It was a typical night at the movies, except for one thing..
I could “see” the endearing Paddington Bear, with all of his slapstick British humor, thanks to audio descriptions at a nearby theater.
Audio Description is commentary and narration which guides the listener through the movie or play with concise, objective descriptions of new scenes, settings, costumes, body language, and “sight gags,” all slipped in between portions of dialogue or songs.
I had heard of audio description and always wondered how it worked and which theaters offer it, but never took the time to ask, thinking it would be a complicated process.
When my husband and I decided to take our kids to see “Paddington”, I made a mental note to ask about visual descriptions when we arrived at the theater, after noticing that the preview for the movie was packed full of visuals that I couldn’t quite catch.
After purchasing our tickets and entering the theater, I asked the ticket collector if they offer audio descriptions of the movie. I couldn’t remember the exact term, so I was relieved that she seemed to know what I was talking about. She gave me a headset and small transmitter with 3 bottoms.
At first, I could only adjust the volume of the movie, and I started to think that maybe they misunderstood me and only offer closed captioning or higher volumes for people who are hard of hearing. Fortunately, my husband was determined for this to work and took the headset back to the employee, who had simply selected the wrong mode.
Once the visual descriptions began, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to watch the movie. Without the descriptions, I would have missed certain jokes, such as a sign reading “Must stand on right” in which Paddintogn stood on his right foot while riding the escalator. And again, when a sign said “must carry dog”, Paddington found a dog and carried it down the escalator.
Most impressive to me was how seamless the descriptions were, speaking only between dialogue, never muddled or confusing.
There was a split second “spoiler alert” when the narrator described the toilet overflowing a millisecond before it occurred, but that actually helped my brain to prepare for the visual, making it possible for my eyes to know what they were viewing in time to actually take in the scene in its entirety.
Most of my past movie-going experiences involved a lot of leaning over, whispering questions in my husband’s ear, and as he’s answering, we both miss the proceeding scene. For that reason, I have tried my best not to ask questions unless I am completely lost. Movies at home have proven much easier because we can not only pause the movie, but my husband can also add in quick, descriptive interjections without worrying about bothering nearby patrons.
Over the years, I’ve learned to use context clues to figure out the parts that I miss, which include: action scenes, parts filmed in dim lighting, any written signs, and most visual innuendos. Considering that’s about 90% of most movies today, I read between the lines a lot.
My favorite movies are based on books I’ve read. At least in those I am not in danger of missing any of the plot.
Fast-paced animated movies, such as “the Lego Movie”, “Wretck It Ralph” and “Big Hero 6”, have been particularly challenging for me, and it’s not uncommon for me to sit in a theater, wondering why everyone is laughing at a particular scene. It can be a very isolating feeling, so I often laugh along regardless, just so I feel part of the fun. Sure, someone could lean over and explain it, but there is something about hearing a joke explained after the fact that causes it to lose some of its punch, especially since the movie does not pause for these descriptions.
Until experiencing otherwise, I hadn’t realized that going to the movies was actually a fairly stressful form of entertainment.
I also read that many broadway musicals offer live visual descriptions for at least one of their performances, so I am looking forward to experiencing these other forms of entertainment to a fuller degree now that I know how helpful the descriptions are.
I am looking forward to many more typical nights out at the theater, with descriptions, and I have a feeling my husband is too!