SANTA ANA — Clutching a tub of popcorn as big as her lap, 9-year-old Deanne Bailes shrieked when the bigger-than-life image of Michael J. Fox dived into his futuristic DeLorean sports car and vanished with a thunderclap and an explosion of light.
Her squeal of excitement matched that of her mother, 41-year-old Donna Riles. The Los Alamitos woman jumped when the sports car disappeared, her left knee jerking against the tub, scattering popcorn onto her teen-age son sitting in the next seat.
A few rows back, a giggling girl took in the scene and nudged her companion, whispering, "Is this her first movie?"
The answer, for both mother and daughter, was yes.
The Saturday matinee showing of "Back to the Future Part II" in Santa Ana was the first open-captioned movie for the deaf to be screened in the county.
Captioned movies are similar to the subtitling seen on foreign films. Only about six major releases, including "A Fish Called Wanda" and "The Big Chill" are available to the deaf, said Steve Longacre, principal of the Taft Hearing Impaired Elementary School in Santa Ana and organizer of the Saturday screening.
The few big-screen versions are in high demand, he said. For example, "Back to the Future Part II" had been flown in from Chicago only hours before its Orange County showing.
"I think what this says," commented Longacre, who is deaf, "is that there is a definite need for this type of entertainment to be available to us."
More than 200 people bought tickets to the showing, which benefited Taft Elementary School.
Organizers of the event were hoping to ride a successful screening into a regular program in Orange County, sponsored by the Edwards Cinemas chain.
In a recent interview, Jim Edwards, who owns the largest chain of movie theaters in the county, said he would support showing open-captioned films if Saturday's benefit demonstrated that there is an audience for the films.
"I think we were very successful today," Longacre said. "I think we showed that we could at the least hold screenings" every three months.
Currently, the county's 150,000 hearing-impaired who want to see a movie have two choices, Longacre said. They can travel to Hollywood for an occasional open-captioned showing or attempt to attend a local theater and lip-read, which Longacre says usually means about a 35% comprehension rate.
"I can't tell you how frustrating it is to have the whole audience erupt in laughter, and you sit there waiting for someone to explain the joke to you," Longacre said. "We just want a chance to experience what the hearing world takes for granted."
Jason Yingst, a 6-year-old Taft student, liked what he saw Saturday.
Bouncing excitedly on the edge of his seat throughout the two-hour show--his first--Jason signed to his grandmother that he would "like to have one this big in my bedroom."
Asked if he would like to come back soon, Jason's answer needed no translation. A broad smile stretched across his face as he nodded vigorously.
About 40 Taft students were on hand at the Edwards Cinema in Santa Ana. The school, which teaches more than 100 deaf children from La Habra to San Juan Capistrano, is part of the Santa Ana Unified School District.
The screening was sponsored by the school's parent group, which hopes to finance the subtitling of another studio release.
"We would love to get 'The Little Mermaid' open-captioned," Longacre said. "Animation is very easy for children to follow."
Open-captioning is a very slow, very expensive process, he said. "The amount of time it takes to synchronize the words is immense."
But the results are worth waiting for, said Jim Taub, 29, a hearing-impaired man living in Orange.
"It would mean a lot to me not to have to wait until a movie comes out in video," he said. "It would close the gap between the deaf and the hearing just a little bit more."