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Translating Wordplay in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men In Tights

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The present thesis aims at presenting wordplay in selected films by an American director Mel Brooks and comparing the original items with their Polish translations found in the dialogue lists prepared for the needs of Polish television and DVD edition by Elżbieta Gałązka-Salamon (TV version of both films), Janusz Kiezik (the DVD edition of “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”) and Gelula and Co., Inc. (DVD edition of “Spaceballs”). The films chosen for the needs of the analysis are “Spaceballs” released in 1987 and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” released in 1993. The first one is a science-fiction story of a space pilot and his crew fighting against evil creatures in order to save a peace-loving planet and its beautiful princess. The main plot is enriched by witty observations on the problem of merchandizing and cowardly presidents of the whole nations as well as popular motives of power, friendship and love. The other film exploits an ageless story of a famous English hero of Sherwood who defended the poor, robbed the rich and opposed Prince John the Lackland’s brutal policy. Although the story follows well-known legends and stories along with Maid Marian and a famous fight over the toll, it is somehow twisted to suit contemporary viewers’ tastes by removing dark features of mediaeval times such as cruelty, religious intolerance or overwhelming dirt and introducing characters not commonly associated with Robin Hood like Arab exchange students or a witch called Latrine. Apart from the name of the director and the screenwriter Mel Brooks, both of the discussed films have several other features in common. Firstly, they are parodies of certain types of popular films and therefore present a lot of verbal and situational humour. This generic feature makes them a reasonable choice as it is the word games that mostly contribute to the idea of verbal humour and a lot of such structures can be found in those two films. Secondly, the films selected as the basis of Mel Brooks’ parodies were huge blockbusters at certain times and the majority of movie-goers will probably be familiar with them. This can be noticed in the case of the jokes which make fun of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” or Ridley Scott’s “Alien” in “Spaceballs” or Kevin Costner’s “Prince of Thieves” which is the foundation for “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”. Finally, the majority of Mel Brooks’ works follow the same pattern when forming puns or other types of jokes. Thus, the choice of the films can be considered justified. The author of the present thesis is going to examine the most representative examples of word games selected from the two films and compare them with their Polish equivalents focusing on the translation strategies and the differences between voice-over and subtitles forms of the same wordplay. The author’s reasons for choosing this topic are twofold. Firstly, it is the scientific motive as not too much literature concerning the issue can be found in Poland. Although the name of Mel Brooks and the titles of his most famous films are easily recognizable as they have been shown on TV several times, no study on the difficulties a translator can encounter while working on humour-based items in the discussed productions has been found by the author. Therefore, one can hope the thesis will help to call scholars’ attention to the problem. Secondly, it is an opportunity to analyze various types of wordplay and discuss the proficiency of Polish professional translators at remaining true to the original literal meaning of the item but simultaneously evoking the same joyful reaction from Polish viewers as it is in the case of source language ones. The personal reasons for choosing the topic of translating word games in Mel Brooks’ films are simple. Comedies are meant to be funny and make people laugh, but the reactions certain films evoked in different cultures, which the author had opportunity to observe, made her wonder how much the translation strategies applied for the needs of particular word games change the implicit meaning of the discussed items and consequently trigger different responses. The character of the following thesis will be strictly descriptive. The theoretical part is going to be divided into two chapters. The first chapter will be devoted to the notion of audiovisual translation. As the features of various types of AVT greatly influence the way the translation is carried out, voice-over, subtitling and dubbing will be circumstantiated, focusing on their advantages and constrains. The next chapter will deal with the issue of wordplay. The author is going to concentrate on the definition and numerous classifications found in the literature pointing out their use for the needs of the present thesis. This will be promptly followed by the notion of untranslatability and the strategies applied for translating wordplay as they are presented in numerous works by prominent linguists and theoreticians of translation. Those two chapters are to form a theoretical background needed for the next section. The third chapter will introduce a detailed analysis of selected word games focusing on their meaning to the plot, the techniques used for creating a humorous effect on source language viewers and then comparing them with the Polish translation. As two types of audiovisual translation will be discussed here, the differences between subtitles and the voice-over version will be considered as well. Finally, the conclusions will be drawn based on the previous discussion along with the brief summary of the findings. It will also provide an opportunity for the author of the thesis to reflect on the value of good film translation and to attempt the comparison of the works of Polish specialists in the field of AVT.
Physical description
  • Faculty of Humanistic, University of Humanities and Economics in Lodz, 26 Sterlinga Street, 90-212 Lodz, Poland
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  • [28] Lucas G., Star Wars. The Phantom of Menace, 2000, VCR edition, Imperial Entertainment Home Video
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