Dubbing Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Brazilian Version)

One thing I thought would be interesting to include in a Thankful for World Cinema-themed post would be a closer look at dubbing. I have written about dubbing prior. However, in this instance I figured a suitable follow-up to the initial discussion of dubbing as a practice would be to take a closer look at a film by focusing on its dubbed track.

To be able to do this more easily I chose a film I was very familiar with (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as well as choosing a foreign version I could analyze well (The Portuguese voice cast from Brazil).

Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros.)

Here are my thoughts on the dub of the film:

Firstly, I think (and I may experiment to see if this holds true) that understanding key for viewer and casting. From a viewer’s perspective who does not speak the language they are then listening to it’ll play out like that scene in Home Alone where the kids are in Paris watching a dubbed version of It’s a Wonderful life and are befuddled by it. In cinematic terms, I think the dub, on closer inspection, does tamper a bit the the integrity of the soundtrack. At least with this film the voices were more isolated and separated from the rest of the audio mix. I’ll grant my set-up may have some to do with it, and perhaps disc settings.

However, I found that listening to this film in Portuguese was a very enjoyable experience in spite of some of these minor quibbles. There were, of course, necessary dialogue adjustments and changes of syntax in deference to making the sync match better, but more often than not the new line was analogous enough that the sacrifice of exactitude was acceptable. One example of these changes would be:

When Malfoy says to Goyle “I didn’t know you could read” the Portuguese translates back as “I didn’t think you could read.”

That’s a minor example, especially compared to what happened to Let the Right One In‘s subtitles on home video. In a lot of cases it’s rewording as opposed to rewriting. More often than not things are done beautifully in this dub actors have the proper inflections and are cast impeccably nailing so many characters dead-on; one small example would be Vernon. There is some word play beautifully adjusted so it still works in Portuguese. Some of the few lamentable things are ones that really don’t make sense and you think would be mandated like the Dr. Strangelove reference in Cornish Pixie scene is out and the Parseltongue is no longer jumbled.

When you know the script fairly well it really gives you more insight to technique. Examples being that stiff-lipped actors help such that the audience is easier to sell on a match of lip movement because of it. There are some more liberties taken with the precise wording when a line is delivered by a character whose mouth does not appear onscreen (whether in voice over or over-the-shoulder). Some lines, in the interest of matching, are accelerated or decelerated as necessary. The trick then becomes for the actors to keep the same intentions of the original while performing a very technical task and in this particular film that usually happened. At times this is not quite by design, every so often an actor would feel a bit too rushed, but considering some of the bad dubs I’ve subjected myself to it’s hardly worth belaboring.

]Charles Emmanuel in the studio for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Charles Emmanuel/Warner Bros.)

Watching the film in a different way you’re also on the lookout for different sections; one of the sequences that is absolutely nailed is the Dark Forest sequence. There are many standouts but perhaps the most prominent being Charles Emmanuel, with him it’s almost as if Rupert Grint had learned to speak Portuguese. The interpretation of the character was so in sync. Ana Lucia Grangeiro as Hermione is also excellent. She apparently was, if she no longer is, an incarnation of Monica.

Perhaps the biggest thing I realized in this viewing is that dubs themselves are productions, not unlike films. Some get it right, others do not. The Harry Potter series was a first class production in English, as well as in (Brazilian) Portuguese. Dubs also have the unenviable task of recreating the reality of the film for a new audience. I’ve not yet seen it, but my cousin told me how Darth Vader in Portuguese had a more robotic quality to his voice; and that it was almost a letdown when he saw it in English for the first time. Granted much of it has to to do with what you experience first, but that’s the point: a kid who’s still mastering reading, or can’t yet, will not be able to deal with subtitles. With the quality of dubs that Harry Potter received in Brazil it seems that many kids there got a fairly similar experience to the ones here.

Film score: 10/10
Dub score: 9/10