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Subtitles vs. Dubbing: Watching Movies Abroad

Submitted by Bethany on Wed, 05/01/2019 - 10:00

If you've learned anything about Joel and me from reading this blog, I'm guessing you haven't missed this - we love movies. If you have somehow missed that fact, well, check out all of our movie reviews to see what I mean! Back when we lived in the States we had MoviePass, which meant we could go to all the movies we wanted to, very inexpensively, it was glorious. We knew when we left for our world traveling adventures our movie consumption would decline greatly, a compromise we were willing to make. 

At first, it seemed pretty easy. When we were in Cyprus I hardly remember missing anything that was coming to the theater. I think mostly that was because we were just so excited to finally be abroad! The only movie that stuck in my mind was Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again - I loved the first movie and I really want to see this second one. I haven't yet but I'm hoping to get to rent it this summer! 

By the time we got to Wales we actually lived in a town only about 20 minutes from a really good movie theater. However, our lack of a car and our minuscule budget meant that we only went to one movie the whole time we were there. We chose to see the Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and it was wonderful. The whole experience really reminded me how much I love going to the theater, and I started to miss it a little bit more. 

When we settled in Street in the New Year, we learned that there was a theater in a nearby town that sold discount tickets to movies on Sunday nights. Instead of tickets being £10 a person, they went down to £5.50. Still not a great deal when we were spoiled by MoviePass ($14.99/month for one movie a day!) but it was starting to seem worth it. When our house finally rented and we felt like we could relax the budget a little bit, we did splurge on seeing 3 movies. Glass, which was excellent. Alita: Battle Angel, which was decent. And Mary Poppins Returns which reminded us that without MoviePass we should be a lot pickier about what we pay to see (sorry for those of you who are fans, but we did not like it!) 

Then we moved to France. And we hit the time of year that the blockbuster movies start coming out, most notably Captain Marvel and Avengers: End Game. We knew that we would have to do whatever we could to see these two movies, so we started looking into what is in our current area. Turns out that despite our rural location there are quite a few movie theaters within a 45 minutes drive or so. However, almost all of them show movies - American, Hollywood movies - in the "Version Francais" aka they are dubbed over with French speakers, instead of using subtitles. 

Now, I know I am a pretty typical/bad American when it comes to traveling abroad. I don't speak a second language (my French barely passes for kindergarten level) and I generally assume that most people I encounter will speak at least some English. If not, we muddle through with hand gestures and Google Translate if the internet is working. So perhaps I was rather arrogant to assume that it would be easier to find the English aka original versions of films even in France. 

But then I realized, that I enjoy watching foreign films, but I hate dubbing. If I'm going to watch a movie, I want to watch it the way it was intended to be seen - with the original sound and language. We aren't huge foreign film buffs (it was hard to be in Iowa, not a lot are shown) but anytime we did go to one in the theater it had subtitles, not dubbing.

When we watch foreign movies on Netflix we watch them with subtitles, not dubbing. The one time we tried to watch one with dubbing we hated it. We thought the movie itself was cheesy and lame until about 20 minutes in we realized it was dubbed and switched to the original language and reading the subtitles. The movie improved so much! The dubbing had really changed the whole feel of the film, the way it came across, everything. The dubbing made it worse. 

The really interesting part to me is that even out here in rural France all of the theaters are getting first-run American movies. They aren't getting films weeks or months after they debut in the States, they are opening films like Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame at the same time. This means that there is a demand for these movies here, these American films are being consumed, eagerly. But almost every showing has it dubbed! So if you only speak English, you have to wait for the occasional showings of the VO or "version originale." I just find this so odd - dubbing makes everything so weird! Plus I have to wonder, for films like the Marvel movies, where you are seeing the same characters throughout multiple movies - are they using the same voice actors every time? Or does Thor sound different in every movie? I just think that would be so odd. 

So while at first, I thought I was annoying for expecting these films to be shown in English with French subtitles, I think I've changed my mind. I now find it rather annoying that the French insist on dubbing over everything. When I watch French movies in the States, I expect to see it in French and have to read subtitles. Why isn't it the same for them and American movies? 

In the end, we made it to Captain Marvel but it involved a 3 hour round trip to the nearest city, and tickets cost €10.50 each. It was worth it, but also that's a lot of money to us right now. Since we are going back to the States for two months this summer, we signed up for MoviePass again. Then I had the horrible realization that the smart thing would be to wait and see Avengers: End Game when we get back.  This is the most responsible choice, but also perhaps the hardest adulting decision I have ever made. If you have seen it - NO SPOILERS PLEASE! Just another week and a half till I get to know how everything ends! 

So now I want to hear from all of you! Am I alone in the desire to always watch a movie in its original language. What do you think? Do you watch foreign films? If so, do you prefer to watch them with dubbing or to read the subtitles? Am I wrong for thinking that American movies should be shown in English and people can read the subtitles for their language? Am I being obtuse/rude in some way in this opinion? I'd love to chat! 

XOXO, Bethany