The Rejection Of The Subtitles


As a film student, I’m constantly forcing cinematic experiences on friends and family whether they like it or not. The majority of the time they are interested in the film and will enjoy watching it; unfortunately one arena of cinema is consistently shunned by those I try to share it with. Foreign language films are in no way intrinsically different to English language films, in fact some of the greatest and most influential films are not in English, yet for some reason a large proportion of English speaking people will refuse to watch them.

Why is this? On the one hand there may be obvious cultural barriers preventing a full understanding of context, but such cases are rare. It feels like this usually applies to the more stereotypical closed minded audience who aren’t interested in the affairs of people who don’t speak their language. For any viewer with no moral shortcomings it must, then, come down to one of three reasons.

Reason One: I can’t be bothered to read those!

Subtitles are the great bane of world cinema. Essentially I can understand the qualms; nobody goes to the cinema to read a book. However much I understand the initial annoyance though, I can’t justify shutting out around 90% of the world’s contribution to my beloved art form. Subtitles are such a small annoyance too, within the span of around three films you totally forget that you are even reading.

If you truly cannot get to grips with watching high-octane films whilst flicking your eyes down to work out what on earth is being said – try watching something a lot lighter or perhaps even watch some anime as practice. I promise you it is worth it.

Reason Two: His voice sounds completely wrong!

I have to admit that on this one I totally agree. Dubbing is a broken method which leaves films feeling stilted and sometimes unwatchable. My year recently sat down in a lecture to watch Run Lola Run (Tykwer, 1998), a German crime thriller. The moment we realised it was dubbed, a cry of dismay went up from the room and one lucky person was sent to the front to find the subtitles option. I have repeated this same process alone many a time as I’m sure many others have.

This is not to say that in a small way dubbing doesn’t have its benefits. I’m still fond of the old school martial arts movies with hilarious broken English forcefully dubbed in. This one form is not only iconic but it spawned endless parody and homage.

Reason Three: If it’s good enough, Hollywood will remake it!

This is the reason I have the biggest problem with. The first issue I have with it is that compared to the amount of films made in the world, the number of these which Hollywood remakes is comparatively very small. My second issue is that the vast majority of these films are rushed, badly written and never stand up to the original in terms of relevance or quality. The list of English language films with foreign predecessors is extensive but there are a few which really grate on me as far as unnecessary recycling. One example is Ring (Nakata, 1998), a film which grossed 12 billion yen (£137.7 million) in Japan alone and is cited by many as the most frightening Japanese horror film. Now I understand that success breeds success and this level of box office takings would wet the lips of any Hollywood producer, but if this film is so brilliant and so scary that it took Japan by such storm then why would it not have the same effect on English speaking people? It borders on offensive and backwards to presume that any message the Japanese director was trying to convey is lost in translation. Perhaps all the scary bits were missed by the slower subtitle readers.

Two other examples which stand out are REC (Balaguero, 2007) and Let The Right One In (Alfredson, 2008). I have tried to avoid being opinionated in this article but at this point I must underline that the English language remakes of these films in no way do their originals justice.

REC was remade into Quarantine (Dowdle, 2008) which despite getting mixed reviews was ultimately pointless. The film is a shot for shot remake which sticks vehemently to the original’s aesthetic style and production for the most part but is let down by its lack of conviction: Dowdle decided to leave out the religious themes of REC and in doing so lost all of the film’s meaning, making it a shallow rendition of a quality film.

Let The Right One In, a film which won countless awards and acclaim from many international sources, is a masterpiece of emotions which encompasses fear, love and trust into the stormy lives of two very different children. Whilst the remake, Let Me In (Reeves, 2010) is technically not bad and received praise from many it has also been pointed out that it is far too similar to the original. Much like Quarantine, Let Me In stuck far too closely to the original whilst omitting some of the key elements. This in itself underlines how unnecessary it is. Why make the same film twice if not to pander to the uneducated masses that refuse to read subtitles?

This is not a direct affront on any film as such. There are several remakes which are better than the original and many which are good in their own right. The fact of the matter is that until the English speaking world begins to accept the cinematic works of other cultures there is no way that cinema can advance as a whole. We will be stuck in the Hollywood era of large budget, low emotion knock-offs.

– Jake Jackman

4 Responses to “The Rejection Of The Subtitles”
  1. Grit Journo says:

    Reblogged this on Fingers to the Bone and commented:
    this was real interesting guys! I’m a sucker for foreign films but sometimes feel that they aren’t entirely accurate and therefore feel a little cheated – I am only really referring to italian/french/spanish cinema as I have a firm grasp on the first and loser grasp on the other two – but I have heard that Asian cinema can sometimes be slightly off with translation.

    • fstopretina says:

      Thank you for reading, and for the re-blog. In line with the translation problem you mention, there are actually a fair few directors who will purposely subtitle their films incorrectly for various reasons. It makes for an interesting fact, but obviously makes it a bit difficult to follow their films.

  2. fstopretina says:

    On your point with Funny Games; yes it was remade, but it was a shot by shot remake made by the same director. It was remade to have an English language version, which I think was a wrong more, but it wasn’t by Hollywood. Please feel free to read our comments on it here
    And thank you for your comment, I’m always pleased to hear from our readers. At the risk of sounding of sounding a bit beggy, aha, please show your support by liking us on Facebook here

  3. chaycollins says:

    I think you nicely summarised the main points and hopefully people who don’t like foreign films, Also just to add Funny Games to the last point and the only film that works really wll dubbed is Kung Fu Hustle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: