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The good doctors at the BBC5live Kermode and Mayo film show have started a debate about dubbing films, and I can’t contain myself. Having grown up in the in the disapora of German media (basically everything gets dubbed), I am getting more and more angry by this debate. I am not quite yet on a crusade against it, but getting there…

People say things like “oh, wasn’t Brad Pitt so great in Inglorious Basterds?!” to which I reply curtly (and rudely, I know): “How the hell would you know, not having heard a single word of what he said, and how he said it?” Is acting all about the looks of actors? Rough guess: at least 50 per cent of an actor’s performance is about how (s)he speaks the lines. Without that, all talk of good versus bad acting is futile. How can you ever laugh about Russel Crowe when you have never heard him try an accent?

As there are not very many skilled voice actors who can do dubbing, the same voices appear all the time. Case example: the same German voice actor dubs Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dan Aykroyd and John Cleese … this may be funny, but it has nothing to do with trying to represent the skills of a specific actor in the dubbed version. It’s lazy.

Dubbed versions completely destroy the cultural atmosphere of a film, there is no way of immersion when you see a bar fight in a Glaswegian pub while hearing the actors insult each other in perfect high-German. I have recently seen a version of the terrific “A Separation”, dubbed in Chinese. No sense of the frantic and chaotic atmosphere at court, no feeling of life in Iran. Just people talking to each other in Chinese, and not looking as if they would want to do that, being in Tehran and all…

Dubbed versions get dialogue dubbing on top of the original version, they never get the sound mixing right. The dialogues appear dominant, the background disappears. It’s like people talking in a sound booth while the film plays in the background… oh right, because that’s exactly what it is.

There has been a handful of examples in the history of film and television where the writing and performance of the dubbing was superior to the original. The British show “The Persuaders” is hilarious and a cult classic in the German version (“Die Zwei”), because the dubbing authors decided the show was rubbish and needed completely different dialogues. But you know what? I would much rather occasionally slack off a film or show for its being rubbish rather than systematically be denied the ability to assess its true quality.

Dubbing is for people who don’t care about the quality of a movie. Here, now you have it!

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