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    Christopher Nolan's sound in Tenet
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    https://www.theguardian.com/film/202...und-technology

    I've complained about the sound in Nolan's films for years, and I'm not the only one. I found the sound in Dunkirk so bad I spent the movie wearing hearing protectors. I've never heard movie sound clipped like that (it turns out the sound on the blu-rays is clipped too -- it's not the theaters' equipment, it's the source that's clipped). It may well be director's choice, but for this viewer it detracts from the movie. I want to be immersed in a movie -- Nolan's intentionally crappy sound won't let me.

    Here's the thing that's bugging me about all this. Nolan claims to want to be the savior of the movie theaters, demanding that we see (his) movies on the big screen. I'm OK with that. But then he makes the sound of his movies uncomfortably loud, with dialog that is uncomfortably muffled, which makes me want to avoid his movies in the theaters. How does he reconcile that?


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    Indeed. You could say that clear dialog is more important than clear framing. Perhaps it is the most important thing. After all, stories used to be sent by radio.

    I hate turning on the subtitles. Reading text is uncinematic. But sometimes I have to do it. For what it's worth, it isn't new. The last movie I did it for was from 1985. But I doubt I would ever have to do it for a movie from 1935. Usually the subtitles are needed for the modern "realistic" mumbled acting, not because of competing sound effects.

    I'm surprised that it is Christopher Nolan who is neglecting or even intentionally obscuring dialog. I would be less surprised if it was a stuntman-turned-director, making B-grade action movies. Nolan is a screenwriter famous for his screenwriting.


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    Senior Member Rick R's Avatar
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    Overtly loud S/FX and low level dialog (w/ mumbling actors) is all to common. By the time it gets to limited dynamic range TVs, it is even worse. I often have to ride gain with the remote to watch recent movies on TV, even on a TV with good speakers, a sound bar or headphones.


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    I saw Dunkirk at the Chinese in Los Angeles, and the bass was so overpowering it made me physically nauseous. I moved a few rows back and over and it wasn't as bad. Something about the acoustics of the room, I had sat right where bass frequencies were most intense. This happens in my own home theater, there is a spot where the bass is dramatically louder. I didn't have a problem with Tenet's sound. I saw it in Dolby Atmos in a completely empty theatre. It was loud, but not obnoxiously so, and I could make out the dialogue fine. I think Nolan just rides the dynamics of his mix right to the edge of system capability and if it's not shown in an optimal environment, you get issues. Interstellar made my home theater's subwoofer start burning.
    "Money doesn't make films...You just do it and take the initiative." - Werner Herzog


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    You know, I have to admit, I'm guilty of the 'too loud' syndrome. A long time ago, far, far, away, I made a short for the annual Lucasfilm employee meeting to represent Skywalker Sound. When it was presented in the theater, they had one of the sound mixers sit in the middle of the theater to ride the volume. When my short came up, I told him "make their ears bleed". He ignored me. Looking back, I'm ashamed of myself.

    Stinking directors, they're all the same.
    Last edited by Paul F; 09-03-2020 at 02:28 PM.


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    Sound Ninja Noiz2's Avatar
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    Not all dialog needs to be heard or understandable, sometimes it is part of the "world" the movie lives in. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Wire come to mind. But I would add some sterisks to that. First if you are watching a film in a commercial theatre and the sound suck it may well be the theatre. If you are in a screening like an academy screening the theatre should be fine and the suckiness is in the film. Every film I worked on did a separate mix for DVD and that was just SOP at every facility I know. So what you hear on DVD is not really the same as what gets played in the theatre, extremely close but not the same. Generally dialog would be more compressed in a video version.

    that said there are some really bad mixes out there and the ones I know the back story on all lead to a director. Public Enemy was god awful to listen to and I saw it in a screening room at Skywalker so it wasn't the system. I saw the second MATRIX film in a theatre and even with hearing protection it was WAY too loud. 300 was WAY WAY too loud and I saw it in a screening so I know it was the mix. Everyone at the screening was looking for something to stuff in their ears. BTW this is a good reason to always carry ear plugs. You can get ones custom fit to your ears (a bit pricey but they have a flat response) mix techs often wear them and I am sure some mixers would like to... But there are off the shely ones that are pretty flat that are cheap. I think they were "Dr.? something) and they made full closed standard ones and ones that had a small hole so you didn't loose all the highs. I just carry them everywhere because you just never know when things are going to get loud.
    Last edited by Noiz2; 09-10-2020 at 08:00 AM.
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    Yes, I try to remember my ear plugs when I go to the theater too. I don't always use them, but I have learned to have them just in case.


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    Hey you kids, get outta my eardrums!

    I don't love the way Nolan mixes his films, but I kinda get the stylistic intent. I thought it worked well for me in Interstellar. To each their own of course.

    This isn't anything new. Robert Altman was fired by Warner Brothers from his first studio feature after he submitted a cut with his signature overlapping dialogue (the movie, Countdown, was recut and remixed by the studio to somewhat middling results). On another film (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, a personal favorite of mine) a couple of prints were rushed for critics screenings and were done improperly, leading to a dim image and muddled audio. This on a film that utilized flashing for muted tones and multilayered dialog for added naturalism, making these screening a near-disaster for the movie. Altman had to fight to get his audio the way he liked for much of his career, but when his movies worked the audio worked brilliantly (case in point, Nashville).
    Mitch Gross
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick R View Post
    Overtly loud S/FX and low level dialog (w/ mumbling actors) is all to common....
    A lot of sports is broadcast like that too. Unintentionally, I assume.

    I am beginning to watch most sports on mute anyway. "He shoots. He scores!". Ya, thanks, chub. I just saw that.

    PS. Some highlight mixes have audio running before video. "Oh, what a goal!". OK, thanks for ruining for me. The next time, try to sync the two.


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