Babylon Berlin AKA Why Subtitles Work

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Babylon Berlin AKA Why Subtitles Work

December 04, 2017 - 10:02
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Babylon Berlin

By dojj @therealdojj

Everyone is always looking for “The Next Big Thing”, which is great. TV and film should strive to make the best they can make, regardless of budget. If it’s good enough, the budgets get bigger and then, hopefully, so do the tales that are told.
And therein lies the heart of the matter. You can have the most lavish production, the best actors, the biggest budget, but if the story you are trying to tell is not worthy of being told, it’s not going to turn out to be very good is it. And this is the beauty of a show like Babylon Berlin. At its heart, it’s a simple excerpt from history (I know not if it is based on actual facts or not, but there is enough in there to make it feel like it was) about “Ze Germans” (because at some point EVERYONE quotes that line from Snatch) from circa 1929.
And, more importantly, how they weren’t as bad as the stereotypical Hitler types that have been portrayed on screen.
What starts off as a bit of a fish out of water standard, reminiscent of so many setups from every sort of genre you could point a shaky stick at, soon condenses into full on bonkers espionage and sky shenanigans that, if they weren’t true, I certainly couldn’t make up.
That one tug that draws everything into shape is so imperceptible that you don’t even realise it’s happened. But from that moment on, it becomes a classic.
Of course you have the usual fare of good guys who are actually bad guys, bad guys that are actually good guys, innocents who turn cruel and a whole variety of characters who you feel some sympathy for, yet also a rage against because they should be doing something.
This is all dissected into the clinical German efficiency and then it’s opposite, an almost identical world from which the likes of Al Capone would operate. If you’ve seen The Untouchables this is exactly the same.
What you soon realise is that you DON’T realise what’s going on, until you DO. And that’s when the penny, for me at least, dropped, which leads me to why it is so SO good.
It’s all subtitled, which makes you concentrate more. But you are so engrossed in concentrating on what’s going on, you fail to spot that the subtitles are not only translating German (there are English subtitles that translate place names, signs, departments, notes on paperwork etc) but also Russian.
And then 5 hours have gone by and you’ve binged more episodes than you thought and your head has started to hurt. Plus you should have been asleep and now you are late for work.
I could tell you about how fantastic the settings are, how wonderful the actors/actresses are, how filthy they’ve made certain parts of town and how clean other parts are. I would also explain how they seem to partake in what I would only describe as “illegal raves” in nightclubs, or how no one questions the authority of the police. I certainly won’t describe to you the “house specialty” because that scene is just played out so exquisitely.
I will however tell you that the show absolutely blew me away. It’s certainly not kiddie friendly, there are more than a few scenes that made me wince and almost turn away. But you feel like you are a part of the scene. The soundtrack captures every intimate detail. The clothes are period. You even learn history, even though you didn’t think you would.
It’s one of the few shows I’ve watched that I’ve felt I needed to give a standing ovation to after it was finished. (But because all the writing is Foreign, I don’t know who plays who, so my standing ovation is dedicated to everyone involved.)