Monday, July 19, 2010

Inaudible Dialogue

I wrote recently about movie theaters and assistive technology. Today I read a related article, from a hearing individual, called "The rising problem of inaudible dialogue."

In the article, Simon Brew discusses the increasing trend of male actors to mumble in movies and even television shows. He says to the offenders, "Stop mumbling incomprehensibly. If you're not mumbling, speak clearly. You're an actor. That's your job. And let us all enjoy the dialogue in the script that presumably was one of the reasons you signed up for the project in question in the first place," and calls out movies like A-Team, Inception, and Public Enemies as containing unhearable dialogue as the result of mumbling.

Have you noticed this growing trend?

For the most part, I haven't. I don't see a lot of movies in the theater, and when I watch them at home I have subtitles on, which helps a lot and may even make me think I'm hearing a bit better than I actually am. I tend to blame my own hearing loss for missing things before I blame a speaker, although the possibility Brew raises over bad sound mixes could also be a source of blame.

However, if this is a real phenomenon, I think his call to actors is spot-on. Most people think that they speak clearly, but they don't, whether it's the result of mumbling, not speaking loud enough, an accent, or other factors. Being aware of how you speak is very important, especially in the case of people who work in entertainment, along with awareness of how you present yourself and your body language.

Another related complaint I personally have about movies is that they're so dark lately. I mean dark as in the lighting on-screen, not the subject matter. I recently watched Legion and Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, both of which contained multiple scenes in which it was impossible to tell what was going on thanks to the dark lighting. If I hadn't been watching them at home with subtitles I would've missed every line of dialogue in those scenes, since I couldn't see the actors' faces.


  1. This is a pet peeve. The worst are British movies and tv programs. The Brits typically swallow the ends of sentences - speeding speech cadence and mumbling combined. Sad to say that the ends of sentences usually contain the key facts or punch line in dramatic and comedic writing. When you add to the common practice of mixing in too much background noise and location echo, my wife and I have simply returned a number of dvd's having watched only 5 or 10 minutes.

  2. The other issue is that sound editors dub music and special effect noises over the voices, which destroys the quality of sound. If you watch movies from the 40's and 50's, the human voice was separated from the background noise, which has a major impact on clarity.


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