From the dawn of cinema, movie titles have seen Norwegian-language translations ranging from the random to the bizarre. Deliverance became the equivalent of Picnic With Death, while The Shawshank Redemption was translated to Freedom’s Rain. The Silence of the Lambs: Night Swarmer.
The dynamo for getting movie titles translated was the The Language Council of Norway, whose terse guideline read:
Imported movies in Norwegian cinemas should have Norwegian titles. Norwegian speakers are best served with Norwegian-language titles.
Interestingly, kids’ movies aside, films were rarely, if ever, dubbed into Norwegian, just subtitled.
Vacation’s Ominous Transformation Into Help, We Have To Go On Holiday!
Comedies dominated the eighties box office, and those who visited their local Norwegian multiplex would be greeted with posters sharing a common theme: Comedy titles prefixed with “Hjelp”—“Help”—often in bizarre ways. How Vasectomy became Help, Apparently We Have Too Many Children! is anyone’s guess.
While mostly remembered as an eighties phenomenon, “Hjelp” had been a go-to for translators for almost a century. The 1926 French film 600000 Francs Par Mois (600,000 Francs Per Month) was the first movie to receive the treatment with Help! I’m a Millionaire! In 1939, a German film about the joy of fatherhood took a decidedly grimmer turn. Hurra! Ich bin Papa!—Hooray! I’m a Dad!—became Help, I’m a Dad!
Still, the eighties and nineties were the pinnacle of “Hjelp” movies, with more than thirty titles bearing the moniker.
The ball got rolling in 1980 when the classic aviation disaster parody Airplane! was translated into Help, We’re Flying! Not entirely random, I guess, particularly when compared to National Lampoon’s Vacation trilogy, where the eponymous first entry got the dubiously titled Help, We Have To Go On Vacation! European Vacation became Help, We Have To Go On European Vacation, followed by Help, It’s Christmas Vacation! and Help, We Have To Go On Vacation To Las Vegas!
This is Spinal Tap did not escape the treatment, either, being renamed to Help, We’re in the Pop Business! And She’s Having A Baby? The throughline of translating happy occasions into something dreadful continued with Help, We're Getting Married!
The Language Council guideline stood until 2012 when the body acknowledged that Norwegians’ language skills had reached a level sufficient enough to understand English titles. Just from a practical standpoint, it made sense. Die Hard had been called Operation Skyscraper, a title that couldn’t reasonably apply to the airplane-based Die Hard 2 which ended up maininging its English title.
All said, though: I guess Operation Skyscraper was better than Help, We’re Dying Hard!
This video has a huge collection of the “Hjelp” titles: