A Dark Night At The Movies

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.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. Gael doesn’t mention it but in Arizona Cinemark has agreed to provide FM receivers with neckloops for deaf/hard of hearing customers with Telecoil equipped hearing aids and cochlear implant processors. These audio receivers have volume control and you can actually turn down the volume. We advise our members at Adult Loss of Hearing Association (ALOHA) to request both CaptiView Closed Captioning system AND audio receiver with neckloop simultaneously.
    According to John Waldo at ALDA Cinemark, AMC, and Regal Cinema theaters have agreed to provide both these devices nationwide.

  2. Oops. Hit the send button too fast. The commercial volume legislation has passed, but is not in effect yet, so ave to up with noisy commercials for just a little bit longer.

  3. Now that the government is finally legislating the volume levels of tv commercials so that we don’t always have to adjust the volume when the show moves to a commercial or vice versa we should be working on the volume levels in movie theatres. Now that I hear so much better with my cochlear implant I’m constantly turning the volume DOWN in the movie theatre. I’m amazed that lots of hearing people haven’t gone deaf or sued the movie theatre for endangering their hearing health.

  4. Gael, I’ve wondered if your hearing aids are amplifying some sounds too loudly for you. Some of the high frequency sounds may be uncomfortable loud for you, for example.

    Initially, my own hearing aid amplified a certain frequency so much that it caused acute physical pain when people laughed, so I eventually realized I really needed to get it reprogrammed. Now, my hearing aid is programmed to prevent any very loud sound from being uncomfortably loud for me.

    I certainly agree that the background sounds can be so loud they drown out the dialog, however. Apparently, too many producers are compressing all of the sound into a narrow dynamic range, which may make it easy to hear everything but at the expense of understanding what’s being said. It’s also jangling our nerves to be subjected to such loud sound.

    1. If you feel physical pain as a result of hearing aid volume at any frequency, get to the dealer fast! Your aid is out of adjustment… and the pain is your body telling you that you are reaching levels that will permanently damage your hearing! If you have already lost part of your hearing… you have that much less left… don’t risk killing that part off or you will have nothing.

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