The Conversation: Do Thick British Accents Hurt Attack the Block Abroad?

The Conversation: Do Thick British Accents Hurt Attack the Block Abroad?

May 26, 2011

This summer (or fall) will see a very exciting film hit theaters stateside that kinda-sorta came out of nowhere when it premiered at the SXSW Film Festival back in March. There aren't any stars in it (just a bunch of no-name neighborhood kids from South London and UK fave Nick Frost), and newcomer Joe Cornish is an unproven feature director. But the thing just knocked the fest's socks off with its slick premise (local thugs defend their home turf from aliens), fantastic action scenes and delicious overseas character. The geek crowd went nuts for it -- they're still going nuts -- and the film's ridiculous nerd-network buzz has led to several "fan screenings" prior to the announcement of its US release date.

Attack the Block opened third at the UK box office with $1,837,042 when it premiered there in early May, this despite the involvement of fan-friendly British talents Edgar Wright and his longtime collaborator/Attack the Block director Joe Cornish. As of now it's earned $3,125,934 worldwide, though it hasn't screened outside the UK.

At the film's premiere, Cornish asked the audience one question during the post-screening Q&A: Did the language get in the way of the film? Did the neighborhood kids' thick South London slang hurt the movie from the perspective of an American audience? He asked this because it had become a big discussion topic with potential distributors, and for a while there was a debate as to whether there should be subtitles. Loyal fans of those early screenings, however, fought against the subtitles, and from what I've heard they won't be included in the film's US theatrical release (though it might be smart to premiere it VOD and give viewers the option).

Tonight there were 25 more fan screenings of Attack the Block throughout the US and Canada. Following these screenings, I asked folks whether they thought the language got in the way. Here's the Twitter conversation that followed ...

@MattGoldberg: A little bit at the beginning, but once I adjusted to the dialect, I pretty much understood them.

@JackGi: Nope. Not at all.

@TwitchFilmTodd: It certainly doesn't help. Only really takes ten minutes or so to get into the flow, though, and intent is always clear.

@platypusjones: for the most part no, but I can see it having trouble playing in Peoria.

@RennBrown: At worst: a 5 minute learning curve. Also, the sound design is very well tuned at bringing important dialogue forward in the mix.

@tittergrrl: Not in the slightest! Everything made sense, and even if there was some slang you didn't know, you figured it out.

@rpringle: It takes a bit of time to acclimate to the patois, but the slang and accent helped make the movie for me. Wasn't a barrier.

@JamesWallace: Absolutely not. The Cockney slang and humor are what made it so uniquely British and charming. It's almost a character in itself.

@jarwatchesfilms: The language wasn't an issue. Subtitles in English for English-spoken film would be insulting.

@JeremyKKirk: ATTACK THE BLOCK's language is part of its character. We get the general idea. Not understanding certain words doesn't hurt it.

@davidehrlich: @JeremyKKirk how do you know it doesn't hurt if you couldn't understand them?

@JeremyKKirk: @davidehrlich I just can't imagine having seen it and thoroughly enjoying it that seeing it again with subtitles will make it more enjoyable. Like TRAINSPOTTING. I didn't get every word they were saying, but it still held my interest better than many American movies.

@davidehrlich: @JeremyKKirk sure, the energy translates, but the characters are so rich & particular that i have to think every lost moment is a huge waste. I will never, ever, never ever watch that movie withour subs *if* that option is available to me.

@JeremyKKirk: I tend to think there is so much said in ATTACK THE BLOCK that doesn't pertain to dialogue that it's almost a non-issue.

@Davidehrlich: @JeremyKKirk i agree to an extent, but that dialogue was included for a reason. i want to understand it *because* i enjoyed the movie.

@McGeek84: rarely did I not understand them. Also, I assumed they were probably colloquialisms I wouldn't have known anyway.

@TheFilmStage: god no, that was one of my favorite elements of it. If they add subtitles, it will totally take away from the experience.

@EDouglasWW: Yeah, some of the early jokes definitely got lost on the crowd (and me, and I've been watching Monty Python since 10). But only in the first 20 minutes... after a while, it was more about the action and the guys enunciated and it was fine. @TheFilmStage, you wouldn't even notice them. Most of the people who'd see this are used to subtitles for English in video games.

@TheFilmStage: @EDouglasWW, I honestly think one would pay more attention to every bit, if they had to focus on what was being said.

@kateyrich: agreeing with @EDouglasWW in general. Some jokes and references were lost but it's part of the experience.

@davidehrlich: ATB still works & wordplay is less critical than the energy, but when that % of dialogue is unclear, the film inevitably suffers. Subs aren't for the stupid or a concession, in this case english on english would allow character to shine. worked in THE ARBOR. Though i do think inscrutability of the kids' lingo assists the "adults don't understand" angle. it's a tough call.

@EricDSnider: I liked ATTACK THE BLOCK, but I couldn't make out the words a lot of the time. The accents are thick, the enunciation casual.

Categories: Features
Tags: Edgar Wright
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