Every feature-length movie distributed over the Internet needs to be closed captioned. That goes without saying. But there’s a special category of movie — the low-budget cheesy feature — that will likely be inaccessible to all viewers if the movie’s production values are not sufficiently high. I offer up as an example the movie Spill, a 1996 action flick starring former NFL linebacker Brian Bosworth. In Spill, according to MGM, “Brian Bosworth stars as a member of the President’s security staff dispatched to Yellowstone Park to save the planet from the effects of a biological weapons spill.”

Spill is currently available, uncaptioned, on Hulu.com. While Hulu offers a number of movies and TV episodes with closed captions, it offers many, many more without them. Currently (as of August 7, 2009), Hulu is streaming 27,561 TV episodes, only 1,275 of which are captioned (or 4.63%). Hulu is also streaming 576 full-length movies, only 37 of which are captioned (or 6.42%). Any attempt to include Hulu in a list of closed caption providers — such as this list — must be qualified with statistics to remind us how few videos on Hulu are actually closed captioned. Hulu is leading the way at a time when so few providers are offering captions, but Hulu also has a long way to go.

In this clip from the opening scene of Spill, a number of audio issues create uptake problems for hearing viewers, issues that might have been mitigated if closed captions were available on Hulu. These issues are the result of a number of poor choices during post-production, leading to a cacophony of competing sounds, including:

  • Excessively loud background music
  • Emergency announcements and countdown over the PA system
  • A siren blasting throughout the scene
  • Actors screaming/not articulating their words
  • Actors screaming through face masks, one of which is hilariously fogged up

No viewer should have to struggle to make out what the actors are saying. I’ve watched this clip enough times now to know what the two actors in the clip are shouting to each other, but I remember how frustrated I was on first viewing, sitting at the other side of the room from the TV, trying to make out even half of what they were yelling. Captions won’t address the cheese factor, but they’ll certainly provide a less frustrating experience for viewers who are trying to sift the wheat of dialogue from the chaff of poorly-chosen background music and other audio distractions.

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