Around the world, countries have different policies with regards to how they show movies and television produced in a language other than their own. In Europe, for example, some countries dub everything, others subtitle everything, and some just dub content meant for children. Although dubbing makes the viewing experience easier, it removes part of the cultural aspect out of watching a content from another country. For example, I once saw part of the Chinese movie Hero dubbed in Spain, and hearing the characters speak in Spanish was so jarring that it removed me entirely from the film experience.
But on an aesthetic level, dubbing makes movies look unnatural. It creates a mismatch between physical and vocal acting since there are two different actors creating each character. For example, a few years ago, I was able to secure tickets to a pre-premiere showing of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Belgium – and, for whatever reason, the theater showed the dubbed version. Imelda Staunton, who plays Professor Umbridge, acts with several subtle facial expressions, and in the dubbed version, the rhythm between her face and her words did not match up.
I realize that I live in the United States, and I’m lucky to be a native speaker of English, the language of practically all the movies U.S. theaters show. And the few foreign films that U.S. theaters do show – with the exception of a few animated films – are subtitled. Perhaps my feelings about dubbing would be different if I lived in a country where most of the movies shown were not in my language.
Regardless, when I watch foreign films, I prefer to hear them in their original language – even if I do not speak it. Maybe it’s just the language lover in me that gets worked up over this, but a lot can be inferred from tone and delivery, and I would rather not have someone else interpret that for me.
Even though there’s a lot of merit in listening to dialogue in its original language, I understand that some people may not want to read words while they’re watching a movie. On an artistic level, so much is happening in the frame of a movie that to focus on subtitles would make you miss many details.
Ultimately, however, I still hold the view that dubbing removes something from the movie experience. How do you feel about the practice? Do you prefer dubbing or subtitling?