I just read that a group of Washington state residents have filed a lawsuit to force movie theaters to make closed-captioned movies available more frequently to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Another suit, another settlement, I suppose. But it’s good to keep momentum going on this issue. Since movies became “talkies” 50 years ago, film companies and movie chains have been keeping the hearing and sight impaired from enjoying one of America’s biggest forms of entertainment. I wrote about this issue in 2001 for BusinessWeek. Eight years ago, movie theaters, backed by the Motion Picture Association of America, said they were reluctant to spend money to burn open captions onto films, especially if the technology became “obsolete”. Well, the digital age has arrived, so that argument doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s very cost-effective to embed caption data, and to that end, audio descriptive data, into digital film. It’s just a matter of turning it on or off, like we do with DVDs. But movie chains will likely keep it off, when they can. Instead, deaf people make do with rear-window captioning, a piece of Plexiglass that sticks into the soda cup and projects open captions onto the device from a special projector in the back of the theater. It is one of the silliest technologies I’ve ever used. Read about my experience at Jurassic Park 3 here: Read Any Good Movies Lately? What it really comes down to is movie moguls not wanting to turn on the signals because it would, in their opinion, “interrupt” the viewing experience of those who can hear and see. Ultimately there will be a different solution from Rear Window Captioning. Several companies are already working on making glasses that decode captions and so forth. But so far, none are as good as captions right on the screen.
Do Movies Deserve Captions?
March 3 2009 | by Suzanne Robitaille