On Friday, I received an email from Regal Cinemas. As a Crown Club member, I get notifications all the time about ways to earn points, special screenings and theater promotions. This time it was a survey.
The survey asked if people would you be okay with Open Captioning for EVERY showing of EVERY movie.
I won’t disclose my specific answers to the few questions here, though I will share some of my thoughts a little later on.
Regal, which was bought by London-based Cineworld in December 2017, has made some questionable choices over the past two to three years, including its major, lengthy closures during the early days of the COVID pandemic. Most recently, Regal couldn’t come to terms with Paramount about showing “Paw Patrol: The Movie” in its theaters because the film debuted on Paramount+ on the same day.
Now comes this “Open Captioning” concept. I began reviewing movies in January 2006 and have been going to indoor theaters since May 2003. I remember a Regal location near me in Albany, NY doing specific Open Captioning showings 12-15 years ago. They would be listed in the newspaper and on the giant showtimes marquee with the “(OC)” label. They would usually be on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon about two or three weeks after the specific movie opened.
For six years, I also hosted a Monthly Movie Night and day before the Academy Awards film festival at a local library. Library policy was that all Movie Night showings needed to have Open Captions with them. At least half of the attendees of each film showing were over the age of 70, so having the words on the screen helped a lot of people understand the dialogue better (especially if you were older, had trouble hearing or were sitting towards the back).
The only exceptions were the animated films at the Film Festival (too distracting for kids)… unless it was requested (though no parent/guardian did)… or select films on festival days if it was determined that no one needed the words on the screen (which happened a few times).
On the day of the 2nd Awards Film Festival in 2016, we handed out comment cards after each showing. For the five non-animated films, the most popular comment that came back was, “The words on the screen are too distracting.” One of the films that day was the fast-talking “Steve Jobs”, complete with rapid-fire captions.
But it was generally understood that a public, community library has different principles than someone’s house or a movie theater. Well, maybe until now.
I think more Open Captioning showings for theaters would be great, to give that option to people who *really* need it. But if you decide to make EVERY showing of EVERY movie have open captioning (as the questionnaire specified), the blowback will be huge. There are a large percentage of people in this country who just don’t want to see words on the screen while they’re watching movies. And again, words on the screen during animated films will be especially distracting for kids who want to look at the characters – not look away from the characters during pretty much every moment to read instead.
Over the past year I’ve screened some films that have open captioning the entire time because they’re built into the experience. They include my No. 1 movie of 2020 “Sound of Metal”, family musical “Best Summer Ever” and AppleTV+ dramedy “CODA”. I’m glad that these movies have the open captioning, and if filmmakers choose to have them built into their movies, that’s perfectly fine.
More Open Captioning showtimes at each theater location would be great for Regal. But if the theater chain adds open captioning to EVERY showtime of EVERY movie, it will be the latest shake your head, “What in the world are they doing? They’re gonna lose so much money and steer so many people away… again” decision. And probably not the last.