The Enigma of Subtitling in Movie Releases

There are people I know in other industries – more traditional and commoditized ones – that tell me just how bug nuts crazy software and web services industries are, by comparison. But we have nothing on the motion picture and entertainment industries. The motion picture industry seems to be able to repackage the same products again and again in ways that the software industry can only dream about. One thing that really mystifies me are films and subtitling. For example – consider the releases of the television series LOST.  When individual seasons were released in Region 1, they included English subtitles.  The Complete Series on DVD includes French subtitles. The Complete Series on Blu Ray include French and Spanish subtitles. What happened to English subtitles on the Complete Editions?  Why would you exclude Spanish on individual season releases when Spanish is spoken so widely in the countries covered under Region 1?

There is probably an answer to this, boiling down to distribution issues. Perhaps they want to have a different priced Spanish only version for sale in Mexico, Central and South America?

The problem I have is that region based customization of movies invariably reduces enjoyment for folks like me.  I always watch with English or English SDH (English subtitles with descriptions for people with poor hearing), regardless if its a foreign film or not, primarily because audio levels can vary so much in film. Also, I have a non-native speaker of English at home. We never watch dubbed films as the substitute voices invariably change the tone of the story. For example, when the X-Files were released in Japan, Agent Mulder was given a very masculine voice, while his partner Scully has a high, cute woman’s voice – entirely contrary to the personalities of the characters. That’s not to say that subtitling is perfect. I have watched enough films in Japanese to know that the subtitle writers must have been munching on magic mushrooms to produce the wildly different translation.

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