On Saturday night, with nothing else to do, the Hearing Husband and I thought we would go on a date night, maybe catch a movie and dinner.
HH: What’s showing?
Me: (reading)…hmm, two movies with superheroes saving the world, Finding Nemo in 3D, and a couple of teen romance flicks. Let’s do Nemo, he’s adorable.
HH: Just a minute – which superheroes?
Me: Batman and Bruce Willis.
HH: OK, let’s go with Batman.
Me: Aw, no…Nemo!
HH: Is Nemo captioned?
Me: No, dammit.
HH: Is Batman?
Me: Yes, dammit.
HH: Well, at least you’ll understand it. Honey, you know you can’t read animated fish-lips.
Me: Thank you for pointing that out, Mr. Accessibility! Fine, let’s see the Batman thing.
Neither my husband nor I are Batman fans, but our movie choice was dictated by accessibility options. The number of movies offered with the CaptiView closed captioning (CC) system varies from week to week, but on Saturday an unprecedented 13 of the 16 movies were captioned. This was fabulous, but as luck would have it, the only two that appealed to me were not.
If you haven’t seen the Batman film, Dark Knight Rises, this is a SPOILER ALERT. All the characters are in a bad mood because, for various reasons, life has warped them or worn them down. The movie is three hours long, and it was really loud. Did I mention that it was REALLY LOUD?!!! The good news is that we liked it anyway, and it was captioned.
For those of you who haven’t tried CaptiView, the wireless system transmits captions over a 262-foot range to individual display units, usable in any seat in the cinema. The unit’s base fits into the drink holder, and the twisty, goose-neck arm allows you to manipulate the display to the desired position. I tend to move mine a couple of times during the show, depending on what’s going on in the movie, or if I get numb-bum and need to shift around.
The system is not perfect. CaptiView units are rechargeable, with a single charge lasting up to 16 hours, and there are regular reports of insufficiently charged equipment conking out during the film. I missed the first 15 minutes of “Hope Springs” because when the movie started, the captions didn’t. I crawled over the HH and a couple of other people, and rushed to the cinema office, waving the deficient CaptiView in the air, to get a replacement.
Some people also experience eyestrain with the system, as their eyes must move constantly between the device, which is two feet from their face, and the big movie screen, which is way out-and-up there. Vision can’t always adjust that quickly, and it can be a little dizzying.
Finally – and this is a serious problem – where am I supposed to put my drink? I have three choices, I suppose. I can use the holder of an empty seat beside me, or I can share a drink with my husband, using his holder. But if it’s a full theatre and my husband and I want different drinks, my only option is to hang on to mine, guaranteeing ice-cubed hands which I may feel compelled to place on HH’s neck. (He could have offered to hold his drink, don’t you think, given that I’m busy adjusting a rather stiff goose-necked CC device?)
On the positive side, my CaptiView allows me to understand and potentially enjoy the movie. With Dark Knight Rises, it came in handy for three reasons.
Firstly, the film is dark, not just the subject but the overall color scheme, all dark greys and shadows, storms, caves and underworld. Hard of hearing people like light, lots of light!
Secondly, did I mention that this movie is LOUD?! Contrary to what ‘hearing’ people think, loud is not better for people with hearing loss. Extreme background noise – such as this movie’s explosions, roaring batmobiles and screaming crowds – has the unfortunate effect of drowning out dialogue, making it difficult to follow the plot.
And this is the third benefit of CaptiView (or any captioning system): it allowed me to understand the movie’s dialogue, which was mumbled, drowned out, or spoken by people wearing masks.
The lips of two mask-wearers, Batman and Cat Woman, were left exposed – thank you, lipreading gods! The eyes, another facial component important for effective speechreading, were also visible – but only the eyeballs! Not the eyelids or the eyebrows or the interesting laugh-lines that are important clue-givers – just the glistening eyeballs! I had to focus so much on their lips that I couldn’t help but obsess over Anne Hathaway’s (Cat Woman) blurry lipstick or the fact that the isolated lips of Christian Bale (Batman) made him look like someone else altogether. I kept thinking, are those really Christian Bale’s lips, or did they use an actor with better lips for the close-up mask scenes? At least now I understand why nobody could figure out that Batman was really Bruce Wayne!
As we emerged from the theatre, a mom was walking out with her young boys, 8 or 9 years old, and their eyes were like round saucers – possibly because of the movie’s cataclysmic ending. But, just as likely, they were in shock after being pummelled by mega-decibels for three hours.
How can we, in the name of everything that’s logical, tell our kids to turn down the volume on their iPods, when we subject them to such sound torture in other areas of their lives?
I’ve always advocated for movie accessibility, and now that I’ve got it, I want something else from my movie experience: a sound level that is both comfortable and safe.