The Great Dubbing Debate


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?



6 thoughts on “The Great Dubbing Debate

  1. Subtitles all the way! I’ve only watched one film in dubbed form: Persepolis. And I hated the experience. The graphic novel is one of my favorites and the dialogue dubbed in English sounded so stiff! I definitely prefer to hear the original language and read along, even though English is the only language I can speak/understand.

    • I haven’t seen Persepolis (and sadly have not read the graphic novel, either), but come to think of it, I do remember seeing a dubbed trailer for it, and even from that little bit, I did not like how it sounded. Dubbing for animation can be more tolerable than for live action, but it should be done well if they’re going to do it at all.

      • I think that’s part of the reason I was so turned off by it – it’s usually okay in animated films. But it was just awful. And I was kind or surprised that they got away with it, considering how involved the writer was in the production of the adaptation. I watched the film again in French with subtitles and it was so much better.

  2. Subtitles! Especially if it’s a Spanish film, as I know enough Spanish to almost start understanding it. When I was in Italy, everything (on TV at least) was dubbed, which was a bit disconcerting–although on the other hand, it was kind of fun to try to follow the story with my really limited Italian. (I’ve actually only ever seen A Bug’s Life dubbed in Italian!)

    • I think that in Europe, generally, countries/regions that speak Romance languages dub, whereas the countries that speak Germanic languages subtitle, which would explain Italian television. I’ve had the same experience trying to understand episodes of Law & Order in French! Somehow, TV is harder to understand than face-to-face-conversation…

  3. Pingback: 8 Favorite Cinema-Going Experiences | Many Media Musings

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