Why I Don’t Go to the Movies Any More (and What Would Bring Me Back)

moviesI love movies, but I don’t go to the movie theater much any more. I can’t enjoy films there like I used to. Why?

I have partial hearing loss, in a specific way that makes it hard for me to understand what people are saying. My weakest frequencies are those where the consonants in speech occur, so to me it sounds like everyone is mumbling.

I have hearing aids. They help, but I still miss a lot. They are also uncomfortable (a different issue that I’ll pass over today).

Even with the hearing aids, I have to concentrate, hard, just to participate in a conversation, and I do a lot of guessing anyway. Add to that the additional sounds in a movie soundtrack–music (often too loud) and sound effects–and I miss out on a lot of the dialogue. So I prefer to watch movies at home, where I can turn on the captions.

Movie theaters sometimes have helpful devices that can be borrowed by the “hearing impaired.” The most common of these are headphones. Thanks, but all that does is amplify the mishmosh and give me a headache (see “I have hearing aids” above).

headsupA more helpful device is a gadget that displays captions for the movie. I’ve tried two kinds – one is a high-tech visor thingie that projects a heads-up display of closed captions. Pretty good, but there’s no control over where the captions appear, and I had to hold my head at a fatiguing angle to see both them and the movie. Also, they’re kind of heavy, so…headache. And I suspect they’re expensive; I’ve only been offered them at one theater and they held my driver’s license hostage while I was using them.

gooseneckThe other gadget I’ve tried is a low-tech dot-matrix display (like on traffic message signs) on a gooseneck attached to a weight that plugs into a cup holder. The gooseneck can be used to position the display comfortably. Unfortunately this can lead to the thing falling out of the cup-holder.

Both these gizmos are OK, if slightly inconvenient, but I’ve found that the majority of the time, they’re not available. This may change, according to this article in the Los Angeles Times, but theater owners don’t like the potential cost. AMC is apparently going to make the gooseneck thing available in all their theatres.

But maybe there’s an easier way.

I have this high-tech electronic device that I paid for with my own money. It’s called a tablet. If it could receive a broadcast of closed-captioning, I’d be happy to bring it with me to the movie theater. I could put it on a little gooseneck or telescoping handle of my own, tune it in to the correct movie broadcast, and voila. Inexpensive for the theater, convenient for me. They could keep a couple of loaner tablets on hand for people who don’t own one. Way cheaper than the high-tech headache-inducing headsets, or the heavy gooseneck cupholder things.

So I’m tossing this idea out into the ether, for any techie who might feel like picking up on it and making it real. You don’t have to pay me a cent. Just make it happen, OK?




Why I Don’t Go to the Movies Any More (and What Would Bring Me Back) — 9 Comments

  1. This doesn’t help you I’m afraid but at our local cinema (7 screens) in the UK they have a hearing loop that you can connect your hearing aid into. In fairness my wife says it doesn’t help that much. They also have a performance with subtitles on one of the screens roughly every other day. This week the films are “Revenant” and “Room”.

    They also have a lot of “audio described” showings where people with poor eyesight can get a descriptive soundtrack on the hearing loop.

    I can’t find any examples at my local cinema but I have read of cinemas in the area doing “autistic friendly screenings and screenings for mothers with young children.

    Since the U.S. Seems more concerned about making things fairer for people with a disability I’m very surprised that cinemas there are not doing more of this sort of thing. Perhaps a letter to the chains asking how they compare to overseas cinemas might embarrass them into doing more.

    • Volume enhancers don’t actually work for many hearing-impaired people. The hearing is IMPAIRED, and making it louder won’t help. Incomprehensible noise is still incomprehensible noise at 120 db, and might be acutely painful into the bargain.

      I actually like the gooseneck thing, especially compared to the alternative, which is not going to the movies at all. A tablet might be nice, but would need a really nice and secure holder, and battery life would be an issue. Unless there were a cable connection? And the tablet drew both power and captions from the cinema’s system?

      • The point about making difficult audio louder not making it more comprehensible is a good one. I certainly experience that in the noise of a British pub, and indeed in the audio of “Revenant”.

        It might be technically solvable. The audio for any movie these days will be a mix of speech tracks and background noise on other tracks. It should be possible to produce an alternate mix that emphasises the speech while lowering or eliminating background noise. Certainly this would cost money but such an alternate track could be included on DVD, blue-ray, or downloadable releases.

  2. Write an open letter to the chains, Pati. We will pass it on. As Judy says, it is usually not volume. And what if your problem is “crickets” as a friend’s father called his hearing damage? He was a Navy boy, and no one wore hearing protectors near those huge guns in WWII.

    Personally, I like captions whenever I am watching something foreign, and that includes British TV. I can miss a sotto voce that may be crucial to understanding the nuance of a scene. An entire movie of that would drive me nuts, so deep sympathies and I wish you great home viewing.

    Theaters are missing a huge audience by not addressing this problem.

  3. “Incomprehensible noise is still incomprehensible noise at 120 db, and might be acutely painful into the bargain.”


    I haven’t tried the hearing loop option in the movie theater, because (see above). It’s a volume enhancer, and that’s usually not that helpful. Sometimes it improves the clarity of the soundtrack, sort of. But the times I’ve tried it with television or live theater, it’s been mostly annoying.

  4. I hear ya, Pati, loud and clear. I remember asking my audiologist why there hasn’t been much advancement in the field of aural health and he said it simply comes down to a matter of funding. Hearing loss isn’t sexy, like, say, breast cancer. So those of us who are afflicted end up suffering in silence.

    And often in creeping isolation.

  5. The last movie I watched in a theater was “Pirates of the Caribbean 3” for precisely these reasons. Even then I had to wait for the DVD and closed captions before I could follow the plot. My sound bar allows me to enhance the dialog and turn down the sound effects–they are always too loud. There are only 3 theaters in the Portland metro area and they tend to offer art films only.

    I wait for HBO or DVD where I control the sound.

  6. Since a lot of movies in theaters here in Norway are from the US, we are used to having captions on at all times. Even Norwegian films are often showed with captions on. I prefer this over dubbed movies, which cause a lot of mismatch between sound and lip movements. The bonus effect for people with hearing loss or impaired hearing is kind of accidental, but nonetheless, this seems to be a simpler solution than any of the gadgety ones you discuss here. It’s a great benefit for learning a second language as well, because we get to hear how it sounds at the same time that we get the translation in form of text on the screen.