Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Russian Subtitles

After 11 hours of flying and one stop-over and the painful memory of the in-flight movie, Toy Story 3 (painful because I actually enjoyed it), I landed at Domodyedova International in Moscow. I stepped out of the airport and it immediately began snowing, heralding in the earliest snowfall in Moscow in 27 years. My super-natural ability to cause all sorts of natural mishaps wherever I travel is in fine shape.

Two buses, three metro station changes, one elektrishka commuter train and two hours later, I was back in Katya's living room sipping on wine, eating crackers and delicious Russian cheese, and watching The Wedding Singer with my wife.

Since meeting Katya, more than a year ago now, I have discovered a whole new world of manipulating movie files to add subtitles to them. Most films in Russia are dubbed, a fact that annoys me to no end. Dubbing is stupid and lazy and nearly all of the emotion of the actors is lost. The quality of dubbing in Russia varies, but most of the time it is very, very poor. I once watched Role Models on DVD that was dubbed using only one man's voice for all the characters, including children and women. He read it in a very monotone, factual fashion and I only made it thirty minutes into the movie when I demanded it be turned off.

Other times the dubbing is so sloppy that you can hear the original voices underneath it, creating a confusing mess of speech that is more difficult to concentrate on than the actual images on the screen.

Myself, I would much rather watch a foreign film with subtitles, and I can't understand why Russians opt for the crappy voice-overs. Movies are supposed to be entertaining and relaxing and, hopefully, informative. Concentrating on foreign languages and suffering through a painful news anchors voice reading a script doesn't meet those criteria, which is why I demand that when Katya and I watch films, we use subtitles.

It took me a while, but eventually I figured out how to find, download, adjust the frame rate and apply the subtitles to almost any film we are watching.

I use VLC media player because it will play movies in any format, but Katya prefers Windows Media Player because it is sparkly. Both of these players require different methods to watch subtitles.

First, I go to or and type in the name of the film + "russian subtitles" (eg: The Wedding Singer Russian Subtitles). A whole bunch of links to sites will appear. For Russian subtitles, which are harder to find, and are two of the better ones. For other languages,, and are great (but suck for Russian files).

Subtitle files are usually stored in .zip format and they are very, very small; a few kilobytes at the most. Simply download the file, making sure to put it in the same folder as your movie file.

That was the easy part. Getting the subtitles to play at the same speed as your movie can take some work. If you're lucky, which I am from time to time, it will already be perfectly synchronized, but 80% of the time it won't be. You need to test it first.

If you are using VLC Media Player, open the player and click on "file>open" and in the form load your movie file. Underneath that is a box that says "Use subtitles". Check that box and a new form will become available. Load your subtitle file and click on "Advanced". You need to load the language, as VLC will automatically play it using Latin letters. If it is Russian, you need to fool around with the different options (MacCyrillic, Ukrainian, and a bunch of numbers. I find ISP1250 to work best). Click "OK" and your film will automatically start.

If you are using Windows Media Player you need to fool around with the actual file first, although not too much. Simply ensure that the subtitle file has the exact same name as the movie file, but ends in ".srt". It is very important that the subtitle file and movie file are in the same folder. Open the movie file in WMP and the subtitles will play automatically.

At this point, regardless of which player you are using, you need to first check to make sure that the timing of the subtitles is in synch with the movie. If it is too slow or too fast, it will only get worse as the movie plays. The frame rates are accumalitive, so if a subtitle is playing 5 seconds too fast at the beginning, after two hours it will be playing 125 seconds too fast by the end, making for very confusing watching. You need to change this.

I did a simple search on google and found Subtitle Workshop 4.0. It's very easy to use, is a small file and, best of all, it's free!

Open Subtitle Workshop 4.0 and click on "file>load new" and find your wayward subtitle file. The program can only read Latin letters so if you have a subtitle file with a different alphabet, such as Cyrillic in my case, it will show only a bunch of non-sensical characters. That's okay. We don't care what's written there, we only care about when it will appear.

After you've loaded the subtitles, go to "Movie>load movie" and add your movie file. Now it's important to have either a piece of paper and a writing utensil or NoteNote open, because you'll need to record the start and end times of the where you want the subtitles to be.

In Workshop, watch your film and see where the first subtitle should appear. Some subtitles appear for every written word on the screen (actors names, etc) while others only start with the first spoken word. Almost all show the name of the film. You'll need to figure that out on your own.

When you've decided where the first subtitle should appear, write down the time (under the movie on the left). Now skip to the end of the film and figure out where the last subtitle should appear and write down that time.

Go to "Edit>Timings>Adjust>Adjust Subtitles" and enter your new first and last times. It will automatically adjust all the subtitles to these new parameters.

Because you're probably smarter than me, you'll figure out to save the newly-adjusted subtitles at this point, and not try to load it in the film without saving it and expecting it to magically work. Like I did. The first four times. I called the wrath of the gods down upon my computer before I realized I hadn't saved the file.

Once I did that, however, it worked like magic, and after a long flight and 8 time zones and reverse-reverse culture shock, my wife and I were comfortably giggling away to Adam Sandler in the Wedding Singer, with her enjoying the perfectly synched subtitles and me enjoying hearing the actors voices. My next project? Toy Story 3.

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