I had been avoiding watching the inflammatory video posted on YouTube that has sparked anger and violence in Egypt and Libya this week (I had no interest in giving the nonsensical film any more attention than it has already been getting). But we are a media analysis show, and here at OTM we started doing some of our own digging into how this little known movie by a guy in California managed to get the attention of people on the other side of the world. As part of that research, one of my colleagues asked me to compare the original English trailer with a version dubbed in Arabic. Clips of the Arabic version had been shown on Egyptian television, and we were trying to see if the translation was accurate. From the clips that I saw, the translations seemed fine, but what I discovered was far more interesting than an inaccurate translation.
One thing that is immediately evident from watching the nearly 14-minute long trailer for the film is how low the production quality is. I mean really, it is unbelievable that this movie could have cost anywhere near the reported $5 million that it took to make it. Because the production value is so atrociously low, the terrible audio and dubbing just seems par for the course. But on further inspection I noticed something: seemingly every reference to the religion of Islam in the trailer is dubbed over in post production.
If you watch closely, you can see that when the actors are reading parts of the script that do not contain Islam-specific language, the audio from the sound stage is used (the audio that was recorded as the actors were simultaneously being filmed). But anytime the actors are referring to something specific to the religion (the Prophet Muhammed, the Quran, etc.) the audio recorded during filming is replaced with a poorly executed post-production dub. And if you look EVEN closer, you can see that the actors’ mouths are saying something other than what the dub is saying.
For example, at 2:53, the voiceover says “His name is Muhammed. And we can call him The Father Unknown.” In this case, the whole line is dubbed, and it appears the actor is actually saying, “His name is George (?). And we can call him The Father Unknown.” I assume the filmmakers thought they were being slick, thinking that dubbing the whole line instead of just the name would make it more seamless and less noticeable to the viewer. But once you start to look for these dubs, it’s hard to see anything else.
There are countless other examples throughout the trailer (you can see some of them below), and I imagine throughout the full length film as well. But why would the filmmaker do this? I can't help but wonder if the actors involved in the project were told what kind of film they were making. If you remove all the references to Islam in the trailer, the movie reads like some cheesy Arabian Nights story, and it is quite possible that that is all the actors thought they were doing. In a world where the cartoon depiction of the Prophet Muhammed can spark riots, it seems plausible that an actor would not want to be involved in a project that so blatantly offends a whole religion (and whether or not you are Muslim, it is evident that this film is meant to be offensive). Perhaps the filmmakers thought they would have a problem getting people to sign on to such a project. This is just my own theory put forth after watching the trailer, but I would be curious to know from the actors themselves.
Here are just some of the many instances of poor dubbing we found:
1:25: The Islamic Egyptian police arrested 1400 christians.
2:30: His name is Mohammad. And we can call him “the father unknown.”
3:03: Mohammad! Mohammad the bastard! Your lady summons you!
5:14: I’ll help you, Khadija. I’ll make a book for him. It will be a mix of some version from the Torah, and some versions from the New Testament, and mix them into false verses.
6:30: Mohammad is Allah [sic] messenger, and the Koran is our constitution!
8:25: [not dubbed] It is not enough to believe in one God. [dubbed] You must say “God and Mohammad, his messenger.” Now, go read the Koran.
9:04: Is your Mohammad a child molester?
10:27: …[not dubbed] And in all my young life [dubbed] I have not seen such a murderous thug as Mohammad.
(On a personal note, as an American, a Libyan a Muslim, and a human being I am appalled by the violent reaction to the film. The movie is disgusting, offensive, and clearly intended for no other reason than to anger people, and it is unfortunate that there were some out there who took the bait. While in Libya this past summer, I had the opportunity to meet Ambassador Stevens on a couple of occasions and the man was nothing but kind, warm and welcoming. He seemed genuinely excited to be working in Libya at such a historic moment, and eager to help the nation transition into a democracy. That he and other members of his staff had to lose their lives over such stupidity is tragically senseless.)
UPDATE: Adrian Chen over at Gawker says they found one of the film's actresses. She confirms that they didn't know what the movie was really about, and says the whole thing "makes [her]sick."