question of the day: Should films be altered for international release?

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Ewan McGregor

I was disappointed to learn that one of the funniest lines in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has been altered for the North American release. In the British version, Ewan McGregor’s Dr. Alfred Jones says (not a spoiler):

I don’t know anyone who goes to church anymore. On Sunday we go to Tesco.

In the U.S. (and, I presume, Canada, though I’m not certain), “Tesco” has been overdubbed by McGregor to “Target.”

I find this bizarre. Of course, the joke relies on knowing that Tesco is a big supermarket chain, but Tesco is referenced earlier in the film in a way that makes it perfectly clear what it is. And naturally, if a North American viewer is ignorant enough of life in the U.K. not to know what Tesco is, then he or she probably wouldn’t know that there are no Targets in Britain, either. But for those who do know the U.K., on the other hand, “Target” would ring really wrong.

Should films be altered for international release? Why alter away what makes it different from what you’d see at home? Isn’t part of the charm of seeing a foreign film the taste of another culture you get from it? And does this bode ill for the future non-Hollywood films in the U.S.?

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