Jun 7, 2010


By: Rebecca Irvine

One of the things I find most interesting about writing is its translation. Translating or adapting a work to another language, another medium, an abridged version, or even to a more modern day time period requires much thought and effort. How does a translator convey the same intents, moods, and style--and yet make it as enjoyable and entertaining as the original work? So many factors have to be taken into consideration to be able to convey such meaning.

As a graduate student I had the great enjoyment to take a film literacy class, which focused primarily on the translation of written works into film. During this class I had the pleasure of writing one paper on the translation of George Orwell's work 1984 to film in the form of a commercial for Apple. I found the translation incredible--Orwell's original work shines through, and yet the commercial stands firmly as a work of its own.

Here is a summary of the commercial's award-winning history:

"In the third quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl, a strange and disorienting advertisement appeared on the TV screens of the millions of viewers tuned in to the yearly ritual. The ad opens on a gray network of futuristic tubes connecting blank, ominous buildings. Inside the tubes, we see cowed subjects marching towards a cavernous auditorium, where they bow before a Big Brother figure pontificating from a giant TV screen. But one lone woman remains unbroken. Chased by storm troopers, she runs up to the screen, hurls a hammer with a heroic grunt, and shatters the TV image. As the screen explodes, bathing the stunned audience in the light of freedom, a voice-over announces, 'On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.''

"This commercial, designed by the advertising agency Chiat/Day to introduce Apple's Macintosh computer and directed by Ridley Scott fresh off his science fiction classic Blade Runner, has never run again since that Super Bowl spot. But few commercials have ever been more influential. Advertising Age named it the 1980s' Commercial of the Decade. You can still see its echoes today in futuristic ads for technology and telecommunications multinationals such as AT&T, MCI, and Intel" (Source)

As a writing exercise, try to translate your favorite book into a new work--how would you change the location, the characters, the time period, the culture? And how can you do so but still reflect the original work in your translation?


  1. Indeed one of the great commercials of all time. Your post made me think of how much more thought I could put into my next book trailer if I had the time, money, and expertise of a group like Chiat/Day. (Come to think of it, my niece is an assistant account manager for them...maybe I should recruit her help.)

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking posting. We live in an age of multimedia and need to be able to "translate" our work beyond the written page and into other media...whether it's video, audio, etc. This is particularly true in this era of "branding."

  2. I LOVED this. I have often thought there were some older "self help" type books that needed to be modernized. I have played around with The Art of Homemaking a few times. It is not as easy as it seems. Thanks for this.

  3. Interesting post and video. I watched it several times. I can appreciate when a writer stays close to the story he/she is copying. Sometimes it is easier than others, as I learned when writing Chocolate Roses--a parallel to Jane Eyre. It is a very loose translation. Hopefully the reader still sees the parallel to the classic.

  4. AGing myself here I still prefer the mean joe green/coke AD as the best of all time; that said this was an excellent thought-provoking post Rebeeca.

  5. great question! Thanks for posting this.

  6. I like reworked folk tales. Some books made into movies I feel stay closer to the original than others yet probably the same amount has been changed. Your blog makes me think about why some are better than others.


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