Should Attack the Block, a British movie, get subtitles for the US?
ATTACK THE BLOCK had it's public premiere in Austin, TX last weekend at SXSW and won cheers, applause and great reviews (I gave the film a 9/10) in the process. But curiously, ATTACK, one of the best reviewed films out of SXSW, has yet to find a distributor here in the US. And why? Apparently some studios feel the British accents in the film are too hard to understand. And their solution? Subtitles.
I just caught a report in the Hollywood Reporter that was posted last week and buried towards the end was the note that, after a number of screenings for executives in Hollywood, there was already "talk of having subtitles for any North American release." What's more, some studios are talking about acquiring the rights to the project just to remake the film with an American cast. (Urge to kill rising.)
While it's certainly true that ATTACK THE BLOCK takes place in a part of South London where the dialogue is rich with thick accents and local slang, it's no more difficult to understand than SHERLOCK HOLMES, a movie that made over $200 million in the US alone. And in none of the discussions with any of the people who saw the movie did anyone ever say to me, "I really had a hard time understanding what they were saying" to the point where it affected their enjoyment of the film (though, to be fair, I didn't see the film with any distribution execs).
Have we really devolved enough and become so insular as an American culture that a film spoken in our own language needs subtitles? The difficult-to-understand-British-movie has become a running joke lately after movies like THE RED RIDING TRILOGY (even SNL got in on the gag) but never before have I heard of a studio wanting to either add subtitles or just remake the film altogether, instead of releasing a British movie.
Adding subtitles could theoretically make the film more commercially viable but so did editing the curse words out of THE KING'S SPEECH and that was a decision that director Tom Hooper refused to support (and rightly drew outrage from fans of the film).
I will be the first to admit that at home, I have turned on the subtitles for a film that features thick accents. But that's in my home, on my Blu-ray where I am the only person affected by this decision. Here a studio wants to make this decision for you and for director Joe Cornish. It's a slippery slope and if a British director allows subtitles on his movie, how long before we have title cards that explain ambiguous endings?
What do you think about adding subtitles to a British film? Would it make you more likely to see the film? Would it distract you from watching the movie? Watch the trailer again...
Personally, I think it's a terrible decision to add subtitles onto this, or any, movie already spoken in English. It's insulting to both British culture and the film's director, as if his movie isn't good enough to stand on its own two legs. And ATTACK THE BLOCK is a great film that will find a devoted audience both in the US and the UK without any tampering from a studio executive.