Christopher Nolan Addresses INTERSTELLAR Sound Problems

     November 17, 2014

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Christopher Nolan has a reputation for being incredibly meticulous when it comes to the presentation of his films.  He has lobbied in the past to have film IMAX projectors reinstalled in theaters that have been converted to digital, and he makes a point to visit a number of different theaters to personally test out the visual and audio presentation of his movies.  It’s an admirable attention to detail that shows the filmmaker genuinely cares about how his films are being experienced, and that made it all the more confusing when reports started flooding in about sound problems with his latest release, Interstellar.  Many complained that the sound mix on the film was muddled, making it difficult to hear important pieces of dialogue.  The complaints were quite large in number, but not very consistent (I saw the film in IMAX and had no trouble understanding dialogue while others cited the IMAX presentation as the worst, audio-wise).

Nevertheless, Nolan has broken his silence on the purported Interstellar sound issues, explaining that he chose an “adventurous and creative” sound mix for the self-described experimental film.  Read on after the jump.

christopher-nolan-interstellarSpeaking with THR, Nolan admitted that he took an atypical approach to the sound mix on Interstellar:

“I’ve always loved films that approach sound in an impressionistic way and that is an unusual approach for a mainstream blockbuster, but I feel it’s the right approach for this experiential film.”

Nolan elaborated on the sound mix, saying in some instances he favored Hans Zimmer’s  majestic score over dialogue:

Describing his approach to the movie’s sound mix as “adventurous and creative,” Nolan told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview Friday, “Many of the filmmakers I’ve admired over the years have used sound in bold and adventurous ways. I don’t agree with the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue. Clarity of story, clarity of emotions — I try to achieve that in a very layered way using all the different things at my disposal — picture and sound.”

interstellar-wes-bentley-anne-hathawayThe filmmaker went one better and even described some of the film’s dialogue as sound effects:

“There are particular moments in this film where I decided to use dialogue as a sound effect, so sometimes it’s mixed slightly underneath the other sound effects or in the other sound effects to emphasize how loud the surrounding noise is. It’s not that nobody has ever done these things before, but it’s a little unconventional for a Hollywood movie.”

Nolan went on to say that they “mixed for months and months” and “talked about everything”, adding that “everything we are doing is intended to communicate something to the audience.”  So, in summation, no there are no problems with your theater—that’s the way it’s supposed to sound.

Though I personally didn’t have trouble hearing anything in my screening of Interstellar (which was in digital IMAX), I’m not sure I’m crazy about the “dialogue as sound effect” argument.  Audiences are trained to listen to the characters, and if someone went to the trouble of writing a line, you’d think it was important to the filmmaker that the audience heard what was actually said.  Despite a runtime of nearly 3 hours, that’s precious little time to tell a complete story and I can’t imagine a filmmaker dismissing some of the dialogue in the movie as unimportant ambient noise.  There’s a difference between making the audience lean in to pay close attention (like the club scene in The Social Network) and intentionally drowning out the dialogue.

What do you think about all this, readers?  Did you have trouble hearing any of the dialogue in Interstellar?  Were you impressed by Nolan’s atypical approach to the mix, or would you have rather had more dialogue-focused audio?  Do you think dialogue can be successfully used as a sound effect?  Sound off in the comments below.

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