Editorial: Following Chip N Dale, What Does Audio Description Sound Like?

When I started into my journey of relaunching at the beginning of the year, it came from the place of a lover of all things film and television, constantly running into my new found blind and visually impaired friends and the discussions we would have about audio description. either, the lack thereof, the small selection, the wide range in quality, how action and science fiction films aren’t described well, or any of the various statements that usually followed with I don’t watch much TV anymore, or I just like to read now. I personally think audio description on the whole is amazing, and I’m here to help elevate the form, as well as be that annoying voice that continues to talk about it. I want my blind audience to know which films have good audio description, so they can once again have pleasant experiences with film, at the same time, I know that those who create the narration enjoy the feedback, and acknowledgement of their work. I’m not sure if they really enjoy it when I’m critical, lol. But that’s up to them, and I can understand if they don’t enjoy everything i say or write.

After my last review, of Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers, I thought I’d take a look back at the year in review so far for me, recapping not just the bad, but also the good from what I felt stood out among all the films (not just the 2022 releases) I’ve reviewed so far. And, here’s the good and not so good.

1) When faced with multiple versions, find the best route to labeling them and then stick with it.

In Spider-Man No way home, the audio description fails the audience by choosing to label Andrew Garfield’s Peter as Tall, and Tobey Maguire’s as Old. That would have been fine if they had stuck with it, but they don’t. Instead, later on, in a very confusing action sequence, they become numbered, with it being almost impossible to figure out who is 1, 2, and 3. This concept was done better in other films, for example The Adam Project, which did a good job of sticking to Young Adam and Adult Adam, as well as the narration in moon Knight, that did a terrific job dealing with the multiple personalities that Oscar Issca’s titular character was moving through. So, i would say that maybe sometimes it’s better to stick with a name once we know it works, as it makes it easier to follow that character for the duration, or at least the No Way Home team could have made it more clear who becomes 1, 2, and 3.

2) Robodescription is worse when no one quality checks it.

Probably one of the most obvious rules of audio description is to not talk on top of dialogue within the film. Amazon’s SkyNet provided terminator description fails to even grasp that basic rule, as I’ve noticed it violating it in two films so far, jolt, and The Terminator. Jolt opens with Kate Beckinsale’s character doing a lot of expository narration herself, but the Terminator Description doesn’t care, it’s just going to talk right on top of her. It’s somewhat maddening. And then in the actual Terminator film, I also caught it happening a couple of times, though less pronounced and annoying as Jolt.

3) Audio Description Can Make Things Unintentionally hilarious

While my review of Old did officially label that as the first film I’m not really sure is possible to audio describe in a way that a blind audience can actually have the intended effect, it did provide for some hilarious moments, as the character named Midsize Sedan kept doing things that were getting described. Hearing that ridiculous name turned what was supposed to be a serious scary film into a parody. I also laughed during The Terminator that Arnold’s character during the narration is “Terminator”. They intentionally dropped the “The”, as if Terminator was his first name. He is of course, one of many, so this makes no sense, but it does make me laugh.

4) The team behind Jackass Forever deserves a raise.

First, this franchise loses its effect when you’re blind. It being audio described is not the same thing, I don’t care if you enjoy it still. That’s fine. It’s not the same. I’ve been on both sides, and this franchise is much more gross when you actually can see the disgusting stuff. But, the narrator having to describe everything that team was going through stands out in my mind as being a great moment in audio description this year. She even used the kind of terminology in referring to male genitalia that you would expect from this film. I praised her then, and I praise her again now, as that has still stuck with me.

5) There’s a huge difference in the description of horror titles.

Using the Candyman franchise as an example, the original has audio description that shies away from describing the violence and gore, which is why people come to see these films in the first place. No one is coming here to see if there are Oscar worthy performances, or some amazing dialogue. They want to know how the people die, who dies, how they die, is it gory, and all the details. The original film didn’t do any of that, and therefore, the movie wasn’t remotely scary. The requel, which I had a feeling would be far more violent to begin with, revels in the gore, letting its audience know every nasty detail, and horror movie fans will be quite pleased. Within the same franchise, it’s whisper and scream, and for this genre, the fans will always choose scream. Remember that.

