European Union and dubbing vs. subtitling films?

In a long and rambling conversation with a friend yesterday, we were discussing subtitling vs. dubbing films. (I much prefer subtitles; dubbing annoys me to death, and subtitled films are a great way to learn a new language.) My friend told me that a Romanian he just met informed him that as part of joining the E.U., Romanian and Bulgaria will now have to dub their films for European release rather than subtitling them.

Is there anything to this? And if so, what earthly reason is there to force a country to do one or the other as a general practice?

He’s talking out of his nether cleavage.
As far as I know, dubbing is widely practiced in Europe, the only exceptions to this seem to be Belgium and the Netherlands (where I live). However, dubbing every movie in every European language isn’t just strange, it’s also commercial suicide. It takes a big budget to properly dub a movie, let alone in multiple languages.

Sounds unlikely to me. Some EU countries tend to have dubbed films and shows on TV, e.g. France, whereas others often show them with subtitles e.g. Netherlands and Nordic countries. I suspect the disparity is partly due to national pride and partly economics - it is expensive to dub a film and probably not worth it for the relatively small potential audience of Swedish speakers. Several Dutch and Swedish acquaintances have attributed their countries’ generally high level of English speakers in part to the number of English language TV they watch.

In my experience of dubbed vs. subbed tv and films, the age of the intended audience is a big factor. If the program is aimed towards kids, then it’s dubbed. (Disney’s Hercules is funnier when dubbed in Icelandic.) If the target audience is older than, say, 12, the program is subtitled. Personally, I prefer subtitles, but that’s mostly because I’m used to subtitles over dubbing.

You can also get up to 31 (I think) subtitle tracks on a DVD. You could subtitle the movie in all of the EU’s official languages as well as subtitling the director’s comments.

That wouldn’t help in a movie theater, though.

True, but logically the subtitles or dubbing would be in the language of the country in which the cinema was.

My experience in attending films/watch TV films both in the US and in France is that dubbing is far more prevalent in France (the only English subtitled film I’ve ever seen in French theatres or TV was “Looking for Richard” ~10 years ago; I can’t recall the last theatrically-released film I saw in the US that was dubbed).

I actually discussed this with a few folks, and the consensus seems to be that in the US, dubbing is associated with the horrible dubbing seen in many Chop-saki or Anime films. These films have been so heavily parodied both for the lack of synchronization and the stilted translations that if people hear a film is dubbed, they conclude it must be dubbed badly.

Regarding that last point, the french-film dubbing I saw was actually well-done. I am by no means a completely fluent French speaker–so I may not be the best judge of what sounds stilted in French–but the dubbed translation seemed reasonable, and the dialogue with only a few unavoidable exceptions was certainly well-synchronized.

I take it you’ve haven’t seen many Eastern European dubs. They are often done extremely cheaply, with a single voice actor speaking every character’s lines in a subdued monotone voice. (The original soundtrack is still slightly audible, so you can hear the original actors’ vocal nuances, as well as the atmospheric noise, incidental music, and sound effects.) It’s pretty much like listening to an interpreter. The cost of doing this is the same as subtitling, plus whatever the going rate is to pay someone to read a two-hour script into a microphone: in other words, insignificant.

I’m not aware of there being any Romanian or Bulgarian films in general release in EU theaters, but I guess there must be some occasionally. On the other hand, a lot of French movies are now being shot in Romania for economic reasons.

As for the dubbing question, if they want to achieve commercial success, yes it would be better if any films were dubbed. While it’s true that subtitling of theater and TV releases is common in some markets (Switzerland used to have ‘stacked’ multilingual subtitles, less now) if you want to reach a broad audience, it’s better not to expect them to read the movie. I’m not sure where ‘force’ would come into the issue though - are you thinking of investors imposing multiple language versions at the production level ? Or maybe distributors making it a condition ? I haven’t done this for a while, but at one time we used to add the dubbed sound locally just before the release. On one memorable occasion I found myself dubbing an Italian film into English in Paris for use on transatlantic flights. As regards subtitling, it’s often done several times for different releases with different language sets, with the rights of each set belonging to different organizations (different regions, DVD etc).

Hopefully somebody who knows the business side better than me will be able to make it clearer.

I work for a major subtitling, dubbing, and captioning company. I can tell you that as far as DVD releases go, this is not true. I would have heard about it if it was the case. Some countries have laws about movies and TV shows which require titles to be translated, but I have heard of nothing about a switch, forced or otherwise, to dubbing over subtitling for any language.

I cannot speak for theatrical releases, though it makes little sense to me to require theatrical releases to be dubbed but not DVD releases.