By Maggie Scott
In Time is a high concept sci-fi adventure about a dystopian future—albeit a very glossy one—in which humans are all due to clock out at the age of 25, unless they can literally ‘buy time’. Each person carries a glowy green digital clock meter embedded in their forearms, and can transfer time through their wrists. In this world, humans will always look 25 if they can clock enough days, years, or centuries up to live forever. Will (Justin Timberlake) lives in the ghetto where people are slumming it with only a few hours left on their clock every day, just buying time and getting by. Like JT, I felt like I was running on borrowed time as I hot-wheeled it from my abode in the west over to the south-eastern suburbs to watch a 9.30pm session of In Time at Forest Hill Chase Hoyts on a Thursday night. I got lost—which happens pretty much every time I cross the river—and so it took me over an hour to get there. Why would a congenitally deaf hardcore film buff with a bad sense of direction and a yen for a good night’s sleep go to Forest Hill Chase to watch a film like In Time this late on a Thursday night? Because it is currently* the only cinema in Melbourne with CaptiView (CV) technology, a closed caption system (CCS) designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences.
Trademarked by LA cinema broadcast developers Doremi Labs, the CV is a wireless device that sits in the cup/popcorn holder of a theatre seat that can receive broadband data providing captions in sync with the film. It has a long bendable neck and small LED screen that customers can adjust to suit their line of sight and it works from any seat in the house.
Although I often use subtitles on my home DVD and digital box, I usually get by without them at the cinema. There are a lot of cinema goers who are harder of hearing. I am happy to just pick a CV up at the counter and set it up myself. But for others, CCS service is an important factor, especially for older deaf audiences. Julian at Forest Hill Chase Hoyts helped to set me up with the CV and was enthusiastic, interested and helpful, especially considering I was late for the session. About three quarters of the way through the film, I turned off my hearing aids in a particularly tense moment (to help relieve the impact of scary bits). At this moment, the CV stopped captioning at a line of dialogue that read They’ll always be in agony and hung there for the remainder of the film. I reported the dysfunction afterwards and Julian was super apologetic. When I followed up the next day, he had checked with the distributor who said this was the CV’s first screening with In Time, and it was running off a corrupted file. They have since fixed the problem. At Forest Hill, deaf audiences will be looked after and made to feel like they are the beneficiaries of amazing technology.
I was the only person in the cinema when I went to test the CV, so I didn’t struggle to find a good spot, or experience the self-consciousness that might occur if the cinema was packed with people staring at me and my gadget. (I got over any embarrassment I had about my hearing loss years ago when a giant ‘80s model FM Unit was my constant companion in the class room.) But this CV reviewer admits he felt a bit awkward and suggests alternative ways it could be handed over to customers.
It’s also worth noting that not all deaf cinema goers are looking for the same things I am. I thought In Time was a great concept done stoopid and will probably never watch it again. Although it was thankfully lighter in tone than Never Let Me Go, a ridiculously earnest film about young people bred for organ harvesting, it was more positively vacant compared to Children of Men, which brilliantly envisions a future in which children are no longer born. But for those who really rely on captions and enjoy a spectacle, I will reluctantly concede that In Time has sparse dialogue and a couple of long action sequences which allow one to take their eyes off the captions and admire the stark set design and all the beautiful people in their deconstructed outfits. The captions themselves are really descriptive. A quaver symbolises music and background sounds are noted with more imagination than the usual ‘uptempo’ or ‘tense’ music description found on DVDs. I have no idea who writes these things, so I can’t say if they are this good for every film with CV data.
One thing that worries me about closed captions is that these devices will supposedly phase out open captions for deaf audiences at cinemas. The CV doesn’t integrate with the line of sight the way open captions do. As someone who loves the cinema experience, and who will inevitably suffer a deterioration of hearing over the years, it seems unfair that going to the movies might not be the intense, all-consuming experience that I desire unless some uber geek invents a chip you can embed in your brain which runs captions on the eyelids during a film. Or even an iPhone app might do the trick.
There is talk that more cinemas in Melbourne will adopt closed caption cinema access, but it’s slow-moving. Melbourne cinemas and distributors really need to get their act together and expand the accessibility of films and cinemas. Deaf cinemaphiles shouldn’t have to travel for more than half an hour to see a crappy film. Hard-of hearing movie-goers with blockbuster tastes should at least have the option to widen their horizons.
* At the time of writing. There is one more cinema with closed captions in Melbourne now: Village Jam Factory, South Yarra.
Note: This review was originally written for Better Hearing Australia