6) Size Does Matter

I’ve noticed that size relativity stops at whatever adjective the narration writer believes is most appropriate for the given behemoth. But even me using the word behemoth will conjur beasts of different sizes depending on who is watching the film. Size relativity became a thing for me in both my watching of the original Dr Strange (with regards to Dormamu), and in Seventh Son (with the beast that craws out of the ground). I’ve visually seen Dormammu, which led me to this thought in the first place. i remember Dormammu being unreasonably large, and I felt like that adjective given to list his size doesn’t do him justice. later, I was left wondering just how big that creature was in Seventh Son. Size Relativity with characters that have no basis in reality is important, as you can describe them by comparing them to something else. Instead of using a simple word, why not say that Dormammu is 100 times the size of Dr Strange. The audience knows Strange is human, and since they too are human, they can now at least try to picture something that’s 100 times their size. or in other scenes, comparing them to the size of a building, like perhaps a 15 story building, with the width of a cruise ship… all of those things we have basis for in real life, and enhance the actual size of the characters by letting us know just how large is large. Because, Hulk is also large, and one might assume Dormammu is his size. He’s not.

7) When It’s In Question, more is Always The Safe Bet

When you’re sitting down to write audio description, more is always better. I can’t really think of a time where I’ve been like, please hold back the audio description. I know too much. The only exception being not on top of dialogue. But this tidbit rings most true with regard to any film that features things that don’t actually exist, are created out of the imagination of someone, or are futuristic enough that we need a grasp of the world these people live in first before we can really get going. I’ve seen and heard a mixture of great description and not so great even within the same project, where someone might describe one element really well, and another not so well. I thought, just recently, the character description for Jar Jar Binks (having seen him) was incorrect, whereas the description for Darth Maul (also, having seen him) was amazing. But the Star Wars films have a bad habit of assuming you know what something is based on having seen another Star Wars film, so trying to figure out where it all starts ws tough. not everyone gets the same level of description in Phantom menace, if they appear in Episodes 4-6, and then if you choose to skip the Phantom Menace, there is no character description for characters already introduced in episode 1 in Attack Of The Clones, aside from Anakin now being an adult. Halo did a great job using all the terminology, and describing the Spartans, but less so with the Aliens.

8) The Outfit is a near perfect film

Not only did I enjoy the film itself, but I don’t think there’s an easier film to describe, and the narration rearm made so much out of it. The film takes place entirely within one location, and is kind of a mystery, so we need to be able to follow clues, and within the runtime of the film, I felt like this small space was so well developed through the narration, I could have walked through the store myself and found whatever I needed. I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it, but this is an example of being handed a world class recipe and actually being able to deliver world classs food.

9) We Need Legislation

It would seem that a lot of projects are having their audio description paid for by the studio in charge of the film, something I’m learning about through my complaints of Disney’s narration of Chip n Dale. Disney was in charge of securing the audio description, and I’ve heard they’re quire active in securing all their audio descriptions. Why then, did Death on The Nile not appear with audio description on Hulu? That’s their service. And the film had audio description paid for already for its theatrical release, as well as having it if you got it on demand. If legislation tied the audio description to the film, then the film could jump from platform to platform, and it would always have it. It would have it on cable, no matter where it aired. And it’s about time that we require at least some percentage of audio description from all these channels and services that are dodging it. enough of Showtime and Starz airing their content without audio description, or Crunchyroll, Shudder, AMC Plus, bET Plus, or any of the other myriad of streaming services. Having NO accessibility shouldn’t be a thing. And having apps developed that are inaccessible should also not be a thing. It’s a pip dream, but it’s what should happen. It won’t.

10) I Still Lament Chip n Dale, And Likely Will Forever

I just learned today that the polar bear was the Coke Polar Bear. I didn’t even get that reference. honestly, I was wondering if he was Norm of the North, or something like that. The fact that I’m still finding out things because the audio description that Disney crafted chose to leave them out, is beyond frustrating. And I’ve let them know.

overall, I’ve seen quite a few films this year with excellent audio description. I’ve even really started to enjoy certain voices. The honest truth is that despite my criticisms, all of these audio descriptions, even the really bad ones, have still improved the film somehow, by filling in a gap I wouldn’t hav known otherwise, in a scene with no dialogue, an action sequence, through character description, or simply helping me keep track of character names. There’s never been a title where i thought I would turn the audio description off. The closest we came was jolt, but that stops after about the first 5-10 minutes, once Kate is done with her exposition.

So i guess, i really want to thank the narrators and their teams for the hard work they do. Can we still make this better? Sure. There are always ways to improve. I can improve. You can improve. That’s just life. And hopefully, by continuing to talk about audio description, and encourage these services to make more of it, we will end up with a plethora of titles at our disposal, and audio description that only can continue to get better from here, unless SkyNet prevails and everyone starts using Terminator Description.

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