In recent years, it seems that more and more people are relying on subtitles to understand what actors are saying on television shows. Many wonder if it's a sign of deteriorating hearing or if actors have simply become lazy with their enunciation. However, Vox video producer Edward Vega and dialogue editor Austin Olivia Kendrick shed light on the real reason behind this phenomenon.
Vega and Kendrick take us back in time to the transition from silent films to spoken dialogue in movies. During this transition, actors had to speak directly into large microphones and enunciate and project loudly in order to be heard. If they spoke and moved like actors do today, it would have been difficult to pick up their words. However, with advancements in technology, microphones have become much smaller and can be placed anywhere on an actor, allowing them to move freely and speak at a normal volume.
So why can't we hear them clearly? Kendrick explains that it's a complex issue. Many people suggest simply turning up the volume of the dialogue, but it's not so simple. The contrast in volume between the dialogue and other sounds, such as explosions or music, is necessary to give our ears a sense of scale. If the dialogue is at the same volume as an explosion, for example, the explosion won't feel as impactful.
But why do other cinematic noises sound so loud while the dialogue seems quiet? The answer lies in the design of our televisions. As technology has evolved and televisions have become thinner, there is no longer enough space for large speakers to be facing in the correct direction. In fact, many televisions have speakers located at the back, facing away from the viewer. This means that the actors are essentially speaking to the walls, making it difficult for us to hear them clearly.
The need for subtitles to understand television dialogue is not indicative of a decline in hearing or lack of enunciation from actors. It is a result of advancements in technology, such as smaller microphones and thinner televisions, which have unintentionally created a challenge in achieving balanced sound. So the next time you find yourself relying on subtitles, remember that it's not your hearing, it's just the way our screens and sound systems have evolved.