One of the things I love about being an AV journalist is getting invited to industry events, especially when they're held almost literally in my back yard. Last night, I attended just such an event—a pre-Oscars party to celebrate the nominees for Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, hosted by Dolby Labs at its Burbank offices.
Dolby sure knows how to throw a party!
When I arrived, the party was in full swing, with lots of great food and drink and people packed into the space like sardines. It was also very loud—I measured an average sound-pressure level of around 86 dBC.
Fortunately, there was an area of respite from the noise—the screening room, where clips from the nominated movies were being shown continuously throughout the evening. (Granted, the sound got very loud in there as well, but that was mostly momentary, not continuous.) I've been in that theater several times, and I've always found the sound to be a bit too bright for my taste, but it was a lot better than the cacophony just outside the soundproof doors.
Four movies are nominated in both categories: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and Lone Survivor. All Is Lost is in the running for Best Sound Editing, while Inside Llewyn Davis is nominated for Best Sound Mixing.
I entered the theater during the clip from Inside Llewyn Davis, when folk-singer Llewyn is sleeping on a friend's couch and then plays a set at a coffee house just before a young Bob Dylan takes the stage, after which Llewyn gets beaten up in the alley behind the club. The sound was excellent, including the meowing of the friend's cat, Llewyn's guitar and voice, and the punches and kicks of his beatdown, all of which were clearly delineated and well placed in the surround soundfield.
Next up was Lone Survivor—the scene in which the American SEAL team engages in a firefight with Taliban soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan. Before the bullets start flying, the Americans whisper to each other, which was clearly intelligible. Once the shooting started, it was too loud for me, so I put my fingers in my ears, but not before noticing that the gunshots and flying bullets all sounded quite realistic—in fact, a bit too realistic for my comfort.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is one of only two nominees with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which was well-demonstrated in the scene where Bilbo Baggins first encounters the dragon in the great hall of Erebor. (As you might expect, Dolby's own screening room is fully equipped with an Atmos sound system.) The sound of all those gold coins shifting as Bilbo and the dragon roam around the hall was clean and clear, as were the voices of both characters, and the sound of Smaug followed him all around the hemispherical soundfield as he towered over Bilbo.
The clip from Robert Redford's All Is Lost was very effective, from the delicate sounds of sea, wind, creaks from the ship, and the pulley ratchet he uses to climb the mast, to the thunder in the approaching storm and the deluge of rain all around once the storm hits. There was no dialog in this clip—as I understand it, there's virtually no dialog in the entire movie (I haven't seen the movie yet)—but the sounds are all beautifully crafted to make you feel like you're right there with him.
Gravity is the other nominee with an Atmos soundtrack. The clip they showed last night was when Dr. Ryan Stone is trying to leave the International Space Station in a Soyuz capsule. The sound of alarms in the capsule was entirely convincing, and the sound mixers placed the music all around as well. It sounded as good as I remember when I saw it in an Atmos theater.
Finally, I saw the scene from Captain Phillips in which the Somali pirates approach, board, and take over the Maersk Alabama. The sound of the fire hoses and gunfire filled the soundfield, and the dialog was clear and intelligible. In addition, the music was mixed with the other sounds very effectively.
All the movies are worthy of their nominations; it will be quite interesting to see who wins on Sunday. Meanwhile, I thank Dolby for inviting me to the party—it was a real blast!
And be sure to vote in our Oscar polls:
Actually, I chatted with a Dolby engineer who said he would share some news about that with me soon, but I couldn't get any more details at that moment. Of course, I'll post anything I learn about that as soon as I can.
Now, it'll be down to which is the better format...
Listen up, studios! Just say "NO" to DNR and EE!!
|Oscars 2014 , Dolby Digital , Captain Phillips Two Disc Combo Blu Ray Dvd Ultraviolet Digital Copy , Gravity Blu Ray 3d Blu Ray Dvd Ultraviolet Combo Pack|