Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Lost in Translation

One way to spot a foreign film from its trailer is how none of the characters will be allowed to speak in it, distributors well aware that, except for a small circle of people who read Stanley Kauffman's reviews in The New Republic, Americans don't like foreign films.

That bit of conventional wisdom came to mind when I saw the trailer for Sahara, the adaptation of the Clive Cussler novel, on E!'s Coming Attractions show Sunday morning. Penelope Cruz, who is untelligible in English, is in the picture. She's clearly shown and identified. But she is not heard at all. The lead is Matthew McConnaghey, who I can't see him as Dirk Pitt, Cussler's oceanographer adventurer, a sort of aquatic James Bond. Someone such as George Clooney or Pierce Brosnan is who I pictured in the role.

I used to read Cussler's novels but his prose has become increasingly bloated and unreadable. In the New York Times's "Making Books" column, Cussler was once quoted saying he didn't believe in a lot of editing to his books. It clearly shows. Apparently all the publisher must do anymore is run spell check and send it to the typesetters. One of Cussler's problems is his unbelievable dialogue. His scientists are supposed to be brilliant, experienced men. But he shoehorns awkward exposition into their mouths, e.g. "Al, you will recall how we foiled the Japanese plot to explode nuclear bombs in rental cars across America and my many relationships with beautiful Members of Congress, which has prepared us for this latest adventure in the AGD-2343 submersible vehicle, which you invented in 1995 to search for mahi-mahi and . . . . "

One of Cussler's books was previously made into a film, Raise the Titanic (1980), which was such a colossal bomb wags noted it would have been cheaper for the studio to lower the ocean. Richard Jordan starred as Dirk Pitt, Jason Robards was his boss, Admiral Sandecker; and M. Emmet Walsh was Dirk's partner, Al Giordano.


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