The Dark Knight Rises audio: the movie's other Bane?

9th Jan 2012 | 09:00

The Dark Knight Rises audio: the movie's other Bane?

We speak to DTS and Dolby about the sound quality

The Dark Knight Rises audio

The Dark Knight Rises prologue currently being shown off in selected IMAX cinemas has not just caused a storm with fans wanting to catch a glimpse of how director Christopher Nolan will end his Batman vision, but also with audio enthusiasts who have been questioning the sound mix of the footage.

Those who have been lucky enough to see the prologue at the IMAX will agree that the six minute clip, which introduces the main antagonist Bane, is exhilarating stuff which leaves you wanting more. But when it comes to understanding just what Bane says, the response has been, well, a touch muted.

Just last week, there was rumour that Nolan, known for having the utmost control over his movies, had tweaked the audio due to studio and public demand and that a new sound mix was playing in IMAX cinemas.

A statement from IMAX, however, denied this is the case – despite many fans, according to Collider, who have seen the prologue a number of times insisting the footage was definitely cleaned up to make the masked Bane that little bit easier to understand.

To put the clip into some context, while not going down the spoiler route, the prologue does involve Bane in a mask and a very noisy plane. So should the dialogue clarity really be criticised?

The dark knight rises

According to the Hollywood Reporter, however, industry insiders believe that if the audio mix is the same for the rest of the movie, then this could cause major problems when the movie is released and that Warner is "scared to death of the situation".

With so much emphasis put on picture quality in both the cinema and the home, what The Dark Knight Rises audio has done is emphasise the importance of sound quality in filmmaking.

To understand a little more about just why getting the right sound mix can make or break a movie, TechRadar contacted two of the sound industry's biggest companies, DTS and Dolby, to get their thoughts on the situation.

"People have got much more savvy when it comes to audio," explained Ted Laverty, Director of Business Development atDTS, speaking to TechRadar.

"Expectations are higher, viewers are cognoscente, so you have to be really careful when it comes to things like muffly speech."

Laverty believes it's the advent of Blu-ray in the home which has made moviegoers into audiophiles, as this more capacious format has meant that lossless audio can now be heard through affordable home entertainment systems.

DTS

"We are now able to bring pure losslesss audio [to the home] so we are seeing that consumers are valuing high-quality audio.

"TVs have gotten thinner, there are more pixels but people are now thinking that I can spend a few hundred quid to get access to these lossless formats.

"We believe your audio transport format should not be getting in the way of movie watching. As a viewer, you want to be having an experience that is not frustrating.

"We don't like people mumbling or being muffled. I sometimes find that when you get that from movies not on Blu-ray, you do notice and it does get in the way."

Julian Pinn, Director of Live Content Services at Dolby, agreed that audio formats have improved so much that consumers are now more in tune when it comes to deciphering good and bad audio.

"We are seeing an increasing number of movies being mixed in Dolby Surround 7.1," explained Pinn.

"While 5.1 surround sound revolutionised the movie audio experience, films presented in a discrete 7.1 mix now not only raise the bar for the director and the sound mixer, but also deliver an improved audio experience to exhibitors and their patrons.

"By using eight discrete channels to establish four surround zones within a cinema, it improves panning and sound localisation, enhances definition, and expands the listening sweet spot."

Dolby

So, if sound has improved to such an extent why has a movie like The Dark Knight Rises been criticised for its audio clarity?

Pinn told TechRadar that there are a number of factors that can alter a movie's soundtrack which need to be considered.

"Some typical challenges to sound quality do indeed exist through the chain from production through to exhibition ranging from set or location noise that needs cleaning up, replacement lines and delivery that needs optimising, and the varying sizes, shapes and condition of cinema auditoria around the world.

"Dolby is often involved at every stage of a movie's soundtrack creation to help achieve optimum results and to help cinemas reproduce the directors' artistic intent with the highest integrity.

"Occasionally of course [bad audio] can be caused by something as simple as a fault in the audio playback at the cinema, poor layout of a theatre and faulty speakers, although generally these days, cinemas pride themselves on providing a high quality surround sound experience."

We may never know if The Dark Knight Rises' prologue's audio clarity was creative or technical but given the fact that The Dark Knight was awarded an Oscar for sound editing, there is no denying that Nolan is very aware of the importance of audio in his movies.

The Dark Knight Rises trailer does have seem to have a more eloquent Bane and it's hard to disagree that the prologue was lessened by the character's muffled speech – the clip's fantastic set piecs and the fact it looked stunning on 70mm IMAX film meant that your senses were blown regardless.

Roll on July so we can see which of Nolan's banes the world will be talking about – the character, or the movie's audio.

The Dark Knight Rises UK release date is 20 July 2012.

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Liked this? Then check out Are cinemas under threat from video on demand?

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