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Frame by Frame

Frame By Frame: Subtitles vs. Dubbing

Subtitles rule.

I have a new episode out today in the Frame by Frame series, brilliantly edited by Curt Bright, in which I discuss the various disadvantages of dubbing, most tellingly that it separates the actor from his/her voice, and results in only half a performance, or less, on the screen. I watch subtitled versions of films whenever possible; sadly, most viewers seem to prefer dubbed versions, feeling that it’s too much work to watch an image and read the dialogue at the same time, but you get the real essence of a foreign language film when you view it with accurate subtitles — and I stress accurate subtitles — which you really don’t get when you see other actors providing their voices. Imagine Humphrey Bogart, or Marilyn Monroe, or John Wayne, or any other iconic American actor dubbed by someone else into another language; you’d miss all the nuances, the particular speech patterns, the pauses (as in John Wayne), the breathiness (in Monroe) or the world weary angst of Bogart’s raspy voice.

The image above is from Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (Swedish: Låt den rätte komma in, 2008), a film that would have been utterly ruined it it fell into the hands of a dubbing company; as it was, there was a terrible US remake of the film by Matt Reeves, titled simply The Right One (2010), which no one saw, and failed completely at the box office. The original film, in contrast, was a significant box office hit, and played around the world with subtitles, quite profitably. It’s a remarkable modern vampire film, and the actors are superb; much of the impact of the film would have been lost if the voices had been replaced with dubbing.

So the next time you have a choice on a foreign film, choose the subtitled version. It’s the only way to go.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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