To dub or not to dub? Fans of international films argue this question frequently, with purists preferring subtitles over the dreaded dubbing that rarely matches the actors’ mouths and inevitably compromises the viewing experience. Still, even the purest of the purists know that subtitles are just too much reading for the overwhelming majority of moviegoers, so dubbing persists.
In Poland, however, foreign films are presented most often with overdubbing by one voice, a male voice, simply repeating the dialogue a beat behind the actors, whose voices can still be heard at a lower volume. That’s how you end up with all the women of Sex and the City sounding like a gruff man in his early 50’s, like this:
This style of dubbing isn’t really dubbing at all; it’s more akin to narration, and yet the voiceover does repeat all the dialogue, which is not technically narration. So what you’re left with is a bizarre sound clash of the original actors’ voices and the overdubbing, a deep, droning, unmistakably male voice that intentionally makes no effort to capture the characterizations, gender, or age of the actors.
Lector, (or lektor in Polish), the Latin word for “one who reads,” is generally used in English in a religious context, but that’s how the Polish refer to their style of overdubbing. It’s considered an antiquated means of translation, also immeasurably cheaper than actually hiring voice over actors who would employ proper emotion and inflection in their voices, let alone be gender and age appropriate, and it seems Poland just likes it that way overall.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Lektoring began during the Cold War, when few Western shows were on Polish TV. When the Berlin Wall fell and TV imports became more common, conventional dubbing became popular in other former communist countries but never caught on in Poland.”
For those of us who are not used to lektor, the deep voice that always sounds the same can make even comedic scenes seem like clinical educational videos or sinister public service announcements. Watching entire films this way would be impossible to a lektor newbie, but here’s one, if you’d like to try:
Most cinemas in Poland reportedly offer an option of subtitles or lektor, and it seems that lektor remains standard in Poland because of basic human nature: go with what you know. Internet debates range from those saying “people simply got used to it” to blaming the “illiterates” who can’t bear with subtitles and begrudgingly accepting lektor.
Another Polish commenter in this heated thread on dreadful lektor puts his foot down, declaring, “…for me lektor is actually the best. So, all you foreigners – you can rant as much as you can, but you won’t change this – it is simply a well-established thing that Poles don’t like either dubbing or subtitles.”
Over on Reddit, many state a different preference while admitting defeat: “People are so used to watch[ing] films with lektor, they won’t give up on them. I prefer subtitles 100 times over lektor but when most of people wants [sic] boring guy there’s not much that can be done.” Still, there are just as many native Poles saying they prefer lektor, they’re used to it, and it can even help in learning English.
Let’s just all be thankful that big animation studios like Disney pony up the cash for proper dubbing and enjoy these beautiful Polish versions of classic songs: