Daily Archives: May 12, 2015

On Dubbing and Subtitles

For the past dozen years, I have heard people complaining about dubbing for movies and TV shows on a regular basis and how somebody shouldn’t watch something except in its original language with subtitle if you don’t speak it.
Interestingly, I rarely hear that about videogames. If playing a game in a dubbed version is acceptable, it should be the case for movies and series too.

I have the chance to be French/English bilingual and thus don’t need subtitles for these languages, as well as I can read subtitles in them if watching something in another language altogether. It doesn’t mean that I am against dubbing.
I grew up in France before the DVD, so the technology back then definitely didn’t make it easy for us to be all set on watching things in their original language. Of course, we could sometimes find TV airings and even VHS in the original language with French subtitles, but it wasn’t the norm at all. This means that some of my favorite movies, that I have now seen in English, I still quote them in French because of my childhood.

I am fine with people refusing to watch something in dubbed version but I can’t stand people thinking of themselves as “better” than the ones watching dubbed version. This is something I find inadmissible. And I have seen become more and more of a trend. At first, I thought it was just in cinema school, but then I saw it spread out in my country.

This is disrespectful on two levels.

Caroline Beaune (1959-2014) was Gillian Anderson's French voice in The X-Files, The Fall and Hannibal. Source: Wikipedia.

Caroline Beaune (1959-2014) was Gillian Anderson’s French voice in The X-Files, The Fall and Hannibal.
Source: Wikipedia.

The first is that there are some amazing dubbing actors and actresses out there. They do a job in the industry, so they deserve respect. And bashing dubbing generally speaking isn’t right to them. In the last year, the woman who was Gillian Anderson’s French voice for years (from The X-Files to Hannibal) passed away. This made me sad and I know that I won’t be able to ever see a new movie or show with Anderson in French now, because the voice is as much attached to her as Gillian’s original one is.

Sometimes I can’t watch a dubbed version because I dislike the French voice, because it isn’t a right match or sound without enough emotions. I saw this happen mostly in the last decade, though it seems that we are back to have more invested dubbing actors again, which is great. So, if I have issues with a dubbed version, it is because of specific voice acting, not because it is dubbing.
Sometimes we also have some gems. I was in shock when I found out about the Jar Jar hate in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. I agree that Jar Jar isn’t so fun in English. But in French? He is hilarious and I always laugh whenever watching the movie in its dubbed version.

The second way dubbing bashing is disrespectful is to the audiences. There can be many reasons why someone chooses to watch a dubbed version even when they have access to the original one with subtitles in their language of choice. And none of them deserve to be mocked or scorned. Besides how some people might have a personal preference to it (which is their choice), it may also be easier for them in a significant way. A close relative of mine doesn’t speak English and is a slow reader, so if they want to really enjoy something, watching things in French is better for them, even though they make efforts to watch certain things with subtitles at first watch when a show comes out. Yet, they always rewatch said show in French to have a better picture of it when it airs in France. Some people may have visual difficulty reading subtitles due to the size of the text as well.

As for children media, you can’t expect them to read subtitles until they are fluent enough in their reading capabilities at a certain age. It doesn’t mean that you can’t expose them to other languages even if they don’t understand everything. I had books in English when little, even if I only managed to read a novel in English at age 14. If I ever have children, I hope to raise them bilingual, but this may very well mean they see Star Wars in both English and French for example.

I mostly mentioned French and English languages, but it applies to others. I have no problem watching Japanese anime in French or Japanese (with subtitles) but I prefer my Bollywood movies in original Hindi versions with English subtitles (though I made do with German subtitles once or twice because I really wanted to see the movie). I have seen Battleship in its German dubbing version, besides French and original English.

DVD and Bluray give us easier access to multiple languages in audio and subtitles now, but this doesn’t make up for all our consumption either. In big cities, movie theaters offer films in original version with subtitles, but not everyone – including myself – lives next to them. So, I have no problem going to see a new release in French either, if I want to see a movie on the big screen.
In the end, whether people watch a movie or series in its original version (with or without subtitles) or dubbed in a language they understand shouldn’t be reason for them to be judged and criticized. What matters most is that they enjoy what they are watching.

This post was by Natacha Guyot of Science Fiction, Transmedia & Fandom. Help thank her for her guest post by heading on over and giving her a follow!

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