04 abril 2006

The joy of subtitles

TV subtitles may be primarily for deaf people or those who are hard of hearing, but research has revealed they are used by six million people who have no hearing impairment. Why?

Perhaps we should blame NYPD Blue or ER or whichever TV series it was that first pioneered the shaky, handheld camera technique.

Years ago a TV drama, be it Minder, Juliet Bravo or Day of the Triffids, exuded a certain staginess. We didn't really know it at the time... it was just how TV was.

Action tended to be a tad stilted and characters' lines were delivered with Rada-like clarity, often in Received Pronunciation.

Then along came a trend that might best be described as TV Verité. Cameras rolled, jumped and jostled to intensify the on-screen drama and microphones struggled to keep up.

Key plot developments might turn on a muffled comment, or a piece of dialect indecipherable to outsiders. But no matter, in the eyes of the director - the more authentic the better.

Not so in the ears of the viewers, however. Which might explain the current vogue for subtitles.

Rapid fire ramblings

Research by Ofcom, the media regulator, has found that of the 7.5 million people who use TV subtitles, six million have no hearing impairment at all.

For those who have discovered the joy of subtitles, the idea of keeping up with the countless plot twists inflicted on 24's Jack Bauer, or Christopher Eccleston's rapid-fire ramblings as Doctor Who, would be nigh-on impossible without the aid of 888 - the Ceefax/Teletext page where subtitles live.

The problem with subtitles is once discovered they can be incredibly hard to let go of. Their value extends to a rich variety of TV-watching scenarios.

Tucking into a bag of crisps while slobbing on the sofa? Subtitles ensure not a word is missed as the sound gets drowned out by the head-echo of crunching.

Trying to lull a baby to sleep... cut the sound and let the subtitles do the work.

And where videos were useless, DVDs only feed one's subtitle addiction.

Diligent subtitlers - and there seem to be plenty of them out there - even go so far as to include the name of a song that is being played in the background, and the artist performing it. (How long before viewers will be able to click on the title to download the song?)

Others actually transcribe the lyrics.

The vast majority of subtitling is pre-recorded, but when watching the news with subtitles one can't help but respect the craft of the live subtitler, as they struggle to keep up with galloping newsreaders.

Sentences frequently go uncompleted. Errors are common, and entirely understandable, but that doesn't stop them eliciting a slight grin - like the subtitler who recently referred to Andrew Lloyd Wober.

Now and again, one even detects a certain recklessness in the subtitle suite, as when, during one of those celebrity-packed Christmas adverts (yes, ads get subtitled too) Marks & Spencer used to make, a line popped up declaring: "I love you Rupert" just as Rupert Everett hoved into camera.

Occasionally, though, the subtitle can be more a hindrance than a help, even to the most ardent fan. Comic timing is something subtitlers have yet to be able to replicate - with the result that punchlines tend to appear before they are actually spoken and the whole thing is ruined.

Mostly, though, subtitles tend to enhance one's viewing experience. And who knows - for all of us one day as advancing years take their toll, they will doubtless become even more indispensable.

BBC News

1 comentário:

Zabriskie disse...

Couldn't agree more, I am sick and tired of noisy shows and I resort to CC as a means of keeping my attention focused.
Then on DVDs I check the translation... but that's my usual obsession