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Subtitles- Useful vs. Useless

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Subtitles are watching and reading simultaneously – like a book in motion.

This could be the perfect excuse for your many hours of entertainment being seen as not only entertaining but also educational!

Here are a few classic scenarios of subtitles in action…

Image by Gwydion M Williams

Foreign Favourites

Anime is a classic example of a popular genre of film which often uses subtitles. Now unless you speak Japanese, subtitles are crucial for you to understand what is actually going on. When I watched ‘Spirited Away’, I was glad for the translation!

Imagine going to the cinema to watch a film with no sound. Would you sit through it, or would you throw your popcorn at the staff and demand a full refund! Okay maybe you would just demand a full refund, but the point is that in the case of foreign films, subtitles are kind of necessary.

But what if the films aren’t foreign?

Movie Madness

So the film that you are watching online has fully loaded. You make yourself comfortable. You press play. The ‘20th Century Fox’ intro echoes from your surround sound (or crackles from your portable speakers) then the opening scenes of the movie begin to play.

You suddenly realise that you’ve left your snacks out of reach. You get up; eyes off the screen for a moment, but you can hear the dialogue whilst you grab what you’re after. A packet of Oreos frees itself from the pile… eventually, you sit down content.

But as you look at the screen, your expression changes from satisfied to mortified! The version you picked has (dramatic build-up)… subtitles! With your head in your hands, you try to make sense of what has happened. Tears fill your eyes as you realise you only have two options…

  1. You can watch the film with subtitles and deal with the fact that every scene will have all the suspense, humour and surprise removed. Everything is already there for you to read, don’t pretend as though you aren’t one of those people who reads ahead.
  2. Or, your second option is to close the film and reload another version.

Too much Talking

My example, though exaggerated, adds humour to the otherwise frustrating experience. I’m sure you can all relate to ‘drawing the short straw’. Now there are some of you, alright a few, who might prefer subtitles when watching a film. I admit that apart from using them for translation, there are other times when subtitles do come in handy.

Have you ever watched a movie with someone who likes to…

  • Comment on every scene
  • Laugh at everything- even when nothing funny has happened
  • Ask you what ‘he/she said’ throughout the film
  • Maybe even tell you what happens next!

These traits are even more annoying if you are watching a film for the first time, and even worse if the person guilty of these habits has seen it already!

So in this case, I would say that subtitles could be a substitute for breaking the rewind button. If you are in a cinema, I guess you would just have to sit tight or pretend to go to the toilet and come back to a different seat.

‘To subtitle or not to subtitle’

The decision is yours. Next time you watch a film, whether you appreciate the presence of the ‘on-screen script’ or not, just know that subtitles will always try to appear in your life even if you despise them.

Juliette Douglas is a writer who sees the lighter and funnier side of life. She writes articles for Softel Group, who are providers of interactive TV advertising and subtitles software for the new generation of high tech televisions.

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