG: (As James Bond) I just want to put you off the boat.

Ms. OLGA KURYLENKO: (As Camille) I waited years for that chance.

Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) I apologize.

STONE: Dithma Vunder watches the faces of Daniel Craig and Bond girl Olga Kurylenko flicker on screen in a wood-paneled sound studio. His challenge is, as Vunder puts it, to speak on the mouth. The scene rewinds, and Vunder gets ready.

(Soundbite of movie "Quantum of Solace")

Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) It seems we're both using Green to get to somebody.

STONE: Carefully watching Craig to match German words to the movement of the actor's lips.

(Soundbite of German dubbers talking)

STONE: Dubbing director Axel Masaker (ph) reads the Bond girl's lines from the control booth. He tells Vunder to consider the emotion in the scene, and they try different translations.

(Soundbite of move "Quantum of Solace")

Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) I apologize.

STONE: Deciding between "I apologize" and "I'm sorry."

Mr. AXEL MASAKER (German Dubbing Director): Apologize is a (unintelligible).

STONE: Vunder repeats his lines again and again. Dubbing actors might do as many as 180 takes in a single day. It's a lot of work, and it doesn't pay well. The lead voice in a film makes little more than the average hairdresser in the U.S.

Reiner Brunt (ph) was the voice of Elvis and Marlon Brando in his heyday and now runs a dubbing production company. Brunt says Hollywood is clueless when it comes to the importance of German dubbers like Christian Brikna (ph), the voice of Robert de Niro for 30 years.

Mr. REINER BRUNT (German Vocal Actor): De Niro is nothing in Germany without Brikna. Christian Brikna is his voice. And without his voice, De Niro original in English, 10 percent of the people would not go to the movies. Because in Germany, you have to sell the picture, and you have to sell all the stories dubbed in German.

STONE: Some wish that wasn't the case.

Mr. PETER CURTA (German Film Critic): It's really - it's a bad habit, and bad habits die very, very late.

STONE: Film critic Peter Curta (ph) of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper explains that film dubbing in Europe goes back to the nationalism of the 1920s and '30s. To his ear, if you can't hear the sound of the original performance, you lose the spirit of the film.

(Soundbite of movie "Casablanca")

Mr. HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) What's that you're playing?

Mr. DOOLEY WILSON: (As Sam) Oh, just a little something of my own.

Mr. BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) Well, stop it. You know what I want to hear.

Mr. WILSON: (As Sam) No, I don't.

Mr. BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) You played it for Harry. You can play it for me.

Mr. WILSON: (As Sam) Well, I don't think I can remember...

Mr. BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) If you can stand it, I can! Play it!

Mr. CURTA: If you never heard the original voice of Bogart, you really never saw him.

(Soundbite of movie "Casablanca" dubbed in German)

Mr. CURTA: It's hopeless. It's like a kind of donkey shot to fighting and stabbing.

STONE: At least as far as Germany is concerned, Curta may be right thanks to globalization and piracy. Movie studios try to combat copiers with near simultaneous premieres in much of the world. So there's plenty of work and plenty of pressure on Germany's dubbers to keep up. Despite all this effort, they don't get much respect and are seldom even invited to film premieres. Bond voice Dithma Vunder says it would be nice to get a little notice.

Mr. VUNDER: Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Meryl Streep, the audience wants to see those people on the stage during movie premiere. They want to see them sitting in the first row. Maybe they don't want to see the way the German voice looks, you know? At the same time, of course, we're actors, so that means that we would like to get a little bit of like, oh, you did a good job and even, whatever, a T-shirt.

STONE: With Dithma Vunder's help, (unintelligible), or "Quantum of Solace," is tops at the box office in Germany. He's still waiting for that T-shirt. For NPR News, I'm Susan Stone in Berlin.

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