DVD+Digital: “Marley,” subtitles and the importance of sound design

August 14, 2012

ImageTwo of the great benefits of home video, in my embarrassingly considered opinion, have to do with sound and subtitles. I watch a lot of movies on DVD and Blu-ray, and have learned to appreciate having control over audio specs and closed captioning.

Sound design in theaters is usually great. There’s an entire industry dedicated to making movies sound good. But when the sound is bad, it’s excruciating. Lately, it’s a problem of volume. The last few action pictures I saw at the multiplex literally hurt my ears. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I still cling to the notion that movies shouldn’t involve physical pain.

The excellent documentary MARLEY— new to DVD, Blu-ray and digital this week — is a great example of how sound and subtitle options can impact the experience of watching a film. (Check out Craig Lindsey’s full review here.) The music of Bob Marley is both the topic of Marley, and its soundtrack. Every scene pulses with Marley’s bright and nimble brand of reggae, ska and rocksteady.

I have a pretty good home theater system, but the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix on this DVD made the living room bounce. (And the rest of the house, as my family quickly informed me.) Because the film’s rhythm and pacing is so tightly stitched to the music, the sound design here is critical.

Unfortunately, the film’s DVD and Blu-ray release lack closed captioning in English, although there is a Spanish subtitling option. Again, this choice impacts the experience of watching the movie at home. Director Kevin Macdonald subtitles some of the dialogue, when the Jamaican accents and patois get too thick. (These scenes were already subtitled in the theatrical release.)

But other scenes aren’t subtitled at all, and many of the talking-head interviews are simply hard to follow because of the thick accents. If your aim as a filmmaker is to communicate efficiently, this is just bad policy. The 2011 Brendan Gleeson comedy The Guard comes to mind. I think I missed half the jokes in that movie because I couldn’t cut through the Irish brogue.

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