Major subtitling issue in UAE cinemas is killing movie-going experience
Your experience of ‘John Carter’ may be vastly different from someone who can read Arabic, thanks to a glaring UAE cinema issue.
If you went to watch ‘John Carter’ in any UAE cinema this weekend, you may or may not have noticed one very bizarre occurrence. Something that might have killed your experience of the movie if you don’t read Arabic.
In the scenes where the character of John Carter is transported to Mars and encounters the alien race for the first time, you can hear the martians speaking in an alien language that the character is unable to understand. You would think that you as the audience aren’t supposed to understand it as well, but then you notice something – there are Arabic subtitles at the bottom of the screen appearing with whatever gibberish they speak.
You also notice that the dialogue sequences run way too long for something that’s meant to be gibberish. You look down and see Arabic subtitles perfectly in sync with character names and everything. You begin to wonder whether these are actual movie dialogues that you’re supposed to understand but are unable to. And you would be right.
This is a major issue facing cinemas in UAE at the moment, and it isn’t the first time I’ve seen it happen. Way back in 2009, when I was watching ‘Avatar’ in IMAX 3D at Grand Cinemas, this exact issue persisted. The Na’vi dialogue sequences are extremely important to the movie and impactful during the finale, but unless you can read Arabic you wouldn’t get a single word from them. This again occurred at VOX Cinemas when I was watching the premiere of ‘John Carter’ and is in fact happening at every major cinema that the movie has released in.
The original film print is supposed to have the English subtitles to go along with what the aliens are saying. However, in the print that’s displayed in UAE cinemas, the English subtitles are entirely removed and replaced with Arabic subtitles. It’s an utterly nonsensical decision by whoever decided to do so, and can effectively kill your experience of watching a movie. Basically, any movie with the character speaking a foreign or alien language that was originally subtitled in English for the audience is mostly subtitled only in Arabic. And it doesn’t only apply to dialogue.
There are moments in ‘John Carter’ that show a date and place. For example, ‘Virginia – 1888′. Well, you wouldn’t know that because the subtitle to show you that doesn’t appear on screen in English but only in its Arabic translation at the bottom. These could very well be important plot points of the movie, without which the entire movie could make a lot less sense to you and could hurt your experience. And that’s not it – it doesn’t necessarily happen in these big-budget sci-fi epics.
Over the past year, I’ve seen a number of normal live-action films that had instances of this same problem. There were foreign characters that sat around to speak, and you wondered whether you’re supposed to understand them because clearly there are Arabic subtitles underneath. Most people didn’t bother thinking too much about it because minor scenes like those are gone before you put two and two together. But ‘John Carter’ might be the most major occurrence of this issue. Those scenes are critical to the character development of the aliens themselves and what they think of this mysterious new human among them. Through a convenient plot device thankfully, the aliens begin to speak English mid-way through the film and never have I been more thankful of a filmmaker than at that point.
So what is the issue here? If it’s the movie studios who do this, then it’s a very stupid thing for them to think that just because it’s an Arab country that’s the only subtitles required for a scene. Though UAE is what you would call an Arab country, the majority of the movie-going audience is not. There are Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, British and American and many other kind of audiences that come and watch movies in cinemas here that do not read Arabic and will not understand a single word of those important scenes in your movie.
If it’s the national film board here, then it’s a very short-sighted thing for them to think that everyone watching the movie should be speaking Arabic or suffer this way. I’m of course assuming here because I frankly do not know what the cause of this is, but I’m going to be contacting the three big cinema chains in UAE – Grand Cinemas, VOX Cinemas and Reel Cinemas to find out from them why this happens.
But whatever the reason may be, the fact of the matter is that it effectively kills the movie-going experience for Non-Arab speakers and something has to be done about it. The next time you see an instance of this, go tell the theater representative of the problem. You might even ask for a refund and they might have to give it to you since it’s not your fault at all.
Have you ever encountered something like this happening in any other movie? Do share with us and we can work together in fixing this issue once and for all before all the big summer releases come our way and we’re sitting in a dark cinema hating ourselves for not taking an Arabic course before a movie night.