Concerning Captioning

No need to look so horrified.

I have a sister who is deaf. She is one of the smartest and most capable people I will ever meet. Though our interests diverge quite a bit (she likes sports, I like stories) we have enjoyed many a movie and TV show together over the years. As such, I was exposed to something that most hearing people are usually not concerned with: closed captions, or subtitles.

Now, it might seem like an immaterial thing. I mean, for a hearing person, seeing the words on the screen, telling them what people are saying, which they already know, isn’t necessary, and just takes up screen space, right? But I tell you now, it alters one’s viewing experience in subtle, but noticeable, ways.

When done right, captions can make the experience much more enjoyable even for a hearing person, let alone a deaf one, and downright funny too! 🙂

My sister remembers one time when her coworkers were talking about favorite words, and they asked her what hers was. She replied, “Thud.” Because, as she explained to her bemused coworkers, when you’re watching a show with the captions on, and suddenly the word “Thud” pops up, it can just make you chuckle.

I will always remember the scene in the first Star Wars movie, when Luke is about to try and replay the entire message carried by the droid, R2-D2. I’d seen it countless times, but to suddenly see R2’s reaction, with a number of capital E’s, with several exclamation points, pop up on the screen… well, that one’s staying with me forever! 🙂

“Yes, it was quite amusing, wasn’t it?”

In the Western movie, based on an old TV show, Maverick, there is a scene where a Native American chief is greeting a Russian duke. He speaks French to the man, “Bonjour, bonjour” and such-and-such. Then the Russian duke says something in Russian, and the chief resignedly lifts his hand and starts saying, “How, white man.” But they captioned what the duke said as, “Telling him in Russian to speak English.” We’d seen it several times before, but this time, we cracked up laughing!

And then there’s A Christmas Carol, with George C. Scott. The scene where Bob Cratchitt toasts his employer, Mr. Ebeneezer Scrooge. The wife opposes this, but relents, and each of the children intone, “Mr. Scrooge.” But the captions add what manner they say it in, like, “Coldly” or “Disgustedly.” Makes us laugh every time! 🙂

Heck, most any time they describe how something sounds, it’s humorous, even when BB-8 whines “dejectedly” as Rey initially refuses to take him with her.

Not to mention how informative it can be! I didn’t know how to spell the Emperor’s name until I saw it saying, “Palpatine,” on the screen. 😉

And, I must admit, I needed a lot of practice both watching and reading (that might be an autism thing, or maybe not, I don’t know) in order to keep up with all the subtitled anime I’ve watched over the years. 🙂

“Very good! Very good!”

On the other hand, poor captions can just be confusing.

I have to wonder, sometimes,  just how these people manage to get things wrong. One would think that whoever has that particular job would be given adequate time and resource with which to do it. I mean, it’s one thing trying to keep up with a live broadcast, like the news, but something that’s pre-taped? Something where they spent months perfecting ever frame and transition in post-production? How do these big studios, with so much of our money to spend, manage to mess up captioning, of all things?

In the action-comedy Shanghai Knights, Jackie Chan’s heroic character finds himself momentarily captured, and one of the villain’s comes to gloat. He says, fairly clearly, “Chan Wang, the man who defied an emperor.” And Chan replies, “The emperor should never have spared your life!” But what did the captions say? “John Wayne, the man who can fight an emperor.” And the reply, “The emperor should never have his burial knife!”

I groaned at that one.

There are so many times when the sheer noise level might obscure what someone is saying (I had no idea how much swearing there was in Transformers until I saw the captions), but the captions can help clear that up. …provided they don’t just go with, “(Indistinct.)” Like they did in, say, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. That moment where Watson screams something at Holmes while they’re on the outside of a train? What the heck did he even say?!

“Even our mistakes are amusing!”

And then there’s a rather amusing moment in Disney’s Pocahantas. You know that song that the natives are singing, how it starts with a chant, and repeats it? At the beginning, the caption reads, “(Algonquin chanting.)” At the end, it suddenly transcribes the actual words as, “He-ga! He-ga! Ya-hi-he-e-ega!” I have to wonder what tiny change happened behind the scenes, heh.

The point I’m trying to make is: it’s annoying when it’s done wrong, but captioning done right can enhance even a hearing person’s experience, let alone that of a deaf person, like my sister.

And I am grateful for anything that my sister and I can properly enjoy together. 🙂

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6 Responses to Concerning Captioning

  1. V Donovan says:

    I love subtitles on anything I watch. YouTube aside, they’re usually they’re fairly accurate, but I’m not deaf and only glance at them quickly.
    I feel bad for people like your sister when watching live TV. Any sporting event or award ceremony or even the evening news, the subtitles on our TV at least are laggy and jumpy, and it’s annoying for me, never mind someone who needs them. It’s unfortunate that live TV is like that and there isn’t a way to delay the broadcast by like 10 minutes so people could caption correctly and fully.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yon Nyan says:

    I usually use captions on most things I watch because I have a difficult time hearing and interpreting most English words and phrases (yay non-English speaker) and I also feel that with high definition advancements the voices are always waaaay quieter than the music and SFX. So messed up or missing captains always make me sad and frustrated. NETFLIX was pretty bad it but they’ve gotten better with a lot of their content. I’m also surprised by how many things nowadays that have captions! I leave the option on on my PS4 so they automatically pop up when/if something has it. That’s always a fun surprise. I agree that captions can make the experience a lot more fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ospreyshire says:

    I’ve noticed that about captions, too. Some are okay, but there are certainly those that are very cringe-worthy. That Pocahontas example made me facepalm with the description and inconsistency (saying nothing about how that movie is totally inaccurate, but that’s another rant). You would think people would be better at this. Wouldn’t they have access to the scripts, so they can copy it for the captions?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: I Am Thankful for Crappy Stories | Merlin's Musings

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