Roger Ebert Home

Let the right one in, but with the wrong subtitles

Q. You wrote: "It's like the dilemma of the 10 hot dogs and eight buns: You can never come out even at the end." Well, of course you can come out even: Four packs of wienies and five packs of buns yields 40 hot dogs. Scott Schwartz, New York City

A. Thanks for your calculations. Isn't there a little-known mathematical formula that even numbers are divisible by two?

Q. There has been a lot of publicity surrounding the announcement that the Coen brothers are set to produce and direct the remake of the 1969 classic "True Grit." Much of the publicity focuses on the point that the new film will, "unlike the original," be told from "the girl's POV" and that the remake will be closer to the novel.

Having reread your review of "True Grit," I think you hit it spot on when you said it was "one of the most delightful, joyous, scary movies of all time." Has no one seen the original? Despite Wayne's Oscar-winning performance, "True Grit" (1969) was told entirely from Kim Darby's POV (Wayne didn't even appear in the first 15 minutes). And the original was pretty close to the novel. What are your thoughts on the remaking of "True Grit" (2010)? Steven Matthews, Santa Monica, Calif.

A. My hunch is that the Coens didn't write the press release. When some directors announce a remake, you know they're not going to do an actual remake, but will move in a new and unanticipated direction. That would include the Coens. Also, Werner Herzog, who is in post-production on "Bad Lieutenant," after completing a shoot in New Orleans. He'll have Nicolas Cage in the title role, which was played by Harvey Keitel in the 1992 Abel Ferrara film.

Asked about the Herzog film at a Cannes 2008 press conference, Ferrara confided: "I wish these people die in hell. I hope they're all in the same streetcar, and it blows up."

Herzog's response: "Let him fight the windmills, like Don Quixote."

My guess: The two films could play on the same double feature, and the only similarities you'd notice would be in their titles.

Q. (Spoiler) In your blog entry on "Knowing," you stated, "At the moment the mysterious figures cast away their humanity, I fully expected them to sprout wings and manifest as angels, etc."

Actually, they did, or at least were beings that mankind interpreted as angels. Movie designers based the appearance of the four strangers on the biblical prophet Ezekiel's description of "four beings" in human form. The blue mist given off by their bodies resembled wings, and Ezekiel recorded the spaceship as having "wheels within wheels," just as it looked in the movie. Mike Cloud, Houston

A. So I was informed on about half of the nearly 600 comments that entry has inspired. The wings are wispy streams of light. I must have been expecting traditional feathered wings, and was distracted by the shimmering wheels within wheels. The movie obviously contains biblical imagery, but my readers disagree fiercely about whether the figures are supernatural or real aliens.

Q. The cast for the upcoming Farrelly brothers Three Stooges film at MGM is just about set! Variety reports: "Studio has set Sean Penn to play Larry, and negotiations are under way with Jim Carrey to play Curly, with the actor already making plans to gain 40 pounds to approximate the physical dimensions of Jerome (Curly) Howard. The studio is zeroing in on Benicio Del Toro to play Moe. What do you think? Lara Golubowski, Chicago

A. I found this amazing sentence in the story by Michael Fleming: "The quest by Peter and Bobby Farrelly to harness the project spans more than a decade and three studios. They first tried at Columbia, again at Warner Bros., and finally at MGM."

What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks??? The Farrellys ("There's Something About Mary") had trouble floating a Three Stooges movie? Either studio executives (a) had never heard of the Three Stooges, or (b) were troubled by their own similarities to Larry, Curly or Moe.

What about the cast? The Farrellys are making wise choices: Get real actors to play comedy. They'll have to play it straight to make it work. No winking at the audience.

Q. I have followed with no small amount of amusement your discussions of the star ratings provided on your reviews, but your disregard for such has never seemed more pronounced than recently. You provided "The Haunting in Connecticut" with two stars while praising its actors and technical credits. Meanwhile, "Monsters vs. Aliens" received a half star more while you lambasted its technical merits.

Have you completely abandoned any sort of decision-making system for the stars, resorting instead to an entirely arbitrary one? In my mind's eye, I see you with a blindfold, a dartboard and a fistful of annoyance. That thought, when I had it, provided me with the heartiest chuckle I've experienced all morning. Duell Aldridge, Muscle Shoals, Ala.

A. My stars are not absolute but relative, somewhat reflecting what a film intends to do and how well it succeeds. I didn't lambaste the technical merits of "Monsters vs. Aliens" but its 3-D, which I found an annoying distraction, dimming a screen intended to be bright.

Q. I found it interesting in your glowing review of "Goodbye Solo" that you described the story as about two people, one of whom has possible suicidal ideas. I remember your negative review of the critically acclaimed Iranian film "Taste of Cherry." Wasn't there a similar plot in both movies? Interesting, because both films are by those of Iranian heritage. Ali Hirji, Edmonton, Alberta

A. Ramin Bahrani, director of "Goodbye Solo," has great admiration for the films of Abbas Kiarostami, the director of "Taste of Cherry," and acknowledges the similar plot lines. But few films are more different.

Q. There's been a lot of negative buzz among bloggers about the poorly translated subtitles on the DVD and Blu-ray release of the acclaimed Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In." The distributor, Magnet Home Entertainment, released the discs with subtitles that were "dumbed down," compared to the more informative, accurate translation provided by the film's theatrical-release subtitles.

Magnet has fixed the problem, and subsequent pressings will include the theatrical subtitles, with "theatrical subtitles" indicated on the packaging. Kudos to them for correcting the problem, but still, it seems like a mistake to even consider the misguided "benefit" of dumbed-down subtitles that eliminate subtleties of character and dialogue. Jeff Shannon, Seattle

A. Mike Cucinotta of seems to have broken the story and uses lots of screen grabs to document the tone-deaf dumbing-down. For example: Oskar, a 12-year-old boy, sees Eli, a girl about his age standing outside on a winter night without a warm coat. She's balanced on a jungle gym.

Oskar: Do you live here?

Eli: Yeah. I live right here, in the jungle gym.

Oskar: Seriously, where do you live?

Eli: Next door to you.

Oskar: How do you know where I live?

In the dumbed-down version, these are the subtitles for the same conversation:

Oskar: Where do you live?

Eli: I live here. Next to you.

Cucinotta says Magnet is restoring the original subtitles in discs now being released. Look for those crucial words, "theatrical subtitles." The whole story is here:

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

The Beach Boys
Hit Man


comments powered by Disqus