I Hate Dubbing
I hate dubbed movies. It's a simple as that. It's a crass attempt to market a film to lazy idiots and robs a film of its artistry, and literally, the voices of its actors. But it provides some jobs! I realize that dubbed films are an economic necessity, but that doesn't mean that it cannot annoy me.
Let's begin with what dubbing is. Specifically, I'm referring to when a foreign language is replaced with English. This happens to most foreign films that make their way here, and to lots of anime (a powderkeg I'll touch briefly on later).
There are two kinds of dubbing. The first happens most everywhere in the world. Let's pretend we're in Hong Kong watching Revenge of the Sith. They will translate the dialogue into Cantonese or Mandarin, then have actors speak at when their turn is up. Seems simple enough, right? Things change when you dub a film in America. Filmmakers here are concerned with lip movement. They will translate the dialogue into English, then rework the dialogue so that when actors speak it, the words approximate the lip movements of the foreign actors. This is just dumb. Yeah, I'm really going to be worried that the noise coming out of somebody's mouth is not synched up to their lip movements when I'm watching a film about a giant flying castle in Victorian England.
First and foremost, people are stupid. There are people who will not go to a subtitled movie for a variety of reasons. The real one is that they are dumb and lazy. The best example I have ever found was when I went to watch Taking Sides. The first five minutes are in German. Then, like The Hunt for Red October, everything switches to English. A youngish couple didn't stay this long. They were exasperated at the fact that they had to read, so they got up and left before the language switch. Idiots.
Which leads us to the primary reason movies are dubbed - people will not see them otherwise. Because people do not want to read subtitles, they will not see a subtitled movie, no matter how good it is. Theaters around here had to put signs up for Brotherhood of the Wolf and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon specifying they were not in English, since people were complaining once they found out. If people do not want to watch a movie, it will not make any money. So dubbing becomes an economic necessity.
Studios can also hire lots of English speaking talent, and market it some more. This is typically the case with anime. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Steamboy were chock full of impressive supporting casts. So was Pinocchio, which was at the opposite end of the quality scale. The studio hires people to dub the voices, them trumpets their names across the trailers and posters.
The main reason against dubbing is artistry. I want movies to stay true to their original version. I want to watch the original version of the movie. This is true in any case whether it be dubbing, or cutting stuff away for television. When you dub a movie, no matter how hard you try to keep it the same, you will change it.
First, you need to stay true to the vision of the film. On a very superficial level, it makes no sense for people in ancient China to be speaking English. Or for French people in France to be speaking English with French accents. The best example in bucking this trend was Mel Gibson. He filmed The Passion of the Christ in Latin and Aramaic because that was the language the characters spoke. The phenomenal success of the movie proved that people would watch a subtitled film. Just think of how odd the film would have been if Jim Caviezel spoke English. In general, people do seem more accepting of dubbed films lately. Aforementioned films like Brotherhood of the Wolf, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero have proved that people are willing to see foreign films outside the arthouse.
Next, dubbing a film, especially the American way, can gut the emotional impact of it. Remember those old martial arts movies where everybody spoke really strangely? Yep, American dubbing. Even when filmmakers hire somebody like Neil Gaiman to adapt Princess Mononoke, you still feel like you are missing something in the translation.
Dubbing robs viewers of watching actors do their job. When I watch a movie, I want to see and HEAR the role the actor does. I could care less if Patrick Stewart or Anna Paquin is lending their voice. Moreover, when movies are dubbed, they'll do really weird things. Take Life is Beautiful. When it was dubbed, they dubbed EVERYTHING. Including the guy at the end speaking in English. Then Miramax rereleased it and ran some bizarre commercial where some old lady said something along the lines of "I saw it the first time, and it saw it again dubbed and it was even better!" Uh, yeah. And speaking of Roberto Benigni, when Pinocchio was dubbed, they dubbed his voice with that of Breckin Meyer. Now, everybody knows what Benigni sounds like. Watching him speak and hearing a different voice come of his mouth is just weird.
I wanted to write a lot about anime, but I'm not that big of a fan and haven't had that much exposure to it. I'm kind of torn on this issue. All of the anime that appears on television is primarily for children. I'm fine with them dubbing this, frankly because I'm not sure that a third grader watching Dragonball Z would be able to read quickly enough.
Most of the anime released in theaters recently has not been the best. Stuff like Steamboy, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and The Cowboy Bebop Movie all arrived with much anticipation. I would have loved to have compared performances of dubbed versus subtitled anime, but every release I've seen has been dubbed. Moreover, they all bombed. Not because of the dubbing, but because they stunk. Steamboy was interesting in that two versions were released. The Japanese subtitled version was nearly half-an-hour longer, and supposedly made more sense, but both versions tanked.
The bulk of anime comes from DVD. People can buy or rent them. In this case, I would be very happy if the DVD had the option of dubbing or subtitling. That way, you will always have the option of watching the film in its original version.
So what are we going to do about it? Well, every time we review a dubbed movie, you'll see a nice little complaint on our end. What can you do about it? You can patronize the few subtitled movies that make it to mainstream theaters. You can write to studios that dub movies and complain. Will this work? Sadly, probably not. But at least they'll know that an audience exists for the original film.

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