Jane Cordell: My cinema experience – or, how Jack Reacher became a Hobbit

Posted on February 11, 2013

When I told my Dad we were going to see the film Jack Reacher, he said it wasn’t for him. He said he had read the books by Lee Child and in them, the trouble-shooting Jack Reacher was a immense man- tall and thick-set. Dad said Tom Cruise was the wrong actor to play him. Little did I know that Jack Reacher was about to shrink further. In fact shrink to the diminutive proportions of a Hobbit. Here’s how…

As ever with captioned films, you have to try to get to the very few screenings available. New Year’s day is one of the deadest bank holidays and the wet, dank atmosphere hanging even more heavily than usual over the north west didn’t improve this. But this was when Jack Reacher was being shown. So we braved the weather and set off to Salford Quays to see the film. It would be worth it, we felt. Hmm.

We were two of an audience of approximately twelve in a huge auditorium. We sat through the (uncaptioned of course) ads and trailers. The film started. The first 10 minutes or so were visual with no dialogue. Then one actor started to speak – incomprehensibly, for me.

No captions.

My (hearing) husband sighed deeply and set off to tell the staff to switch the captions on. This was the second time this had happened at this cinema and neither of us was happy about it. He returned, saying the staff said they could not stop the film because 15 minutes (by then) had elapsed. So we now both left the film to remonstrate with staff. We spent about 10 minutes explaining why they should, in fact, stop the film, rewind and play the advertised captioned version.

Success.They were persuaded. We returned to the film. They stopped the film and a cinema official said they would need to reshow the film because some of the audience needed captions. The fact we had left the auditorium twice made it obvious to the other ten members of the audience who needed the captions. This could have been embarrassing, but I have long learned not to be embarrassed by situations I have not caused. Darkness returned. Then a minute later the film continued. Without captions.

I was now seriously unhappy. As was my husband. We left the auditorium. We remonstrated again. An acutely embarrassed manager explained that the cinema did not have the right version of the film – the one with captions for people with hearing loss. ‘How could this have happened?’ I asked. He said he needed to find out. We were assertive. He checked the list of ordered films and said, even more embarrassed, that the captioned version had not even been ordered. It was not in the cinema. Squirming, he admitted that this meant they would not be able to show the film with captions for about two weeks as they would have to order the right version.

Didn’t this suggest several levels of error, I asked? – at one level, the captioned version had been advertised on their website and on the specialist ‘Your Local Cinema’ website, but nobody had checked prior to the screening that the right film was to be shown.

But at another level, whoever had been responsible for ordering the films had not checked the order against their own planned programme. Yes, he said, and was profusely apologetic, offering free tickets to another captioned film, even a set of VIP-style seats. We exchanged contact details.

We were powerless to turn this desolate evening into the enjoyable couple of hours of escapism we so badly needed. We returned to the murk which seemed to hank even more darkly over Salford.

The Vue manager was true to his word. He arranged 10 free VIP seats to see ‘The Hobbit’ a week later with captions. We had the pleasure of being able to invite several friends, hearing and deaf. Vue’s ‘gold class’ seats are seriously luxurious with the real novelty of both reclining seat and extendable foot support. The film was superb and everyone enjoyed it. We had been planning to see The Hobbit anyway, but this was an enhanced version. I thanked the manager.

We also followed up with a senior customer service manager at Vue. She took the situation seriously. We pointed out that the choice of captioned screenings is so limited that getting it wrong obliterates their deaf and hard of hearing customers from getting to see the film at all. The manager provided me with reassurances that the staff responsible would be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

Here is the statement she gave:

‘Vue Cinemas are committed to provide subtitled performances at all of its UK cinemas; we strive to provide at least two performances each week and will continue to invest in new technology to improve these services. It is with regret that we learnt of the issues at Vue Lowry and are taking appropriate action.’

I believe her. I am glad that the cinema is ‘committed’ to providing at least some kind of customer service for people with hearing loss. And I appreciate the response of the manager at Salford. But all this doesn’t remove the impact of the two bleak and fruitless evenings we had experienced there not seeing, on the first occasion, Skyfall and on the next, Jack Reacher. Nor does it make up for having to expend significant time and energy negotiating about what happened, instead of relaxing and recharging.

I noticed recently that Vue seemed to have finally got hold of the elusive Mr Reacher with captions and was advertising a screening. But by now charmed by the shorter character of Mr Baggins, and more than a little wary, we decided not to risk it. How sad that two such die-hard cinema fans – some 8% of the audience at the showing – should feel this way.

So what can we do about this? Not that much. But we must keep asserting our needs. I warned the Vue manager that providing such poor service for an already extremely limited choice of showings could mean creating a vicious circle where those who need captions don’t bother to even try seeing films on the big screen. He agreed that this is something they definitely don’t want.

I have also discussed this with the independent ‘Cornerhouse’ cinema in Manchester. I noticed that audio-described versions of films were available about 10 times more often than captioned ones. The management admitted, that non-deaf cinema goers do complain about captioned screenings, whereas the special headphones for visually impaired people didn’t affect other audience members.

The senior Vue manager said they were looking into the new high-tech glasses through which only the viewer would see captions. But at the moment the technology is still being perfected. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, the not-very-good service develops and, let us hope, improves.

Jane Cordell runs Getting Equal, a social enterprise promoting equality. Deaf since adulthood, she chairs DaDa Fest and is a Trustee for Manchester Deaf Centre and Disability Rights UK. She Tweets as @CordellJane

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