Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Imperfect World of Captioning

Our family likes to watch movies. Julia was completely spellbound at age three when she watched her first movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In the past couple of years, she's matured into a bigger kid movie viewer. We watched all of the Harry Potter movies and the Chronicles of Narnia. We only remembered the Lord of the Rings trilogy when preview started for the new prequel, The Hobbit.

So Christmas break became a Lord of the Rings marathon.

Quite on accident, LOTR Fellowship of the Rings started displaying the closed captions from the moment the DVD was inserted. Tim went for the remote to turn the captions off, but I asked him to leave them. Maybe they would help.

Watching the bigger kid movies with Julia isn't always completely enjoyable.

"What did he say?"
"What's going on?"
"What? WHAT?"

The Fellowship of the Rings was pure bliss. Julia was relaxed and didn't ask for mid-movie plot explanations. Tim and I agreed that we may not have known what was going on when we first saw the movie. Hobbits, Elves, and Orcs have tough accents. Background music crowds out the dialog. Why don't we all use closed captions?

The second movie was also a DVD with identical captions to the first. I recorded the Return of the King from a free preview weekend of Starz and we found those captions weren't as good. Instead of popping up when the character was speaking, these captions were late, often continuing after a scene had ended. Though flawed, it was still better than nothing.

After enjoying the full nine hours of the trilogy, we went to our local theater to see The Hobbit. The theater offers closed captioning at most shows. We chose a matinee and requested a closed caption device.

Cinemark selected the CaptiView Closed Caption Viewing System (CaptiView) to transmit the closed captions to audience members who desire the assistance of captioning.  CaptiView provides captioning to those who have significant difficulty hearing the movie soundtrack via an OLED display on a bendable support arm that fits into the theater seat cup holder. (http://www.cinemark.com/pressreleasedetail.aspx?node_id=22850)
The device is a little screen on a long stalk that fits into the seat's cup holder. Three rows of text appear between shades that keep the light from bothering other patrons. The long bendy pole is meant to be super adjustable, but Julia is shorter than an adult (we've been teasing that she might actually BE a Hobbit). It was nearly impossible to get the thing to the right spot in her field of vision without blocking the movie screen. We spent a good ten minutes wrestling with the set up.

None of the previews were captioned. I kept checking expectantly, but the little display just said, "Captions are not available for this preview. Captioning will start with the feature presentation." Bummer.

Finally, the movie started. Julia was captivated. I could see her look to the captions frequently during scenes that were heavy on dialog. Afterwards, she said it was okay.  Her main complaint was those shades that make the screen look dark unless it's angled just right. For some of the movie she actually held onto the screen to keep it tilted so she could see.

Though imperfect, captions have made life better. On our TV, we showed Julia how to turn them on herself. Now, most times we find her watching Doc McStuffins with the captions. She likes it and we've even convinced her that she can turn the volume down a bit. Good news all around!

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