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Do Movies Deserve Captions?

March 3 2009 | by

Poster for The King's Speech

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.

  • Anonymous

    I find that pexiglass is pain in the neck and it’s hard to watch the whole picture while you were trying to read the words way down the bottom which is hard to adjust it every time. I found the theatre in Newington, NH and they have a new projector or whatever they called it the machine they have. It was great b/c it’s subtitles right on the bottom of the screen just like you do your own DVDs at home and turn the subtitles on from the menu. I really, really happy and enjoying watching the movies at that theatre. They limited when they have “Open Captioned” on which is one or two times a day and they changes the movie every three days so it will not be same movie for one whole week. And they only use one room. I’m hoping they will provide at least two rooms so we have two choices to pick the movie we want to watch instead of have to wait until specific movie we like to watch b/c some movies I do not want to watch. You need to find out about it at the theatre in Newington, NH (Fox Run Mall) what kind of machine they have and use that for a lot of other movies b/c it’s a lot easier for deaf people to read the words and watch the pictures in same time. Pexiglass thing does not work for me and I’m not enjoying with that stupid thing!

  • Mangolite

    I like Anonymous Feb 24′s comment in regards to theater’s limited “Open Caption” room and time. I believe that the technology is readily available now that the movie theaters should reserved a single/two room and or offered one of the extra print of a show with the “Open Caption” available with clearly stated option. They can even included seats with headphone jack for the seeing impair to hear the audio descriptions of the actions on the screen.

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