British viewers tended not to notice the voiceover on the Danish thriller The Rain until 20 minutes in.
Dubbing is generally associated with clunky advert voiceovers, Bruce Lee films and vintage pornography. That is set to change, if Netflix gets its way.
The streaming platform has revolutionised the way we watch television but now faces what could be its biggest challenge yet — convincing Britons to embrace dubbed dramas.
The on-demand service’s biggest international series are being launched in Britain with dubbing as the default setting, despite British viewers being more accustomed to subtitles.
The Rain, a Danish post-apocalyptic thriller, and Dark, a German supernatural horror, both come dubbed as standard in the UK, to the befuddlement of some subscribers. Dubbing has long been the preferred method of translating foreign programmes in Italy, Germany and France but is uncommon in English-speaking countries. Popular overseas dramas such as The Bridge and The
Killing were shown with subtitles in Britain.
Netflix, however, has ploughed resources into improving the quality of drama voiceovers after internal research showed that viewers were more likely to finish a foreign-language series if the dialogue was dubbed rather than subtitled.
“Traditional English dubs have been around video games and kids’ animation; there hasn’t traditionally been a craft to it,” Erik Barmack, Netflix’s vice-president of international originals, said. “What we are saying is, let’s treat the language as if it is its own production and make sure that we can get good at that.”
The streaming service has appointed dubbing directors to ensure the highest possible quality. For added realism, the stars of foreign dramas are encouraged to dub themselves into English.
“In the case of The Rain, we actually had 80-90 per cent of the actors in the show do their own dubs,” Mr Barmack said. “The cast can all speak English, for the most part, so it was pretty natural for them. If you watch that show it’s not as clunky as some English dubs might appear.”
The dubbing in some Bruce Lee films leaves a lot to be desired.
Netflix’s production teams have become so adept that some British viewers of The Rain did not realise that they were watching a dubbed drama until deep into the first episode, he added: “You really don’t notice you’re in a different language until they’re in the bunker about 20 minutes into the story.”